Protests erupted in dozens of cities across Russia on Saturday to demand the release of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, the Kremlin’s most prominent foe.
Police arrested more than 2,100 people, some of whom took to the streets in temperatures as frigid as minus-58 Fahrenheit.
In Moscow, thousands of protesters filled Pushkin Square in the city center, where clashes with police broke out and demonstrators were taken away by riot officers.
Navalny’s wife Yulia was among those arrested.
Police eventually pushed demonstrators out of the square. Thousands then regrouped along a wide boulevard about a half-mile away, many of them throwing snowballs at police before dispersing.
The protests stretched across Russia’s vast territory, from the island city of Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk north of Japan and the eastern Siberian city of Yakutsk to Russia’s more populous European cities.
The scale demonstrated that Navalny and his anti-corruption campaign have built an extensive network of support.
“The situation is getting worse and worse, it’s total lawlessness,” Andrei Gorkyov, a protester in Moscow, said. “And if we stay silent, it will go on forever.”
A group that monitors political arrests said at least 795 people were detained in Moscow and more than 300 at another large demonstration in St. Petersburg. Overall, it said 2,131 people had been arrested in some 90 cities.
Undeterred, Navalny’s supporters called for protests again next weekend.
Navalny was arrested on Jan. 17 when he returned to Moscow from Germany, where he had spent five months recovering from a severe poisoning that he blames on the Kremlin and which Russian authorities deny.
Authorities say his stay in Germany violated terms of a suspended sentence in a 2014 criminal conviction, while Navalny says the conviction was politically motivated.
The 44-year-old activist is well known nationally for his reports on the corruption under President Vladimir Putin‘s government.
Navalny faces a court hearing in early February to determine whether his sentence in the criminal case for fraud and money laundering will lead to 3 1/2 years behind bars.
Moscow police on Thursday arrested three top Navalny associates, two of whom were later jailed for periods of nine and 10 days.
Navalny fell into a coma while aboard a domestic flight from Siberia to Moscow on Aug. 20. He was transferred from a hospital in Siberia to a Berlin hospital two days later.
Labs in Germany, France and Sweden, and tests by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, concluded that he was exposed to a Soviet-era nerve agent.
Russian authorities insisted that the doctors who treated Navalny in Siberia before he was airlifted to Germany found no traces of poison and have challenged German officials to provide proof of his poisoning. Russia refused to open a full-fledged criminal inquiry, citing a lack of evidence that Navalny was poisoned.
Navalny has been a thorn in the Kremlin’s side for a decade.
He has been jailed repeatedly in connection with protests and twice was convicted of financial misdeeds in cases that he said were politically motivated. He suffered significant eye damage when an assailant threw disinfectant into his face. He was taken from jail to a hospital in 2019 with an illness that authorities said was an allergic reaction but which many suspected was a poisoning.
The Western Journal has reviewed this Associated Press story and may have altered it prior to publication to ensure that it meets our editorial standards.
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