The wife of Alexei Navalny is one of hundreds reportedly detained at a series of demonstrations in support of the jailed Putin critic across Russia.
Yulia Navalnaya was held at a rally in Moscow – the location for one of up to 70 marches this weekend – where more than 100 people have been detained, according to witnesses.
The gatherings, which police have declared illegal, are the first by Mr Navalny’s supporters since he was arrested last weekend on his return to Moscow, after spending five months in Germany recovering from novichok poisoning.
More than 800 people have been detained elsewhere in Russia because of the protests, according to monitoring group OVD-INFO.
Meanwhile, videos also show people being taken away from protests in Krasnoyarsk, Rostov-on-Don, and Yakutsk, where people have been gathering in -50C temperatures.
Other footage shows people being hit with batons in Orenburg and riot shields and tear gas being used in at least one city.
One tweeted video, apparently filmed in Moscow, is said to show an ally of Mr Navalny, the lawyer Lyubov Sobol, being grabbed by police and dragged away while taking part in a TV interview.
Video of the moment when Navalny ally/lawyer Lyubov Sobol is grabbed by riot cops while speaking in Moscow. (Video by @tvrain) pic.twitter.com/dCY0nlLzgi
The Sky team in Pushkinskaya Square, Moscow, says they have seen at least 50 carried away, apparently randomly. At least 10,000 have gathered at the site, according to Reuters.
Sky producer Anastasia Leonova says many in the crowd are shouting “Navalny”, “Putin should leave” and “Shame on you”.
Hundreds, possibly thousands more, appear to have been taking part in rallies and marches in Yekaterinburg, Irkutsk, Izhevsk, Nizhny Novgorod, Arkhangelsk and other cities in Russia’s east, where, it is claimed, protests are the biggest for some years.
There have also been reports that mobile phone and internet services in Russia have suffered outages as policecrack down on anti-Kremlin protesters.
Authorities sometimes interfere with communication networks to make it harder for protesters to get in touch with each other and the wider world online.
Dozens of journalists have been held across Russia, according to reports, and protests are also taking place outside Russia in Sweden, Finland, and the UK, among other countries.
Mr Navalny, 44, who is one of President Vladimir Putin’s most outspoken critics, blames Moscow for the attack that nearly killed him, although the Kremlin denies any involvement.
He is charged with breaking his bail conditions – and is facing a potential three-and-a half-year jail term if found guilty.
Anyone who takes part faces charges of rioting, fines, problems at work, prison and even threats over child custody as the Russian state tries to crack down on the demonstrations, which could be the largest against Mr Putin since 2018.
Officials also enforced a crackdown in the run-up to the demonstrations, arresting members of Mr Navalny’s team, including his spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh.
If turnout in the Far East is anything to go by, #Navalny protests today across Russia will be huge. Expect police to crack down hard in Moscow & St P especially; arrests backed up by criminal prosecution
They launched an investigation after young Navalny supporters flooded TikTok with anti-Putin videos, pushing for people to support the action this weekend and using the using the hashtags #freenavalny and #23Jan.
Anger mounted against Mr Putin this week after Mr Navalny’s team released a documentary exposing a vast and opulent palace built by Russia’s leader on the Black Sea coast.
The programme claims the complex – 39 times larger than Monaco – cost £1bn to build and was funded through illicit money.
More than 60 million people have now viewed the Russian-language video on YouTube within three days of it being published.
On Friday, ahead of the weekend of planned protests, Mr Navalny issued a statement saying he wanted it known that he had no plans to take his own life in prison.
The arrest of Mr Navalny has attracted widespread criticism from Western leaders, sparking new tensions in the already strained relationship with the US.
Despite the plans for the protests, Mr Putin’s grip on power appears solid, with the 68-year-old regularly recording approval ratings of more than 60%, many times higher than those of Mr Navalny.
The rally is not due to start until 2pm, but already here in Moscow, the police are making arrests and there are several hundred people around waiting.
It reminds me very much of the protests in the summer of 2019. There are huge numbers of press following each arrest. I haven’t seen any beatings yet, but the arrests are not pleasant.
#Moscow protests messy already, 40mins in. Wonder what the night will bring; car horns beeping in support, Belarus-style; riot police seem to be taking a leaf out of the Belarusian playbook too. pic.twitter.com/bWdMBLgnKE
Mr Sheglov told me: “I came here because I cannot live like this anymore, what they’re doing is not acceptable.
His daughter Olga said: “Our kids are being brainwashed. You have families with low income and they have another view of politics.
“When we saw the Putin’s palace investigation, we were so shocked. We used to vote for him, but this was the last straw. We believe 150%, a million percent that Navalny was poisoned.”
Another person at the protest, 16-year-old Yaroslavl, who we are not naming fully because he’s 16, said: “There’ll probably be more detentions than normal because it’s such a big day.
“I’m a bit concerned, but so many people have come together to defend their own opinion and to defend Russia.
“I was told at school not to come, that they might have extra lessons today, but I ignored them. And my parents were even more serious about me not coming, but I ignored them too.”
He said that today everyone went out not for Navalny, but for themselves, to fight for their rights.
© 2021 Sky UK
News – Alexei Navalny supporters arrested including wife Yulia as mass protests take place across Russia