Supporters of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, who was in prison, would stage new protests in Moscow and across Russia on Sunday for a second straight weekend despite a sharp breakdown of his allies and the near-safe confrontation with police.
The meetings are part of a campaign to win the release of President Vladimir Putin’s strong opponents, who were arrested on January 17 after returning from Germany. He had recovered there from a nerve poisoning in Russia.
The 44-year-old opposition politician accuses Putin of ordering his assassination, which the Kremlin denies.
Navalny is accused of parole violations which he says are being trumped up. A court is due to meet next week to consider giving him a prison sentence of up to three and a half years.
The protests following Navalny’s dramatic return to Moscow despite the threat of an arrest put Putin in a difficult position on how to respond. Surveys show pent-up frustrations among Russians over years of falling wages and fallout from the pandemic.
The West has called on Moscow to release Navalny and his allies have appealed to US President Joe Biden to sanction 35 people they say are Putin’s close allies.
To galvanize support at home in an online video viewed over 100 million times, Navalny has accused Putin of being the ultimate owner of a lavish Black Sea Palace, something the Kremlin leader has denied.
Prior to the protests, Arkady Rotenberg, a businessman and Putin’s former judo sparring partner, said he owned the property.
Police warn protests will be stopped
Police have warned that Sunday’s protests have not been approved and will be considered illegal and broken as they were last weekend. They have also said that protesters can spread COVID-19.
Officers detained more than 4,000 people at the meetings on Saturday, according to a protest monitoring group. Protesters in a city showed up in temperatures of -52 degrees Celsius. (-62 Fahrenheit)
In Moscow, the police seemed to be struggling to find enough prison space. A protester said authorities only found him in a cell late Wednesday after arresting him on Saturday.
This weekend, Navalny’s supporters in Moscow plan to gather near the Kremlin administration and the FSB’s headquarters, the successor to the KGB, where protesters in 1991 famously toppled a statue of the founder of the secret police during the Soviet dissolution.
Police said on Friday they would close seven underground stations and restricting pedestrian movement in the area due to the protest plans.
Many of Navalny’s prominent allies were focused on striking this week. Several, including his brother Oleg, are under house arrest.