Kremlin press secretary Dmitry Peskov called the police response to Sunday’s protests “harsh but lawful,” saying protesters “must be dealt with to the fullest extent of the law.” He blamed the large number of arrests on “hooligans.”
“There were quite a lot of hooligans and instigators behaving more or less aggressively toward law enforcement officials, which is unacceptable. Therefore, it’s only natural for police to act and take measures,” Peskov said. He rejected White House calls for Navalny’s release.
“As to the statements made by U.S. representatives on the unlawful demonstrations in our country, I repeat that we are not ready to accept and listen to such statements of the Americans and will not do so,” he said. Peskov also denied widespread arrests of journalists.
Navalny’s wife, Yulia Navalnaya, was fined about $270 by a court Monday for participating in Sunday’s rally, where she was detained for the second week running. She was released later Sunday.
In response to the crackdown on protesters, France’s secretary of state for European affairs, Clément Beaune, stepped up pressure for further sanctions against the Russian government on Monday.
Beaune also urged the German government to abandon the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, which Berlin has defended as a future supply route linking Russia and Germany. France, the United States and the European Union’s eastern member states have objected to the pipeline, saying that it makes the E.U. more dependent on the Kremlin.
Navalny left Russia for emergency treatment in Germany in August after his near-fatal poisoning with a Novichok-group nerve agent. He argues that he was undergoing treatment and rehabilitation until shortly before his return last month. Navalny has charged that the attack was ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
President Biden called for Navalny’s release last week in his first conversation with Putin since taking office.
Navalny, who has emerged as Putin’s main political rival, was arrested upon his return from Germany and locked up for 30 days in a pretrial detention center, a decision he described as “lawlessness.” He appealed against his detention, but a court last week rejected it.
Navalny and his brother Oleg were both convicted and sentenced to 3½ years in jail in 2014 for embezzlement. Oleg Navalny served his term, while his prominent brother received a suspended sentence. Russia’s penal service will call for Alexei Navalny to face his original jail term in Tuesday’s court hearing.
The office of Russian Prosecutor General Igor Krasnov said Monday the demand to reimpose the original sentence was “lawful and founded.” He added: “The prosecution intends to defend its stance at the court hearing.”Navalny has served one year of the 3½-year term under house arrest.
In 2017, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Russia had violated the Navalny brothers’ rights to a fair trial in the case. Alexei Navalny faces two other criminal cases for embezzlement, which could result in lengthy jail terms, effectively sidelining him as a political force for years.
Tens of thousands of Russians have braved icy temperatures, turning out on the past two weekends to demonstrate against Putin and call for Navalny’s release.
Sunday’s violent crackdown underscored the Kremlin’s unease over the protests.
A lengthy jail term would silence Navalny in a key year for the Kremlin — with parliamentary elections due this year — and could make it difficult for the opposition to maintain its momentum in its long struggle for fair elections and democracy.
Russian authorities have launched a sweeping crackdown against the opposition since Navalny’s return, searching the homes of key members of his Anti-Corruption Foundation and his network of 40 regional headquarters, detaining many. Several key figures face charges of orchestrating unauthorized protests or breaching covid-19 restrictions.
Former Russian prime minister Dmitry Medvedev, now deputy chairman of the Russian Security Council, called Navalny “a political opportunist,” claiming Monday that the anti-corruption activist was only out to get personal benefits from power and has become more cynical over time.
Medvedev was the target of one of Navalny’s viral videos in 2017, alleging he maintained an extravagant lifestyle with yachts, vineyards and a palatial mansion outside Moscow. He denies Navalny’s claims.
Navalny’s latest video, “Putin’s Palace: History of the World’s Largest Bribe,” has been viewed 106 million times since its release Jan. 19, two days after Navalny flew home. The video reported on a vast palace on the Black Sea, alleging that Putin allies set up a complex structure of companies to conceal that the palace was built for the president.
Russian state media host Dmitry Kiselyov on Sunday called the video a fake instigated by foreign intelligence to sabotage Russia. He aired an interview with Russian oligarch Arkady Rotenberg, Putin’s longtime friend and judo partner, who claimed the building belongs to him. Rotenberg has been under U.S. sanctions since 2014 as a member of Putin’s inner circle who profited from high-priced state tenders.
Medvedev also accused the opposition of dragging children into the protest movement, one of the main allegations leveled against Navalny’s team. The government has been alarmed over a flood of anti-Putin TikTok videos supporting Navalny.