Wife of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny among 1,600 arrested as police clash with protesters across Russia

Michael Howie
·3-min read
<p>Police and protesters face off during a huge rally in Saint Petersburg</p> (Reuters)

Police and protesters face off during a huge rally in Saint Petersburg

(Reuters)

The wife of the prominent Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny announced her arrest on Saturday as police clashed with protesters across the country.

Yulia Navalnaya said she had been detained at a rally in Moscow as officers arrested hundreds of demonstrators on a day of protests in Moscow and other cities.

Mr Navalny, 44, who is President Vladimir Putin's most prominent and durable foe, was arrested on January 17 when he returned to Moscow from Germany, where he had spent five months recovering from severe nerve-agent poisoning that he blames on the Kremlin.

Authorities said his stay in Germany violated the terms of a suspended sentence in a criminal conviction in a case that Mr Navalny claims was illegitimate. He is due to appear in court in early February to determine if he will serve the three-and-a-half-year sentence in prison.

The OVD-Info group, which monitors political arrests, said at least 191 people were detained in Moscow and more than 100 at another large demonstration in St Petersburg.

Overall, it said around 1,614 people had been arrested by late afternoon across the country.

Several thousand people turned out for a protest in Yekaterinburg, Russia's fourth-largest city, and demonstrations took place in the Pacific port city of Vladivostok, the island city of Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, and the country's third-largest city of Novosibirsk, among other locations.

Thirteen people were reported to have been arrested at the protest in Yakutsk, a city in eastern Siberia where the temperature was minus 50C (minus 58F).

Police detain a man during a rally in support of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny in downtown MoscowAFP via Getty Images
Police detain a man during a rally in support of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny in downtown MoscowAFP via Getty Images

In Moscow, thousands of people converged on central Pushkin Square as a police public-address system blared messages telling them not to gather closely because of Covid-19 concerns and warning that the protest is unlawful.

Helmeted riot officers sporadically grabbed participants and pushed them into police buses.

On Thursday, Moscow police arrested three top Navalny associates, two of whom were later jailed for periods of nine and 10 days.

Mr Navalny fell into a coma while on board a domestic flight from Siberia to Moscow on August 20. He had been transferred from a hospital in Siberia to one in Berlin two days later.

Alexei Navalny and his wife Yulia at the passport control point at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport on January 17AFP via Getty Images
Alexei Navalny and his wife Yulia at the passport control point at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport on January 17AFP via Getty Images

Laboratories in Germany, France and Sweden, and tests by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, established that he had been exposed to a Soviet-era Novichok nerve agent.

Russian authorities insisted that the doctors who treated Mr 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.

Russia refused to open a criminal inquiry, citing a lack of evidence that Mr Navalny was poisoned.

Last month, Mr Navalny released a recording of a phone call he said he made to a man he described as an alleged member of a group of officers of the Federal Security Service, or FSB, who purportedly poisoned him in August and then tried to cover it up.

The FSB dismissed the recording as fake.

Mr Navalny has been a thorn in the Kremlin's side for a decade.

He has been jailed repeatedly in connection with protests and has twice been convicted of financial misdeeds in cases that he said were politically motivated.

He suffered significant eye damage when an assailant threw disinfectant into his face, and was taken from jail to hospital in 2019 with an illness that authorities said was an allergic reaction but that many suspected was poisoning.

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