Hundreds of Navalny supporters held amid mass protests across Russia

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Hundreds of people have reportedly been detained as a series of demonstrations in support of jailed Putin critic Alexei Navalny begins across Russia.

The gatherings, which police have declared illegal, are the first by Mr Navalny’s supporters since he was arrested last weekend on his return to Moscow, after spending five months in Germany recovering from novichok poisoning.

More than 200 people have been detained in central and eastern Russia because of the protests, according to monitoring group OVD-INFO, with more than 100 held in Moscow, according to a Reuters witness, the location for one of up to 70 marches this weekend.

There have been scuffles in the southeastern city of Khabarovsk, videos also show people being taken away from a protest in Yakutsk, where people have been gathering in -50C temperatures, and footage also shows one person lying on the ground, apparently injured, in Novosibirsk.

Police detain a man  in Khabarovsk, Russia, during a protest against the jailing of Alexei Navalny. Pic: AP
Image:
Police detain a man in Khabarovsk during a protest against the jailing of Alexei Navalny. Pic: AP

Hundreds, possibly thousands, appear in footage to be taking part in rallies and marches in Yekaterinburg and Irkutsk.

Mr Navalny, 44, who is one of President Vladimir Putin’s most outspoken critics, blames Moscow for the attack that nearly killed him, although the Kremlin denies any involvement.

He is charged with breaking his bail conditions – and is facing a potential three-and-a half-year jail term if found guilty.

More from Alexei Navalny

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Navalny supporters clash with Russian police

Protesters gathered in support of Mr Navalny in temperatures on -50C in Yakutsk. Pic: Ksenia Korshun/via REUTERS
Image:
Protesters gathered in support of Mr Navalny in temperatures on -50C in Yakutsk. Pic: Ksenia Korshun/via REUTERS

Anyone who takes part faces charges of rioting, fines, problems at work, prison and even threats over child custody as the Russian state tries to crack down on the demonstrations, which could be the largest against Mr Putin since 2018.

Officials also enforced a crackdown in the run-up to the demonstrations, arresting members of Mr Navalny’s team, including his spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh.

They launched an investigation after young Navalny supporters flooded TikTok with anti-Putin videos, pushing for people to support the action this weekend and using the using the hashtags #freenavalny and #23Jan.

The content has been viewed more than 300 million times.

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TikTok videos in support of Navalny

Anger mounted against Mr Putin this week after Mr Navalny’s team released a documentary exposing a vast and opulent palace built by Russia’s leader on the Black Sea coast.

The programme claims the complex – 39 times larger than Monaco – cost £1bn to build and was funded through illicit money.

It is said to have a casino, an underground ice hockey complex and a vineyard.

More than 60 million people have now viewed the Russian-language video on YouTube within three days of it being published.

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Navalny calls for protests over his arrest

On Friday, ahead of the weekend of planned protests, Mr Navalny issued a statement saying he wanted it known that he had no plans to take his own life in prison.

The arrest of Mr Navalny has attracted widespread criticism from Western leaders, sparking new tensions in the already strained relationship with the US.

Despite the plans for the protests, Mr Putin’s grip on power appears solid, with the 68-year-old regularly recording approval ratings of more than 60%, many times higher than those of Mr Navalny.

‘Our kids are being brainwashed’
Eyewitness by Diana Magnay, Moscow correspondent

The rally is not due to start until 2pm, but already here in Moscow, the police are making arrests and there are several hundred people around waiting.

It reminds me very much of the protests in the summer of 2019. There are huge numbers of press following each arrest. I haven’t seen any beatings yet, but the arrests are not pleasant.

Among those attending are Olga and Vladislav Sheglov, father and daughter.

Mr Sheglov told me: “I came here because I cannot live like this anymore, what they’re doing is not acceptable.

“I always tell myself we have the best country, but the worst government.”

His daughter Olga said: “Our kids are being brainwashed. You have families with low income and they have another view of politics.

Olga and Vladislav Sheglov
Image:
Olga and Vladislav Sheglov

“When we saw the Putin’s palace investigation, we were so shocked. We used to vote for him, but this was the last straw. We believe 150%, a million percent that Navalny was poisoned.”

Another person at the protest, 16-year-old Yaroslavl, who we are not naming fully because he’s 16, said: “There’ll probably be more detentions than normal because it’s such a big day.

“I’m a bit concerned, but so many people have come together to defend their own opinion and to defend Russia.

“I was told at school not to come, that they might have extra lessons today, but I ignored them. And my parents were even more serious about me not coming, but I ignored them too.”

He said that today everyone went out not for Navalny, but for themselves, to fight for their rights.

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