Russian police arrested dozens of protesters on Saturday as supporters of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny took to the streets following his call to protest against President Vladimir Putin’s regime.
Putin’s loudest domestic critics demanded mass rallies after surviving a near-fatal poisoning with a Novichok nerve agent and returning to Moscow last weekend after months of treatment in Germany. He was arrested at Sheremetyevo airport and detained.
The meetings – planned for dozens of cities across Russia – are expected to be a major test of the opposition’s ability to mobilize despite growing Kremlin pressure on critics and the coronavirus pandemic.
The first protests took place in the Far East and Siberia, including Vladivostok, Khabarovsk and Chita, where thousands took to the streets, Navalny supporters said.
OVD Info, which monitors detentions at opposition meetings, said that about 50 people were imprisoned in ten cities.
Updated data: the value of this item is up to 13 items. In the case of the Zabarovsk, the first thing to do with the blogosphere is that it is not unique.
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– OVD-Info (@OvdInfo) January 23, 2021
Authorities vowed to crack down on police, saying no-sanctions would be “immediately suppressed”.
In Moscow, which usually mobilizes the largest rallies, protesters plan to meet in central Pushkin Square at 2 p.m. (1100 GMT) and then march on the Kremlin.
‘Help is coming’
Ahead of the meetings, Navalny, who is being held in Moscow’s Matrosskaya Tishina High Security Prison, thanked his supporters.
“I know very well that there are many good people outside the walls of my prison and help will come,” he said on Friday.
Navalny’s wife Yulia said she would join the protest in Moscow. “For myself, for him, for our children, for the values and ideals we share,” she said on Instagram.
Prior to the demonstrations, several key naval aides were taken into police custody for violating protest laws and given short prison sentences to keep them away from meetings.
The commission of inquiry, which is investigating major crimes, said on Friday that it had launched a criminal investigation into the calls for unauthorized protests.
A hastily organized court on Monday jailed Navalny for 30 days, and his supporters fear the authorities are preparing to sentence him to a long prison term to silence him.
Navalny’s team this week released an investigation into a lavish Black Sea property allegedly owned by Putin.
The report “Putin’s Palace” claims that the Russian leader owns a mansion of 17,691 square meters located on a property that is 39 times larger than Monaco and has a casino along with a theater and a hookah lounge with a pole dancing scene.
The two-hour video report had been viewed more than 65 million times since Tuesday and had become the Kremlin critic’s most viewed YouTube investigation.
The Kremlin has denied that the property belongs to Putin.
Many Russians took to social media – including the video-sharing app TikTok hugely popular with teenagers – to vote for support and call for a big contestant on Saturday.
A hashtag that demanded freedom for Navalny trends on TikTok when Russians flooded the Chinese app with thousands of videos.
Russia’s media watchdogs warned online platforms against encouraging minors to attend meetings or risking large fines.
The watchdog said on Friday that media platforms, including TikTok, YouTube and Instagram, removed content at its request.
Russia’s most popular social network VKontakte blocked groups created to coordinate protests in various cities.
But a number of public figures – including those who usually avoid politics – have spoken out in favor of Navalny.
Navalny, 44, emerged a decade ago and has become the central figure in Russia’s opposition movement, leading large-scale street protests against corruption and electoral fraud.
His arrest led to widespread Western condemnation, with the United States, the European Union, France and Canada all demanding his release.