Police have arrested nearly 1,500 people across Russia following protests calling for the release of imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny. Navalny is reported to be in serious condition following a three-week hunger strike in prison.
The arrests occurred across 82 cities, with the largest number of arrests occurring in St Petersburg with a total of nearly 600. The Capital city of Moscow saw thousands march through the city centre, with Moscow police stating 6,000 were in attendance. However, one observer told Navalny’s YouTube channel the crowd numbered 60,000. Navalny’s spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh and prominent supporter Lyubov Sobol were both arrested before the protests began.
The protests come in the wake of a report claiming Mr Navalny’s health was rapidly deteriorating in prison following his hunger strike. Vladimir Ashurkov, a close ally to Navalny and the executive director for the Foundation for Fighting Corruption said, ‘the situation with Alexei (Navalny) is indeed critical.’ Last year Mr Navalny survived a nerve agent attack, an attack the Russian authorities continue to deny responsibility for. Navalny was arrested in January following his return from a hospital in Germany and was sentenced to three and a half years for violating probation orders. On Sunday Mr Navalny was transferred to a different prison for medical treatment following his hunger strike. Prison authorities have said Navalny was in a stable condition and was receiving sufficient medical care despite accusations that Mr Navalny’s civilian doctors were denied access.
The protests occurred on the same day as Vladimir Putin’s seventeenth annual state-of-the-nation address. Putin has yet to mention Mr Navalny by name and made no reference to the protests during his speech. Putin did, however, condemn alleged attempts of foreign governments to impose their will on Russia, saying perpetrators of provocations will regret it “in the way that they have not regretted anything for a long time.” Global leaders have continued to voice concern for the health of Alexei Navalny, with the White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan saying there would be consequences if Navalny died whilst in Russian prison.