Russian authorities have detained 5,021 people on Sunday as protestors take to the streets across Russia, demanding the release of outspoken Kremlin critic, Alexey Navalny.
Of those 5,021 detainees, 1,608 were arrested in Moscow, including Yulia Navalnaya, Navalny’s wife, as reported by his supporters on social media.
The rallies first took place in the Far East, including the port city of Vladivostok, where protestors gathered in the city’s square despite local authorities closing the area.
Despite the freezing weather conditions, thousands turned up in support of Navalny in the city of Novosibirsk in eastern Siberia, chanting “Putin, thief!” as they marched across the city. The chant referred to a grandiose US$1.4 billion Black Sea palace reportedly owned by the Russian leader, Vladimir Putin.
In Putin’s hometown of St Petersburg, protestors gathered chanting “Down with the Tsar,” while hundred’s attempted to storm the Matrosskaya Tishina prison in Moscow where Navalny is reportedly being held.
Authorities struggled to control the protests in Moscow despite closing the subway stations, halting bus traffic, and ordering businesses to close. Reports also allege police are struggling to find space in jails for the detained protestors.
The mass protests come after Navalny was arrested on January 17, minutes after arriving in Moscow by air from Germany where he spent five months recovering from a nerve-agent poisoning for which he blames the Kremlin.
Russia denies any involvement.
Protests were also likely spurred on by a recent ruling on Thursday which denied Navalny bail with a hearing on Tuesday determining whether his three-and-a-half year suspended sentence should be completed behind bars.
This comes after a Russian court ordered several of Navalny’s supporters, including his brother, Oleg, to be placed under house arrest. Pussy Riot member, Maria Alyokhina, was among those ordered to confinement.
The US has urged Russia to release Navalny with the newly admitted US Secretary of State Antony Blinken criticising Russia’s handling of the protests.
The Russian Foreign Ministry responded to Blinken’s comments as a “crude interference in Russia’s internal affairs” and accused Washington of “trying to destabilise” the country.
With a court ruling scheduled for Tuesday, Navalny’s Moscow campaign quarters have asked supporters to again rally in Moscow’s court ahead of the decision. Russian officials have warned its citizens of taking part in any “unauthorised” protests.
According to Russian federal law, protest organisers must file an appeal 10 days before a protest to obtain permission to lawfully hold the event.