Tens of thousands of people across Russia took to the streets on Sunday for protests demanding the release of opposition leader Alexei Navalny. Security forces came out in full force for what was the second straight weekend of protests, detaining more than 4,700 people as they put on a show of strength unlike any in recent history. Among the approximately 1,500 people detained in Moscow was Navanly’s wife, Yulia Navalnaya, who had also been briefly arrested last week. “If we keep silent, they will come after any of us tomorrow,” she wrote on Instagram before the protest.
In an effort to keep numbers low, police paralyzed several of the country’s largest cities to try to prevent people from getting to the protests after last week saw some of the largest anti-Kremlin street demonstrations in years. In Moscow, for example, security forces shut down seven subway stations and blocked off streets. What followed was a “cat-and-mouse game,” as the Guardian puts it, with police chasing after protesters through the streets.
The violent actions by the police that often detained people with force coupled with the blockades seems to have at least partially work to dissuade some people from joining the demonstrations that seemed to be smaller than last week. “Moscow looks like a fortress today,” a protester said.
Despite the violence from police forces, thousands still marched through Moscow streets for hours, often chanting, “Putin, thief!” and “Putin, resign!” So many people were arrested in Moscow that there was no more room in the detention facilities across the city, according to Amnesty International. Despite the threat of arrest more people turned out in some Russian cities than last week leading to hope among the opposition that the protests could be sustained.
Footage from protests from other parts of the country showed security forces were also aggressively detaining people who participated in protests. In the Siberian city of Nobosibirsk, for example, police detained drivers who were honking their car horns to show solidarity with the protests. “Russia without Putin!” protesters yelled. In St. Petersburg, Russia’s second-largest city, police made a strong show of force and more than 1,000 people were arrested.
The United States criticized the detentions of protesters and called on Moscow to release Navalny. “The U.S. condemns the persistent use of harsh tactics against peaceful protesters and journalists by Russian authorities for a second week straight,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Twitter. Russia’s Foreign Ministry pushed back, calling Blinken’s statement a “crude interference in Russia’s internal affairs.”
Navalny’s aides have called on Russians to again take to the streets on Tuesday, which is the date of a scheduled court hearing in which the opposition leader could be sent to prison for years. Navalny was detained at a Moscow airport earlier this month right after he returned to Russia from Germany, where he spent five months recovering from a nerve-agent poisoning that he blames on the Kremlin.