Russian police have detained more than 3,000 people in a crackdown on protests in support of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny. At least 40,000 people joined a rally in central Moscow, according to Reuters, while Russia's interior ministry put the number of protesters at 4,000.
According to reports, demonstrations across the country was unprecedented and the largest in Moscow in the last decade. Protesters flooded Pushkin Square in central Moscow and nearby streets, pelting heavily armed riot police with snowballs.
So why are the Russians protesting and who is Russian Opposition leader Alexei Navalny?
The Arrest that Triggered the Protests
The protests began after Navalny was arrested shortly after his flight from Berlin back to Moscow on 17 January. Authorities claimed that the return was a violation of the terms of a suspended 2014 conviction in a money-laundering case, which Navalny maintains was an illegitimate case. On arriving at Sheremetyevo airport, he was arrested. He called for the nationwide protest following the arrests, and thousands answered his call.
Who is Navalny?
Navalny is a lawyer-turned-activist and a strong critic of President Putin. The 44-year-old blogger has millions of Russian followers on social media. He shot to fame when his blogs began exposing the corruption in the Russian government in the late 2000s.
His campaign against Putin had resulted in him getting arrested multiple times. In 2011 Navalny was arrested for the first time for his role at a rally outside the State Duma in Moscow.
In 2012, Putin ordered Russia's Investigative Committee to launch a criminal inquiry into Navalny's past. The following year the campaigner was charged and sentenced again, this time for five years, for alleged embezzlement in the city of Kirov. However, he was released the following day, pending affirmation from a higher court. The sentence was later suspended.
Running Against the President
In December 2016, the opposition leader announced the formal start of his campaign to run for the Russian presidency in March 2018. However, he was barred from running for the post after multiple allegations of the corruption were levelled against him.
Poisoning And Leaving the Country
His campaigning had made him a victim of alleged poisoning by Russian intelligence agencies. In 2018, Navalny was attacked with a bright green liquid in the Siberian city of Barnaul by an assailant who pretended to shake his hand. In 2019 he suffered an allergic reaction in jail, allegedly from an unknown chemical substance.
On 20 August, Navalny's spokesperson announced that after drinking tea while in an airport, the activist became violently ill during a flight. The plane made an emergency landing and he was rushed to a hospital in Germany.
Navalny was taken out of the coma, less than three weeks later. The German government said labs in France and Sweden both confirmed that Navalny had been poisoned with the Soviet-era nerve agent Novichok.
It was after this hospital recovery he returned to Russia, which led to his arrest.
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