Russia arrests hundreds of protesters demanding release of Kremlin critic Navalny

Russia arrests hundreds of protesters demanding release of Kremlin critic Navalny
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Russian police on Saturday arrested hundreds of protesters who braved freezing temperatures to advocate for authorities to release top opposition leader Alexey Navalny.

More than 1,300 people were arrested in the Far East and Siberia, according to the arrests-monitoring group OVD-Info, with more protesters expected to descend on Moscow, St. Petersburg and elsewhere across the western portion of Russia.

One of the largest protests took place in Yekaterinburg, Russia’s fourth-largest city, with The Associated Press estimating that thousands took to the streets there. Another 5,000 demonstrators were estimated to already be protesting in Moscow’s Pushkin Square, where clashes with police erupted.

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The protests were sparked after Navalny, one of the leading opposition figures in Russia, was arrested on Jan. 17 when he returned to Russia from Germany. He had been recovering in Berlin after he was poisoned in an attack broadly believed to have been directed by the Kremlin. 

Russian police said his trip to Germany broke the terms of a suspended sentence in a 2014 criminal conviction that Navalny said was based on trumped-up charges.

Authorities later this week also arrested three of Navalny’s top associates, fueling further anger among the opposition.

Navalny’s return to Russia, which came despite a vow from police that he would be arrested, has put the Kremlin in a bind. Russian President Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinOvernight Defense & National Security — Austin mandates vaccine for Guardsmen Russia's ultimatum: Will Ukraine negotiate peace or risk conflict? The dual threats confronting Ukraine MORE risks more protests and censure from Western powers if he keeps Navalny in custody, but releasing him would cast the government as weak.

Navalny’s poisoning and his subsequent arrest drew broad condemnations from the U.S. and European nations that panned the Kremlin for its suspected role in the attack on him in August.

“We're watching reports of protests in 38 Russian cities, arrests of 350+ peaceful protesters and journalists. The U.S. supports the right of all people to peaceful protest, freedom of expression. Steps being taken by Russian authorities are suppressing those rights,” tweeted Rebecca Ross, the spokesperson for the U.S. Embassy in Russia.