MOSCOW—Russian police detained around 2,500 protesters across the country during mass rallies in support of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny on Saturday, as his supporters vowed to continue their rallies until he is freed.
In what has shaped up to be a key test for his movement and a fresh challenge for the Kremlin, tens of thousands of people demonstrated in over 100 Russian cities, including the capital Moscow, according to independent monitors. Mr. Navalny, who was detained on Sunday upon his return to Russia from Germany following a near-fatal poisoning with a nerve agent, had urged his supporters nationwide to take to the streets.
For Mr. Navalny, who has shown an ability to mobilize his large following into demonstrations, Saturday’s protests are a new test of his clout after being out of the country for five months, while supporters are facing freezing temperatures and increasing pressure from authorities. The strength and sustainability of the rallies would be an indication whether his movement can grow even as he is facing a potentially yearslong prison sentence, analysts say.
The rallies are the latest against President Vladimir Putin’s government following demonstrations in recent years against declining political freedoms and stagnating living standards. Observers say that the major concern for the Kremlin is whether the rallies could grow into a long-term display of resistance and attract more people ahead of this year’s parliamentary election.
“The protests are a vivid headache” for many in the ruling elite, said Konstantin Gaaze, a Moscow-based political analyst and former government adviser. “And for Navalny, it’s all in, he has nothing else but the menace of street protests.”