Angry protesters have clashed with heavily-armed police as major anti-Kremlin demonstrations broke out across Russia on Saturday in support of jailed Putin-critic Alexei Navalny.
Protests against Russia’s President Vladimir Putin took place in temperatures as low as minus 60F (51C) as police forcibly detained supporters of Kremlin foe Navalny, who was arrested upon his return to Russia from Germany on January 17.
Putin’s most vocal domestic critic called for mass rallies after surviving a near-fatal poisoning with a Novichok nerve agent and returned to Moscow following months of treatment in Germany. He was arrested at Sheremetyevo Airport and jailed.
Navalny, who accuses Putin of the plot to poison him last August, was locked up until mid-February as he waits to hear whether a suspended prison term will be converted into three-and-a-half years of jail time.
Demonstrators shouted ‘Shame, shame’ in Pacific capital Vladivostok as heavily armed baton-wielding OMON special forces officers and national guards threw a protester in a police vehicle.
The authorities told crowds that their action was unsanctioned and they faced detention unless they dispersed.
Pictured: Police detain a man during a protest against the jailing of opposition leader Alexei Navalny in Khabarovsk, 3,800 miles east of Moscow on Saturday, January 23. The protests are against Vladimir Putin and the jailing of opposition leader Alexei Navalny last Sunday
Putin’s most vocal domestic critic called for mass rallies after surviving a near-fatal poisoning with a Novichok nerve agent and returned to Moscow following months of treatment in Germany. He was arrested at Sheremetyevo Airport and jailed. Pictured: Large crowds of anti-Putin demonstrators gathered on Saturday (pictured) in temperatures as low as minus 60F
Pictured: Russian Law enforcement officers stand guard during a rally in support of jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny in Yakutsk, Russia, January 23. Navalny called for protests after his arrest, telling his supporters to take to the streets
Opposition leader Alexei Navalny is escorted out of a police station on January 18 in Khimki, outside Moscow, following the court ruling that ordered him jailed for 30 days. Following his arrest, he called for his supporters to take to the streets in protest
Ugly scene quickly developed at protests in several cities in the Russian Far East, with over 250 detentions being reported across Russia by 1pm Moscow time, with an initial 32 held in the capital.
A video showed shocking protesters in Krasnoyarsk being dragged over the ground by police in minus 15C. cold.
In Vladivostok, it was reported that 26 children had been detained.
But Vladimir Putin’s children’s ombudsman angrily blamed adult protesters for using children as a ‘human shield’.
She said: ‘Now I know everything about human baseness. Vladivostok – children are standing in a human chain. And adults behind their backs are throwing road cones at OMON [riot police] and hiding again. Who are these people? Are they people?’
Protesters said mobile data was being disrupted around protest sites to stop communications between anti-Putin protesters.
Key Navalny aides around Russia had been rounded up and detained ahead of the rallies.
In far-eastern city Khabarovsk, crowds chanted ‘Putin’s Dogs’ as law enforcement detained protesters.
At one point crowds fought back with police seeking to release those being held.
In Kamchatka, nine time zones east of Moscow, protesters carried placards reading ‘Corruption is the cancer of our country’ and ‘I’m choosing Freedom’.
While crowds were not huge, protests went ahead in all main cities in the Russian Far East including former GULAG staging post Magadan on the Sea of Okhotsk in a temperature of minus 30C.
In Yakutsk – the world’s coldest city – crowds gathered in minus 51C to support jailed Navalny, who was earlier allegedly poisoned with nerve agent Novichok by an FSB secret service hit squad.
Navalny accuses Putin of a plot to poison him last August. The Kremlin critic was taken ill on a flight and was found by doctors in Germany to have been poisoned by Novichok nerve agent
Pictured: Police officers detain a man during a rally in support of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny in the far eastern city of Vladivostok on January 23
Demonstrators shouted ‘Shame, shame’ in Pacific capital Vladivostok as heavily armed baton-wielding OMON special forces officers and national guards threw a protester in a police vehicle. Pictured: Officers detain a man during a rally in support of jailed opposition leader
Pictured: Demonstrators clash with police during a rally in support of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny in the far eastern city of Vladivostok on January 23
A video showed police pulling a protester on the snow into a law enforcement bus as cries directed to police are heard: ‘What have they done? What are you doing? Are you out of your mind doing that?’
Among the protesters in eastern cities were mothers carrying babies.
In Siberia city Ulan-Ude extra Saturday classes were put on to prevent school students joining the unsanctioned protests which the authorities said were illegal.
In Komsomolsk-on-Amur a squad of OMON detained a dozen people, as the crowd chanted: ‘Freedom to political prisoners!’
Navalny’s supporters say his arrest when he returned from Germany on Sunday was politically motivated.
Reports suggest he may be hit with new legal action that could see him remain behind bars for more than a decade.
A participant holds a poster reading ‘freedom to political prisoners’ during an unauthorised rally in support of Russian opposition activist Alexei Navalny near Lenina Square, January 23
A participant holds a poster reading ‘You are killing Navalny’ during anti-Putin protests, Jan 23
A woman is surrounded by riot police during January 23 protests against the arrest of Alexei Navalny, who was been detained upon his return to Russia
Pictured: Police bundle a protester into a riot van amid protests against Vladimir Putin
The authorities told crowds that their action was unsanctioned and they faced detention unless they dispersed. Protests against Vladimir Putin took place in temperatures as low as minus 60F (51C)
Navalny – a 44-year-old lawyer who has dedicated himself to toppling strongman Putin – styles himself an anti-corruption campaigner who despite being behind bars in recent days accused the Russian president of using state cash to enrich himself, his family and his cronies.
Among the claims is that Putin has built himself a £1 billion palace at Gelendzhik on the Black Sea.
Putin denies any wrongdoing.
The Kremlin has denied being ‘afraid’ of Navalny and his pro-democracy campaigners but are concerned to act tough to prevent mass support growing for a Ukrainian-style revolution.
However, it is unclear that Navalny has the mass support he would need to overthrow ex-KGB spy Putin who has been president or prime minister for 21 years.
Bigger protests were expected later in Moscow and St Petersburg, led by Navalny’s wife Yulia who announced she planned to take to the streets in support of her jailed husband.
Moscow: Riot police officers in Pushkinskaya Square ahead of an unauthorised rally in support of Russian opposition activist Alexei Navalny on January 23
Bigger protests were expected later in Moscow and St Petersburg, led by Navalny’s wife Yulia who announced she planned to take to the streets in support of her jailed husband
Demonstrators clash with police during a rally in support of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny in the far eastern city of Vladivostok on January 23
She would join the demonstration ‘for myself, for him, for our children, for the values and the ideals that we share’.
In Moscow, mayor Sergei Sobyanin had warned the rallies were ‘unacceptable’ during a pandemic, and police would take action to ensure public order.
Navalny called for his supporters to take to the streets after a hastily organised court ordered him jailed for 30 days on Monday.
The makeshift court – set up in a police station on the outskirts of Moscow where Navalny was being held – ruled he be held in custody until February 15 when he will appear in court on corruption charges.
The 44-year-old anti-corruption campaigner previously was handed a suspended sentence for the charges in 2014.
Russia now accuses him of breaching the terms of that sentence by not checking in with police as often as he should have done.
In a video released by his team shortly after the ruling, Navalny urged his supporters to take to the streets and protest as Western governments called for his immediate release.
Russia’s most prominent opposition leader Alexei Navalny has called on Monday for his supporters to take to the streets after a hastily organised court ordered him jailed for 30 days
Police officers stand outside a police station where detained Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny is being held, in Khimki outside Moscow, Russia January 18
But Kremlin press secretary Dmitry Peskov said Tuesday that Russia’s leaders did not fear mass protests – adding that they had heard the Western outrage but ‘cannot and are not going to take these statements into account’.
He also rejected the suggestion that Putin was afraid of Navalny, following claims by the Kremlin critic’s supporters that putting him in prison could turn him into a Nelson Mandela-like symbol of resistance.
The Investigative Committee, which probes major crimes, said Friday it launched a criminal probe into the calls for unauthorised protests.
It comes as Navalny released a statement from prison on Tuesday, saying he had no regrets about returning to Russia despite his arrest.
A participant holds a poster reading ‘Court, not circus’ during an unauthorised rally in support of Russian opposition activist Alexei Navalny near Lenina Square, January 23
Pictured: A woman walks in front of a row of riot police amid anti-Putin protests on January 23
Pictured: Police escort an anti-Putin protester amid clashes during anti-Putin protests
Pictured: Participants hold posters reading ‘Freedom to Navalny!’ during an unauthorised rally in support of Russian opposition activist Alexei Navalny on January 23
In a post on Instagram which he published from Moscow’s Matrosskaya Tishina prison, Navalny said: ‘I couldn’t have done otherwise, and there’s no pathos in this, nor sacrifice, nor fatalism.
‘It’s a completely rational choice. I refuse to put up with the lawlessness of the authorities [in] my country. I refuse to stay silent, listening to the shameless lies of Putin and his friends, mired in corruption.’
On the eve of the rallies, Navalny, who is being held in Moscow’s high-security Matrosskaya Tishina jail, thanked his supporters.
‘I know perfectly well that there are lots of good people outside of my prison’s walls 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 the ideals that we share,’ she said on Instagram.
Ahead of the demonstrations several key Navalny aides were taken into police custody for violating protest laws and handed short jail sentences to keep them away from the rallies.
Navalny and his wife sit on the tarmac in Berlin before flying back to Russia on Sunday, five months after he was airlifted to Germany in a coma following his Novichok poisoning
Alexei Navalny with his wife Yulia at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport on Sunday where he was arrested after returning to Russia from Germany
Navalny’s team this week released an investigation into an opulent Black Sea property allegedly owned by Putin.
The ‘Putin’s palace’ report alleges the Russian leader owns a 17,691 square metre mansion that sits on a property 39 times the size of Monaco and features a casino along with a theatre and a hookah lounge complete with a pole-dancing stage.
The two-hour video report had been viewed more than 65 million times since Tuesday, becoming the Kremlin critic’s most-watched YouTube investigation.
The Kremlin has denied the property belongs to Putin.
Many Russians took to social media – including video sharing app TikTok hugely popular with teens – to voice support and urge a large turnout on Saturday.
A hashtag demanding freedom for Navalny was trending on TikTok as Russians flooded the Chinese app with thousands of videos.
Russia’s media watchdog warned online platforms against encouraging minors to participate in the rallies or risk hefty 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 the protests in different cities.
But a number of public figures – including those who usually steer clear of politics – have spoken out in Navalny’s support.
Navalny (centre in a green jacket) was photographed being escorted from the police station in Khimski on Monday evening
The opposition leader appeared to shout to hit supporters gathered outside the station as he was being escorted from the building
Navalny, 44, flashed a peace sign to photographers and supporters as he was escorted from the police station where he has been detained into a van
How Alexei Navalny has been punished for defying Putin
2011: Navalny is arrested and jailed for 15 days for ‘defying an official’ after leading protests in Moscow
2012: Jailed for 15 days after leading an anti-Putin protest in the wake of presidential elections. His apartment is subsequently raided, and some of his private emails posted online
2013: Put on trial for embezzlement, amid claims he tried to steal wood from a state-owned company. He is convicted and sentenced to five years, but allowed out on bail. The conviction is subsequently overturned
2014: Placed under house arrest, again charged with embezzlement alongside brother Oleg. Again, the conviction is overturned
2017: He is re-convicted in the first corruption case, and ordered to repay millions of rubles of compensation in the second
While leaving his office, a pro-Kremlin activist throws green disinfectant dye in his face, partially blinding him
2018: Arrested twice for leading protests against presidential elections he was barred from running in. Jailed for a total of 50 days in jail
2019: Arrested and jailed for a total of 40 days for leading protests during Moscow Duma elections. While in jail he was rushed to hospital, suffering from what medics called an allergic reaction. Others believe he was poisoned
2020: Navalny is rushed unconscious to hospital and placed on a ventilator after falling ill on a flight. His allies say he was poisoned
August 22, 2020: Navalny is transferred from a hospital in Siberia to another hospital in Berlin
September 2020: German scientists revealed tests confirmed he was poisoned by Novichok nerve agent
December 2020: Bellingcat investigation alleges Moscow’s FSB agency began tracking Nevalny after he announced plans to run against Putin before launching an assassination attempt in August using Novichok
December 2020: Navalny claimed he had tricked an FSB agent into admitting on a phone call Russian assassins tried to kill him using poisoned underpants and then tried to cover it up. The FSB dismissed the recording as fake
January 2021: Navalny is arrested at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport after Russia’s prison service alleged he had violated parole terms from a suspended sentence on a 2014 embezzlement conviction
Navalny rose to prominence a decade ago and has become the central figure of Russia’s opposition movement, leading large-scale street protests against corruption and electoral fraud.
His arrest drew widespread Western condemnation, with the United States, the European Union, France and Canada all calling for his release.
Navalny’s anti-corruption foundation said that the 44-year-old was ‘illegally detained’ and that ‘lawyers are not allowed to see him’.
The opposition leader had joked with journalists on the plane from Berlin on Sunday.
‘All the criminal cases against me are fabricated,’ he added.
After the plane landed, Navalny kissed his wife Yulia before four masked police officers escorted him away at passport control, before he had formally entered Russia.
He reappeared on Monday morning at a Moscow police station where a court hearing to extend his detention was already underway.
‘It is impossible what is happening over here,’ Navalny said in a video from the improvised courtroom. ‘It is lawlessness of the highest degree.
‘One minute ago I was taken out of my cell to meet the lawyer, I came here, and here a hearing of the [court] is happening.’
Navalny’s lawyers said the immediate court hearing was an unexpected turn of events, saying they were only notified about it minutes earlier.
According to a police notice distributed published Navalny’s lawyer Vadim Kobzev, the legal process began at 12.30pm local time on Monday.
The Moscow prison service had warned that it would arrest Navalny once he returned.
It accused Navalny of flouting the terms of a three-and-a-half-year suspended prison sentence in a 2014 embezzlement case.
Navalny’s supporters had gathered at Moscow’s Vnukovo airport despite bitterly cold weather and more than 4,500 new coronavirus cases a day in the Russian capital.
But they were denied a glimpse of Navalny after the flight path was switched at the last minute and the plane landed at Sheremetyevo instead.
OVD Info, which monitors detentions at political protests in Russia, said at least 55 people had been detained at the airport.
Prominent Moscow activist Lyubov Sobol was among those arrested, saying later that they had been released and were facing administrative charges.
The latest episode in the Navalny saga has led to calls for more sanctions against Russia, amid a wave of condemnation from Western countries.
Donald Trump’s outgoing secretary of state Mike Pompeo said on Twitter: ‘Deeply troubled by Russia’s decision to arrest Alexei Navalny.
‘Confident political leaders do not fear competing voices, nor see the need to commit violence against or wrongfully detain, political opponents,’ he said.
France also called for Navalny’s release and voiced its ‘strong concern’ over his arrest in Russia.
Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, responded to a question about the arrest by saying ‘Was he arrested in Germany? I’m not up to date,’ according to Russian media.
The Kremlin typically belittles Navalny by referring to him merely as the ‘Berlin patient’ and calling him a blogger rather than a politician.
Navalny fell into a coma while aboard a domestic flight from Siberia to Moscow on August 20. He was airlifted from a hospital in Siberia to Berlin two days later, where a military lab found evidence of Novichok.
Russian authorities insisted that the doctors who treated Navalny in Siberia before he was airlifted to Germany found no traces of poison and have challenged German officials to provide proof of his poisoning.
Navalny with his wife and children after waking from his coma at the Berlin hospital where doctors say his previous good health contributed to his recovery
The Kremlin has rejected calls to open a full investigation into the poisoning, and denied Navalny’s claims that the FSB security agency was behind the plot.
Last month Navalny claimed he had duped an FSB agent into confessing details of the plot in a recorded phone call which the agency dismissed as fake.
The alleged plotter, Konstantin Kudryavtsev, was one of a team of alleged chemical weapons experts named last month as suspects in Navalny’s poisoning.
The recording purported to reveal that Navalny’s underpants had been sprinkled with the nerve agent while he was staying at a hotel in Siberia.
Alexei Navalny kissed his wife goodbye in an emotional scene as he was arrested by Russian authorities just minutes after landing in Moscow
Navalny hugged and kissed his wife Yulia before he was taken away by Russian police at Sheremetyevo airport last weekend
Navalny’s wife Yulia Navalnaya is seen surrounded by people as she leaves Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport following the arrest
Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny landed back on Russian soil in Moscow and walks out of the plane after arriving at Sheremetyevo airport
Nevalny’s plane was diverted last minute from Vnukovo airport in Moscow to nearby Sheremetyevo
How the ‘FSB plot’ unfolded
August 12: Three FSB ‘plotters’ buy plane tickets to Siberia after Navalny’s entourage books a flight there
August 13: The alleged FSB team flies to Novosibirsk a day before Navalny arrives. Maria Pevchikh also flies to Siberia and is tailed as she leaves Moscow
August 17: Navalny travels on to Tomsk, pursued by the alleged FSB operatives. When he books a flight back to Moscow, the ‘plotters’ do the same only minutes later
August 19: Navalny has a drink at a hotel bar in Tomsk, leaving his room empty. There is a ‘surge’ in communication among members of the alleged FSB unit
August 20: Navalny boards the flight in Tomsk and becomes critically ill on board, forcing an emergency landing
August 22: The unconscious Navalny is airlifted to Berlin. A German military lab later finds evidence of Novichok
Navalny was initially treated at a hospital in Omsk before Russian authorities agreed to hand him over to a German air ambulance crew on August 22.
In an article in The Lancet, doctors at Berlin’s Charite hospital described how Navalny had to be ventilated and given drugs during his airlift to Germany.
Medics described how he had become confused and sweaty before vomiting and collapsing on the domestic flight in Siberia, leaving him unconscious and drooling when the plane made an emergency landing.
By the time he arrived at the Berlin hospital, more than two days after falling ill, his heart had slowed well below an adult’s usual range of 60 to 100 beats per minute and his brain was starting to show signs of reduced responsiveness.
When he arrived in intensive care, he was showing ‘decreased brainstem reflexes’ and suffering from hypothermia with a body temperature of just 33.5C (92.5F).
Navalny was treated with atropine for 10 days and given other antibiotics by the hospital doctors, who said he started to breathe spontaneously within two weeks.
As his condition improved, he was brought out of a coma, and doctors determined that difficulties understanding speech and speaking he had initially showed after waking up disappeared after three weeks.
On the 24th day after falling ill, he was taken off mechanical ventilation, and two days later he was moved from intensive care into a normal hospital ward.
Navalny has been a thorn in the Kremlin’s side for more than a decade, exposing what he says is high-level corruption and mobilising protests.
He has been repeatedly detained for organising public meetings, sued over corruption investigations and was barred from running against Putin in the 2018 presidential election.
The 44-year-old has also served several stints in jail in recent years for organising anti-Kremlin protests.
The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that Russia’s arrests and detention of Navalny in 2012 and 2014 were politically motivated.