Protesters across Russia call for Alexey Navalny’s release on same day as Putin’s annual speech

The unauthorized marches did not reach the 500,000 protesters that Navalny’s team had wanted to attract, but large crowds in Moscow, St. Petersburg and other cities showed the dedication of his supporters, who demand that the critic of the hunger strike Kremlin be released and allowed to receive independent medical treatment.

In a statement on Telegram, the Navalny team said they are confident that their “demands will certainly be met. After all, the truth and the good are on our side.”

Navalny Chief of Staff Leonid Volkov, speaking live on Telegram, called turnout “unprecedented” and said in Moscow “based on what we saw at least 60 000 – much more than what we saw in January. “

State media and the Home Office had lower estimates of the turnout. RIA Novosti reported that around 14,400 people took part in “unauthorized protest actions in 29 cities in Russia”.

The ministry estimated the number of protesters in Moscow at 6,000.

The nationwide protests took place the same day President Vladimir Putin gave his annual address to the nation, warning foreign powers not to cross Moscow’s “red lines” while making no mention of Navalny. .

“Anyone who organizes provocations that threaten our central security will regret it as if they have never regretted anything before,” Putin warned in a high-profile speech to lawmakers in the Russian capital.

The last chance to save Alexey Navalny

He said that “hostile actions against Russia do not stop” and claimed that it has become “customary to attack Russia at all times”, although it is “a welcoming country, open to true friendship “.

“We behave with the utmost restraint and modesty, often not reacting at all not only to unfriendly actions, but even to sheer rudeness. We want to have a good relationship with everyone, but we see what happens.” , Putin said.

“We really don’t want to burn bridges. But if someone perceives our intentions as indifference or weakness and is ready to burn or even blow up bridges, then Russia’s response will be asymmetric, swift. and lasts. “

His words come at a time of heightened tensions between Russia and the Western powers. Last week, the United States imposed sweeping sanctions on Russia for its interference in the 2020 US election, its massive cyberattack on SolarWinds and its continued occupation and “serious human rights violations” in Crimea.
The United States and the European Union have also condemned the treatment of Russian authorities to Navalny, who has been on hunger strike since March 31.
Alexey Navalny supporters hold signs stating
Navalny’s team had called nationwide protests on Wednesday demanding the release of the opposition leader, who was transferred this week from a penal colony to a regional prison hospital east of Moscow, amid growing concerns about his health.

Two close allies of Navalny, his press secretary Kira Yarmysh and activist Lyubov Sobol, were arrested Wednesday morning in Moscow, according to their lawyers.

Russia’s Interior Ministry on Monday warned people to “refrain from participating in unauthorized actions,” citing restrictions on coronaviruses.

For months, opposition activists have faced a harsh show of force, most clearly demonstrated on January 31, when more than 5,000 people were arrested during nationwide protests in 85 cities in support of Navalny.

Putin made no mention of Navalny in his speech, but addressed an alleged coup and assassination plan against Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, wondering why “such blatant actions do not find self-condemnation. – saying collective West “.

Respond to national concerns, Putin called on all citizens to get vaccinated against Covid-19, saying “maximum coverage” of the population by inoculation was a priority. “This is the only way to stop the deadly pandemic,” he said.

“I call on all regional governments and the Ministry of Health to continue working on it. The opportunity to get vaccinated should be made widely available so that by the fall we would be able to develop immunity to people. herds. “

Putin also pledged to fight climate change, saying: “We need to respond to climate change and adapt agriculture and industry.”

He said a carbon recycling industry should be created, while strict control and monitoring should be placed on emissions. “Over the next 30 years, the amount of emissions is expected to be less than [the] The European Union, “he insisted.” It is a difficult task, given the geography of our country, its size and the structure of its economy. But I’m absolutely sure it’s doable. ”

‘Walking skeleton’

Navalny has been on a hunger strike for three weeks, demanding “appropriate medical attention” and an independent doctor’s examination – something his team claims he was unable to obtain in the Pokrov penal colony.
Navalny's life is 'personal' to Putin's responsibility, say Russian politicians

The Russian Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN) said in a statement Monday that he had been transferred to a prison hospital in the Vladimir region, which specializes in “dynamic” observation of patients.

The statement said Navalny was in “satisfactory” condition and was being examined by a doctor every day. With Navalny’s consent, he was prescribed “vitamin therapy,” the prison service added..

In an Instagram post shared by his team on Tuesday, Navalny joked about his current condition, saying he looked like “a walking skeleton” that could be used to scare children who refused to eat.

“If you saw me now you would have a laugh.” A walking skeleton, staggering around the cell, ”Navalny said.

Commenting on doctors’ concerns about a dangerously high level of potassium in his blood, he said: “You can’t take me that easily. After ‘Novichok’ even the potassium isn’t that bad.”

Navalny blames Russian security services for his poisoning last year with the nerve agent Novichok. The US and the EU largely agree and have sanctioned Russian officials for their involvement. Russia denies any involvement in the poisoning.

Navalny was sent to jail after a Moscow court on February 2 changed his suspended sentence to jail for breaches of his probation. He was arrested on his return from Germany to Moscow, where he was recovering from the poisoning.

American words “ not strong enough ”

In an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Tuesday, Navalny’s chief of staff said Russian authorities did not want the Kremlin critic “to die in custody, but they want him to suffer.”

Volkov said Navalny was fed glucose but started to go on a hunger strike again to protest his captivity. “He is very weak but can still walk … and during the transport from his colony to his prison hospital he felt very sick, received glucose, but now he is back on hunger strike. and will continue.

According to Volkov, Russian authorities refused to allow Navalny to be treated by his own medical team when they arrived earlier Tuesday at the facility where he is being held in solitary confinement.

On Sunday, US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said that in the event of Navalny’s death, Russia would be held responsible and there would be “consequences”.

Volkov told CNN that Sullivan’s words were “strong but not strong enough.”

“He is illegally detained in prison, he is tortured … he must be immediately released and the European Court of Human Rights is part of the Russian legal system, it must comply with it,” he said. . “I prefer Putin to be held responsible for what is happening now, before he dies.”

CNN’s Anna Chernova and Zahra Ullah reported from Moscow and Laura Smith-Spark wrote from London. CNN’s Katharina Krebs and Emmet Lyons contributed to this report.

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