Russian police on Saturday detained over 1,000 protesters, including the wife of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, as several thousand took to the streets nationwide to denounce President Vladimir Putin’s rule.
Thousands of people, including teenagers, packed Moscow’s central Pushkin Square and nearby streets as riot police hauled off demonstrators and beat others with batons.
Among those detained were Navalny’s wife Yulia Navalnaya and his prominent aide Lyubov Sobol. AFP journalists saw several protesters left badly injured after clashing with police in Moscow.
“What a joy that you are here!” Navalnaya wrote before being detained and posting a picture of herself from inside a police van.
The protests in Moscow were estimated to be the largest demonstrators since 2019 when Navalny supporters rallied to demand free local elections.
Navalny had called on Russians to protest this week after surviving a near-fatal poisoning with Novichok and returning to Moscow following months of treatment in Germany, only to be arrested on arrival.
Some protesters marched towards the Kremlin, while others blocked Tverskaya Street, the Russian capital’s main thoroughfare.
Police clashed with the demonstrators in the city centre and hit them with truncheons, AFP journalists said. The protesters threw snowballs at the police.
Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Fund said on Twitter said that “an incredible number” of people had gathered in the capital.
Moscow police, which are accused of downplaying turnout at rallies, said 4,000 turned up.
Earlier Saturday thousands took to the streets in the Far East, Siberia and the Urals including Khabarovsk, Novosibirsk and Yekaterinburg.
Over 1,000 protesters were arrested across the country, the OVD monitoring group said.
Demonstrators in Moscow reported mobile network disruptions and sporadic internet.
Navalny’s supporters in Moscow held signs saying “Free Navalny” and “Don’t be afraid” and chanted “Putin is the enemy of people.”
The rallies are a test of the opposition’s ability to mobilise ahead of parliamentary elections this year, despite increasing Kremlin pressure on critics.