Russia: Thousands arrested in second weekend of pro-Navalny protests

31 January 2021, 14:14 | Updated: 31 January 2021, 15:27

By Joe Cook

Around 4,000 people have been detained across Russia in a second weekend of protests calling for the release of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.

According to OVD-Info monitor, 4,027 people had been arrested by 14.30 GMT on Sunday, including 1,167 in Moscow and 862 in Saint Petersburg.

Those arrested in Moscow reportedly include Yulia Navalny, the wife of the jailed opposition leader. Their team tweeted: "Yulia Navalnaya was detained at the protest! Freedom for the Navalnys!"

Mrs Navalny was also amongst 2,600 arrests made last weekend, as protests erupted across more than 60 Russian cities.

Read more: Britain calls for release of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny

People dance a circle dance during an unauthorized rally in Kaliningrad.
People dance a circle dance during an unauthorized rally in Kaliningrad. Picture: Vitaly Nevar/Tass/PA Images
Police clashed with protesters who have taken to the streets in their thousands.
Police clashed with protesters who have taken to the streets in their thousands. Picture: PA

Alexei Navalny was arrested on January 17 after returning from Germany where he spent five months recovering from nerve agent poisoning that he blames on the Kremlin.

Russian authorities said Navalny's stay in Germany violated the terms of a suspended sentence in a criminal conviction in a case that Mr Navalny claims was illegitimate.

He is due to appear in court in early February to determine if he will serve the three-and-a-half-year sentence in prison.

Read more: Russia 'wants everyone to know' they are behind Navalny poisoning, suggests military expert

This weekend, the police have upped their efforts to stop the demonstrations, with Moscow police introducing unprecedented security measures in the city centre.

Several subway stations near the Kremlin were closed, busses cancelled and shops and restaurants told to close.

The Moscow protest was initially set to be held in Lubyanka Square, home to the main headquarters of the Federal Security Service, which the 44-year-old claims was responsible for his poisoning.

However, police cordoned off the area around the square, arresting protesters as they moved to gather at a second location.

OVD-Info claim at least 35 of those arrested were beaten by security services.

The Interior Ministry has issued stern warnings to the public not to join the protests, saying participants could be charged with taking part in mass riots, which carries a prison sentence of up to eight years.

Those engaging in violence against police could face up to 15 years.

Thousands of protesters took to the streets in St Petersburg.
Thousands of protesters took to the streets in St Petersburg. Picture: Peter Kovalev/Tass/PA Images
Moscow riot police have made almost 1,000 arrests, with some accusing the police of violence.
Moscow riot police have made almost 1,000 arrests, with some accusing the police of violence. Picture: Sergei Savostyanov/Tass/PA Images

Novosibirsk in eastern Siberia saw one of the biggest rallies, with thousands marching across the city chanting "Putin, thief!" About 90 protesters were detained there.

The chants referred to a luxurious Black Sea estate reportedly built for Russian President Vladimir Putin that Mr Navalny's team have released a popular video about.

A huge number of riot police were deployed in the snow across Russia.
A huge number of riot police were deployed in the snow across Russia. Picture: PA
Protesters were loaded onto busses by riot police.
Protesters were loaded onto busses by riot police. Picture: PA
A police officer detains a demonstrator during an unauthorised protest in St Petersburg.
A police officer detains a demonstrator during an unauthorised protest in St Petersburg. Picture: Peter Kovalev/Tass/PA Images

Mr Navalny has been a thorn in the Kremlin's side for a decade.

He has been jailed repeatedly in connection with protests and has twice been 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, and was taken from jail to hospital in 2019 with an illness that authorities said was an allergic reaction but that many suspected was poisoning.