MOSCOW: Allies of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny prepared for a fresh round of anti-government demonstrations on Sunday despite authorities ramping up pressure on the opposition with arrests and criminal probes.
Navalny aides have called for the new nationwide rallies to demand the opposition leader’s release from jail where he is awaiting trial, set to start on February 2.
This week several Navalny associates, including lawyer Lyubov Sobol and his brother Oleg, have been placed under house arrest until late March pending charges for violating coronavirus restrictions by calling people to join protests.
Russian authorities have issued several warnings against participating in the upcoming unauthorised rallies and threatened criminal charges against protesters.
In an unprecedented move police in the capital Moscow announced the closure of seven metro stations and said movement of pedestrians would be limited in the city centre.
Moscow authorities also said that some centrally-located restaurants and shops will close and overground transport will be diverted.
Police detained 44-year-old Navalny at a Moscow airport on January 17 as he arrived from Germany, where he had been recovering from exposure to a Soviet-designed nerve toxin.
A makeshift court at a police station ordered the anti-graft campaigner placed in custody until his trial on charges of violating the terms of a 2014 suspended sentence.
Sunday’s Moscow rally is due to take place outside the headquarters of the Federal Security Service, Russia’s main security agency, which Navalny says carried out the near-fatal poisoning attack on the orders of President Vladimir Putin.
‘Wake them up’
“The majority is on our side. Let’s wake them up,” Navalny said on Thursday in a message from Moscow’s Matrosskaya Tishina, a high-security detention centre.
Tens of thousands of Russians took to the streets of over 100 cities across the country last Saturday to protest Putin’s 20-year-rule.
More than 4,000 demonstrators were detained while authorities launched a series of criminal probes.
Authorities are also targeting online platforms demanding they delete posts with calls for rallies or face fines.
The country’s media watchdog said Friday it summoned representatives of several social networks, including Facebook and TikTok, over failing to comply.
Russian authorities have launched probes against Navalny’s associates both in Russia and abroad.
The Investigative Committee said Friday that Leonid Volkov, head of Navalny’s regional network and who is based in Lithuania, was wanted on charges of calling minors to join unauthorised rallies.
On Saturday, investigators launched a fraud probe into Ukraine-based businessman Alexander Khomenko who they say funded Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation that publishes investigations into the wealth of Russia’s political elites.
Its most recent video report alleging Putin was gifted a $1.35 billion property on the Black Sea coast garnered over 100 million views on YouTube becoming Navalny’s most-watched investigation.
The Kremlin has denied that the Russian president owns the opulent complex, which according to Navalny features an underground ice hockey arena, a private casino and vineyards.
State television on Friday sought to rebut opposition claims the Black Sea property was a luxurious palace by airing footage of it under construction.
Billionaire Arkady Rotenberg — Putin’s former judo partner who is under Western sanctions — said Saturday he was the owner of the property and that he was building a hotel there.