Police swooped Sunday on supporters of detained opposition leader Alexey Navalny, as demonstrators defied authorities to rally in his name for a second successive weekend.
According to OVD-Info, an independent site that monitors arrests, 1,009 people have been detained so far across the country over the unsanctioned protests. This number is expected to increase.
Navalny’s supporters said they were planning nationwide protests in at least 120 cities, with each due to start at midday local time in that city. The country covers 11 timezones.
Live video feeds and social media videos showed crowds of people gathering in a number of cities, chanting “Putin is a thief,” in reference to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Navalny was detained on January 17, moments after arriving in Moscow, following months of treatment in Germany after being poisoned in August 2020 with nerve agent Novichok. He blamed the poisoning on the Russian government, an allegation the Kremlin has repeatedly denied.
The politician is currently in custody ahead of a court hearing on February 2 where a court will decide whether his suspended sentence on fraud charges in a 2014 embezzlement case should be converted into a jail term due to what Russian authorities say is the violation of the terms of his suspended sentence.
Navalny appeared by video link Thursday at a court hearing at which his appeal against his detention ahead of next week’s hearing was rejected. He remains at Matrosskaya Tishina detention center, in the northeast of the capital.
Speaking at that hearing, Navalny urged protesters to keep coming out.
“They are the last barrier that prevents those in power from stealing everything. They are the real patriots,” he said. “You will not be able to intimidate us — we are the majority.”
Russia’s Ministry of Internal Affairs warned Russian citizens not to take part in the “unauthorized” protests. “The Ministry of Internal Affairs of Russia calls on citizens to refrain from participating in unauthorized protests,” the ministry said in an Instagram post.
Russian federal law requires organizers to file an appeal with local authorities at least 10 days in advance to obtain permission to hold a protest.
Navalny’s team announced via their social media accounts new gathering points for protesters in the cities of Moscow and St. Petersburg after Russian authorities blocked off certain streets and metro stations ahead of the rallies.
Security forces could be seen out in force in the streets of central Moscow early Sunday, including in Lubyanka Square, home to the headquarters of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB).
Rebecca Ross, spokewoman for the US Embassy in Moscow, urged Russia to respect international human rights as protests take place across the country.
“Ahead of planned protests in support of @Navalny, Russian authorities preemptively detained activists & journalists, & blocked off Moscow city center. Reports of hundreds of protesters detained today in Russia. Russia must respect international #humanrights commitments,” Ross tweeted Sunday.
Live video from protests in the Russian city of Novosibirsk, in Siberia, showed police detaining drivers who were honking their car horns in support of the protesters. In response, demonstrators were heard chanting: “Let them go!”
People could be seen with their elbows linked, forming chains, chanting “Freedom!” and “Give back our money!” as they stood in front of the city hall in the center of Novosibirsk. Rows of riot police were standing in front of them.
Protesters marching along the snowy streets could be heard chanting: “Russia without Putin!” and “one for all, and all for one.”
Authorities announced ahead of Sunday’s protests that certain streets in the center of Moscow would be closed off, seven metro stations would be shut and that no alcohol could be sold in glass containers all day.
Additionally, the Moscow mayor’s office said that cafes, restaurants and other catering facilities would be closed in the city center on Sunday, according to Russian state media agency TASS.
Ahead of the latest protest, Yulia Navalnaya posted a photo on Instagram of her family. The picture features family members, including her husband and his brother, Oleg Navalny, who was detained earlier this week in Moscow.
“If we are silent, then tomorrow they will come after any of us,” she wrote in a post accompanying the photo, referring to Russian authorities.
Navalnaya also made a reference to Putin and an investigation by Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) into Putin’s wealth and a luxurious palace he allegedly owns on the Black Sea.
“In a 16-storey bunker with an aqua disco, a random frightened person is the one who decides our fate — he might decide to jail one and to poison another one,” she wrote.
The Kremlin has repeatedly denied any involvement in Alexey Navalny’s poisoning with Novichok.
The FBK has urged US President Joe Biden to impose sanctions on at least eight high-profile Russian figures it says are close to Putin.
FBK executive director Vladimir Ashurkov, who signed the letter, told CNN on Saturday that the foundation was calling on the United States to put pressure on Putin to release Navalny.