EU, US Call on Russia to Immediately Release Alexei Navalny and Protesters

Foreign Ministers of the European Union are meeting in Brussels Monday to debate the response of the 27-nation bloc to Russia’s arrest of opposition leader and Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny and the police crackdown on pro-Navalny demonstrators, as pressure grows to impose sanctions on the Kremlin.Arriving for the meeting, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said that the most recent “wave of detention is something that worries us a lot, as well as the detention of Mr. Navalny.”German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said that “everyone in Russia has the right to express their opinion and to demonstrate” under the Russian constitution. “The principles of the rule of law must apply there, too,” Maas added, “Russia has always committed itself to that.”Speaking to France-Inter radio Sunday, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian discussed what he called Russia’s “authoritarian drift,” saying that “all light must be shed” on Navalny’s poisoning as an “assassination attempt.”EU leaders have called on Russia to immediately release Navalny and all pro-Navalny protesters in detention.The United States strongly condemned the arrests and use of “harsh tactics against protesters and journalists this weekend in cities throughout Russia,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in a statement Sunday. Sorry, but your browser cannot support embedded video of this type, you can
People gather in Pushkin Square during a protest against the jailing of opposition leader Alexei Navalny in Moscow, Jan. 23, 2021.Protests across RussiaTens of thousands of supporters of jailed opposition politician Alexei Navalny thronged the streets of Russia Saturday, defying warnings from authorities that those attending faced police arrest and additional health risks because of the coronavirus. The protests were called by Navalny after the opposition leader was jailed upon his return to Russia last weekend from Germany, where he’d been recovering from a poisoning attack that nearly took his life last August.Independent monitoring group OVD-Info reported about 3,200 arrests as of Saturday night, including Navalny’s wife, Yulia, and his aide, politician Lyubov Sobol. Several dozen journalists were also detained. Yulia Navalnaya confirmed her arrest in Moscow in an Instagram post created from inside a police van, apologizing for the look of her posting. ”Sorry for poor quality. Very bad light in a paddy wagon,” she wrote Saturday. Thousands of Navalny’s supporters were in the streets of more than 60 Russian cities Saturday to demand the Kremlin critic’s immediate release, defying the measures taken by police to break up the protests, which they have declared illegal. Opposition leader Alexei Navalny is escorted out of a police station on Jan. 18, 2021, in Khimki, outside Moscow, following the court ruling that ordered him jailed for 30 days. Risky strategy   Navalny was arrested upon his return to Russia last Sunday, ending a nearly five-month recovery in Germany from a poisoning attack he suffered while traveling in Siberia last August.The opposition politician insists the assassination attempt was carried out on the orders of Putin, a charge the Russian leader vehemently denies. Yet Russian authorities have refused to investigate the incident, preferring to threaten new criminal charges against Navalny instead.Earlier this week, a judge sentenced Navalny to 30 days in prison pending charges of violating parole while recovering abroad.Russian Court Orders Putin Critic Navalny Held for 30 DaysReturning home after poisoning, Alexei Navalny finds a jail cellThe hearing was held in a makeshift courtroom inside the police station, proceedings Navalny labeled as “beyond the height of lawlessness” before calling for Russians to take to the streets in response.”The way they arrested him was against our constitution,” said Ilya, 23, a demonstrator in Moscow.”If they can do it to a person like Navalny—with millions of followers online—they can do it to us.” Despite the large turnout, however, it was unclear whether demonstrators had made any progress on their central demand for Navalny’s release.The opposition leader’s chief strategist announced a follow up protest would be held again next weekend.”If enough of us come out, then they’ll have to let him go,” said Yuri, 22, who was passing out small Russian flags on Pushkin Square in Moscow.”We’re the real patriots of our country. Not those who steal from the people,” he added. 

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