Police rounded up over 1,700 protesters on Wednesday as Russians across the country took part in rallies organised by allies of hunger-striking Alexei Navalny
His spokesperson was jailed for 10 days, and another close ally has been detained, on the same day that Russian President Vladimir Putin delivered a state-of-the-nation speech warning the West to not cross Russia’s “red lines” making no mention of hunger-striking Alexei Navalny.
“This is one of the last gasps of a free Russia, as many are saying. We came out for Alexei … against a war in Ukraine and the wild propaganda,” said Marina, a student at the Moscow protest.
OVD-Info, a group that monitors the protests and detentions in the country, said that 1,782 people so far had been arrested, including 804 people in St. Petersburg and 119 within the Urals city of Ufa.
This comes after the Kremlin accused the United States of interfering in Russia’s domestic affairs after downplaying the scale of the weekend’s protests, when tens of thousands of Russian citizens rallied in support of the jailed opposition politician Alexei Navalny.
Protesters within central Moscow chanted, “Freedom to Navalny!” and “Let the doctors in!”. Navalny’s wife Yulia had joined the rally in the capital, where demonstrators were chanting her name.
The opposition had hoped that the rallies would be the biggest in the history of modern Russia, and had presented them as an attempt to save Alexei Navalny’s life, as he is hunger-striking, by persuading the authorities to permit him to be treated by his own doctors.
But the turnout at the demonstrations looked smaller than that of the protests that took place earlier this year, before Navalny had been jailed for 2-1/2 years for supposed parole violations that were related to charges of embezzlement that he said were politically motivated.
Police said that 6,000 people protested illegally within Moscow, while Navalny’s YouTube channel had said that turnout in the capital city was up to 10 times higher than that. Alexey Venediktov, who is a veteran journalist and head of the radio station Ekho Moskvy, said that 10,000-15,000 people had rallied in Moscow with a further 7,000-9,000 in St Petersburg.
The 44-year-old Navalny, who last year had survived a nerve agent attack that Russian authorities denied being responsible for, is thin and weak after starving himself for three weeks, and his allies say that he risks kidney failure or cardiac arrest. The United States has warned Russia that it will face “consequences” if Mr Navalny dies.
This comes after Russia has warned that it would retaliate against any sanctions imposed by the US over the imprisonment of Alexei Navalny, who was jailed on Tuesday for almost three years.
Tatyana Moskalkova, the state human rights commissioner, said that four doctors from outside of the federal prison agency had visited Alexei Navalny on Tuesday and had found no serious health problems. Russia says that he has been treated as if he was any other prisoner.
The confrontation over Navalny’s fate is a key factor in Moscow’s dire relations with the West, having already been aggravated by economic sanctions, diplomatic expulsions and a Russian military buildup near Ukraine.
U.N. human rights experts have urged Moscow to allow Navalny to be medically evaluated to another country. They said that they believed his life was in danger as he was being held in “conditions that could amount to torture”.