Large demonstrations in support of Alexei Navalny, the prominent Kremlin-critic who was jailed last week upon returning to Russia for the first time since he was poisoned in an August assassination plot, erupted across the country on Saturday, with police quickly turning violent against protesters demanding Navalny’s release.
On January 17, Navalny was immediately detained after flying to Moscow from Berlin, where he had spent months recovering from a nerve agent attack that nearly killed him. Western authorities traced the assassination attempt on Navalny back to Russia’s domestic intelligence agency—responsibility for which Russian President Vladimir Putin continues to deny. If the Russian state had wanted to kill Navalny, Putin—a former KGB officer before he entered politics—said in some rather harrowing comments in December, they would have “finished the job.”
The return and subsequent detention of the Kremlin’s most prominent opposition leader are now sparking the country’s largest protests in years, as demonstrators call for the government to drop its charges that Navalny is guilty of violating parole conditions—charges they say are nothing but an attempt to silence Putin’s critics. The Guardian reported that 1870 people have been arrested so far—including, reportedly Pavel Golovkin, Navalny’s wife. Footage from the protests show riot police violently attacking protesters:
Люди перестали бояться, не отдают своих. И менты выдно, что морально сильно поникли. Путин вор!!!! Свободу Начальному!! pic.twitter.com/kDwRXUlPqL
— Сибиряк (@SiberianMan) January 23, 2021
Protests are taking place across Russia today, calling for Navalny’s release.
This is Vladivostok, in the country’s Far East pic.twitter.com/luO4oudeH9
— Matthew Luxmoore (@mjluxmoore) January 23, 2021
— Ilya Lozovsky (@ichbinilya) January 23, 2021
This video shows police in Moscow detaining Lyubov Sobol, a lawyer and one of Navalny's allies who plans to run for Parliament this year. https://t.co/M1i9UjiOXN
— Andrew E. Kramer (@AndrewKramerNYT) January 23, 2021
The demonstrations drew the support of several United States lawmakers, including Rep. Adam Schiff, the lead impeachment manager in Donald Trump’s first impeachment trial over the former president’s efforts to coerce Ukraine into intervening in the presidential election. “Russians are taking to the streets today in the freezing cold to peacefully demand freedom, human rights for all their citizens, an end to corruption, and the immediate release of Alexei Navalny,” the Democrat tweeted as images rolled in. ” I stand with them. The United States, and the world, must stand with them, too.”