Police in Russia detained 863 people at unauthorized rallies in Moscow and dozens of cities on Saturday as protesters called for the release of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, the OVD-Info protest monitor said. At least 40,000 people joined protests in Moscow on Saturday to call for the release of Navalny, Reuters witnesses estimated.Russian police have detained 1,090 people at unauthorized rallies across Russia on Saturday in support of Navalny, the OVD-Info protest monitor said.
The Interior Ministry put turnout in the protests at around 4,000 people, the TASS news agency reported.
Supporters of Navalny took to the streets in Russia's Far East on Saturday to demand his release on a day of nationwide protests that authorities have declared illegal and vowed to break up.
Russian police detained Yulia Navalnaya, the wife of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, at a protest in Moscow on Saturday, she wrote on her Instagram from inside a police van.
Police have declared the rallies in Moscow and dozens of other cities illegal and have arrested hundreds of people.
Navalny called on his supporters to protest after being arrested last weekend when he returned to Moscow for the first time after being poisoned in August with a military-grade nerve agent. Navalny had been treated in Germany.
Video footage from Vladivostok showed riot police chasing a group of protesters down the street, while demonstrators in Khabarovsk, braving temperatures of around -14 degrees Celsius (7 degrees Fahrenheit), chanted "Shame!" and "Bandits!"
In Moscow, police erected barricades around Pushkinskaya Square as workers were engaged in re-tiling it, an apparent attempt to thwart a demonstration scheduled to start at 1100 GMT.
Navalny, an ex-lawyer who has accused President Vladimir Putin of ordering his murder, could face years in jail over legal cases that he calls trumped up. Putin has denied involvement.
Navalny's supporters are hoping they can produce a show of anti-Kremlin street support despite winter conditions and the coronavirus pandemic to pressure the authorities into freeing him.
The West has told Moscow to let him go, sparking new tensions in already strained Russia ties as US President Joe Biden launches his administration.
In a push to galvanize support ahead of the protests, Navalny's team released a video about an opulent palace on the Black Sea they alleged belonged to Putin, something the Kremlin denied. As of Saturday the clip had been viewed more than 65 million times.
Police have cracked down in the run-up to the rallies, rounding up several of Navalny's allies they accused of calling for illegal protests and jailing at least two of them, including Navalny's spokeswoman, for more than a week each.
Authorities also announced a criminal investigation against Navalny supporters over calls urging minors to attend illegal rallies that it said were made on various social networks.
Navalny's allies hope to tap into what polls say are pent-up public frustrations over years of falling wages and economic fallout from the pandemic. But Putin's grip on power looks unassailable and the 68-year-old president regularly records an approval rating of over 60%, many times higher than that of Navalny.
The US Embassy published the locations and times of the protests, telling Americans to stay away. Russia's foreign ministry called this a "gross interference" in the country's domestic affairs.