Thousands of Russians rallied in support of jailed Kremlin critic “Alexei Navalny”

Russian Opposition leader Alexei Navalny called for nationwide protests on Saturday after he was arrested last week when he returned to Moscow from Germany for the first time since his poisoning in August 2020. Navalny was further remanded in pre-trial detention for 30 days despite demands by the United States and some European countries to release him.

Police in Russia on Saturday arrested more than 3,300 people including Navalny’s wife and close aides as protesters nationwide demanded that opposition leader Alexey Navalny be released from jail. The police have said the rallies are illegal.

Thousands of people took to the streets demanding the Navalny’s release. According to BBC, social media app TikTok has a number of videos posted by Russians supporting the planned protests and urging others to come out. However, mobile and internet services suffered outages in the day as protesters gathered.

As per a BBC analysis of the situation unfolding in Russia, “…with economic problems growing, the Kremlin will worry that Mr Navalny could act as a lightning rod for protest sentiment. That explains the police crackdown on Navalny allies ahead of Saturday’s potential protests.”

Navalny, a lawyer-turned-activist, came to prominence in 2008 after he started exposing corruption in Russian politics through a blog. In 2018, he was barred from standing against Putin in the presidential elections. He has also been arrested on multiple occasions.

Since he started political campaigning, Navalny has spearheaded many anti-corruption rallies and is considered to be the face of the opposition in Russia, a country that has long been known to eliminate dissidents and spies by poisoning them.

The August incident was not the first time Navalny was poisoned. He was previously hospitalised in 2020 after he suffered an allergic reaction in jail, possibly from an unknown chemical substance. Two years before that, Navalny was doused with a bright green liquid in the Siberian city of Barnaul by an assailant who pretended to shake his hand.

Putin, who is entering his 22nd year in power, has even told journalists with a laugh that if Russian operatives wanted to kill Navalny, “they would have probably finished the job.”

Last week, in a feature-length video on YouTube titled, “Putin Palace” in which Navalny alleged that businessmen close to Putin paid for the palace situated at Gelendzhik by the Black Sea. The video has since then gone viral and has been viewed by over 67 million people.