Russian Prosecutors Urge Navalny Jail Term as Protests Swell
(Bloomberg) -- Russian prosecutors demanded opposition leader Alexey Navalny’s imprisonment, a day after police detained record numbers of protesters against President Vladimir Putin for a second straight weekend.
The Prosecutor General’s Office said Monday it agreed with the Federal Penitentiary Service that Navalny had repeatedly violated the conditions of a suspended 3 1/2 year sentence for fraud and should receive a real prison term in response, according to a website statement.
The call to sentence Navalny at a court hearing in Moscow scheduled for Tuesday raises the stakes in the confrontation between the Kremlin and the anti-Putin opposition after police detained at least 5,611 people during Sunday’s nationwide protests, according to the OVD-Info monitoring group. The U.S. and the European Union have called on Russia to release Navalny, whose supporters plan more protests outside the court.
“The arrests, the violence used by police is deeply disturbing,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in an interview with MSNBC’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports” Sunday. The protests sparked by Navalny’s detention reflect “the frustration that the Russian people have with corruption, with autocracy,” he said.
Germany “condemns the use of violence at the weekend by the Russian security forces and the disproportionate actions taken once again against peaceful demonstrators,” Chancellor Angela Merkel’s deputy spokeswoman Martina Fietz told a news conference in Berlin Monday. “Those detained should immediately be set free.”
Navalny has been in detention since mid-January after he defied threats of arrest to return to Russia from Germany, where he’d been recovering from a nerve-agent attack that he and western nations have blamed on Putin’s security service. The Kremlin denies responsibility.
Police detained protesters in at least 88 cities across Russia, including 1,848 in Moscow and 1,311 in St. Petersburg, OVD-Info reported. Dozens of journalists were held, the group said.
The unsanctioned demonstrations followed Jan. 23 protests when nearly 3,600 were detained as tens of thousands turned out in more than 150 cities despite freezing temperatures. Riot police were accused of using electric shock devices against some protesters this time amid complaints of a particularly harsh response.
Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, defended the police behavior as a response to the “provocations” of demonstrators. He accused Navalny’s allies of working for foreign governments by calling for sanctions against Putin associates in a conference call with reporters Monday.
Most of the Navalny aides who weren’t already in prison were picked up before the protests and are now facing criminal charges. Authorities in Moscow had also sought to deter demonstrators by sealing off much of the center of the capital to traffic and pedestrians.
The Interior Ministry said around 2,000 people participated in the unsanctioned protests in Moscow, the Interfax news service reported Sunday.
As well as the threat of a jail term on Tuesday, Navalny also faces new potential fraud charges that could carry an additional 10-year punishment.
Putin, 68, has been in power for more than two decades, the longest rule since Soviet dictator Josef Stalin. In July, he pushed through constitutional changes that would allow him to stay as president until 2036. His support last year dropped to a record low amid the Covid-19 lockdown, but recovered a bit by November, according to the Levada Center.
While he’s survived several previous waves of anti-Kremlin protests, steadily tightening restrictions on public demonstrations, the opposition is digging in for a long-term struggle ahead of 2024, when Putin must decide whether to seek a fifth mandate.
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