Russian state prosecutors are poised to jail opposition leader Alexei Navalny for three and a half years, and the Kremlin ignores US complaints about his case on Monday ahead of a crucial court hearing on Tuesday.
Navalny, who was jailed after flying back to Moscow last month, faces the prospect of a long period behind bars. Vladimir Putin’s press spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Moscow would ignore the statements of the Biden administration, following the massive pro-Navalny protests on Sunday.
After protesters took to the streets in 90 towns and cities across the country, riot police responded with a massive show of force. They made a record number of arrests, detaining 5,300 people, including Navalny’s wife, Yulia, who was captured in northeast Moscow.
The Kremlin’s apparent strategy is to resist mounting street protests, which will likely continue Tuesday when Navalny appears in court. The Moscow prison service has demanded a three-and-a-half-year sentence for alleged parole violations.
Navalny says the charges are bogus and politically motivated. He is charged with failing to meet with his probation officer while he was in Germany recovering from novichok poisoning. Navalny alleges that Putin authorized a botched operation by the FSB spy agency last August to kill him in Siberia.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken condemned Moscow’s heavy-handed tactics against peaceful protesters and journalists and called for Navalny’s release. “We are deeply concerned by this violent repression against people who exercise their right to peacefully protest against their government,” he said.
Blinken said that frustration with official corruption and growing autocracy had fueled popular protests: “I think [Kremlin officials] We need to look inward, not outward … Mr. Navalny is giving expression to the voices of millions and millions of Russians. And that’s what this is all about. “
The White House was examining the possibility of imposing more sanctions in the wake of Moscow’s “deeply disturbing” actions, Blinken said. These included SolarWinds’ recent cyberattack on US federal institutions and claims that Russia was offering rewards to Taliban fighters for killing American soldiers in Afghanistan.
Speaking on Monday, Peskov warned against new sanctions. “We are not prepared to accept or heed American statements on this,” he said. He described the pro-Navalny protests as illegal. “There can be no conversation with hooligans and provocateurs, the law must be applied with the utmost severity,” he told reporters.
Navalny’s allies have published a list of oligarchs and officials linked to Putin and called on the West to sanction them. So far, however, neither Boris Johnson nor Joe Biden have taken action. Biden and Putin spoke by phone last week for the first time since the president’s inauguration.
Navalny, 44, is serving a 30-day jail sentence. His wife appeared in Shcherbinsky court in Moscow on Monday and was fined 20,000 rubles (£ 192) for participating in what authorities say was an unauthorized protest. His lawyer, Svetlana Davydova, said she would appeal.
Moscow’s detention centers are overflowing, with 1,800 people arrested in the capital last weekend. Novaya Gazeta reported Monday. Some protesters have been held for days in police wagons, and others have been transferred to a detention center for migrants, the newspaper said.
Pavel Chikov, a lawyer and rights defender, said police had opened 40 criminal cases in 18 different regions related to the two weekends of demonstrations. Navalny has asked his supporters to gather in front of the Moscow court during his hearing on Tuesday, which authorities will surely qualify as an illegal protest.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism