Russian Prosecutors Urge Navalny Jail Term as Protests Swell

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 jail 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 5,414 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 opposition leader 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 1,802 in Moscow and 1,205 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 crackdown.

Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, defended the police action as a response to the “provocations” of demonstrators. He also accused Navalny’s allies of working for foreign governments by calling for sanctions against Putin associates in a conference call with reporters Monday.

Putin, Poison and the Importance of Alexey Navalny: QuickTake

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.

— With assistance by Stepan Kravchenko, and Andrey Biryukov

Source: Read Full Article