US meddling in ‘domestic affairs’ | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, January 25, 2021 / LAST MODIFIED: 03:17 AM, January 25, 2021

US meddling in ‘domestic affairs’

Says Russia a day after arresting 3,500 pro-Navalny protesters

The Kremlin yesterday accused the United States of interfering in Russia's domestic affairs and downplayed the scale of the weekend's protests, when tens of thousands rallied in support of jailed opposition politician Alexei Navalny. 

More than 3,500 demonstrators were detained in protests across the country on Saturday, with several injured in clashes with police in Moscow, following Navalny's call to rally against President Vladimir Putin's 20-year rule.

The West has widely condemned the "harsh tactics" used against demonstrators, with French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian yesterday saying the mass arrests of protesters was "an intolerable affront" and a "slide towards authoritarianism".

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell has said the bloc would discuss "next steps" on Monday.

Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov yesterday accused the US embassy of interfering in Russia's domestic affairs after the mission distributed a "demonstration alert" to US citizens in Russia recommending they avoid protests.

"Of course, these publications are inappropriate," Peskov told a state TV channel. "And of course indirectly, they are absolutely an interference in our domestic affairs."

A US mission spokeswoman said US embassies and consulates around the world routinely issue safety messages to US citizens.

"This is a common, routine practice of many countries' diplomatic missions," she told AFP on Sunday.

The US embassy in Moscow on Saturday said that Washington supported "the right of all people to peaceful protest, freedom of expression".

Peskov also accused protest organisers of seeking to "rock the boat" and said the number of people who had demonstrated paled in comparison to Putin supporters.

"A lot of people vote for Putin," Peskov said, pointing to last year's constitutional plebiscite that allowed 68-year-old Putin to remain in power until 2036.

Navalny, Putin's most prominent critic, was arrested on returning to Moscow last weekend following months of treatment in Germany for a near-fatal poisoning with a Soviet-designed Novichok nerve agent.

He then called for Saturday's unauthorised protests, which took on an unprecedented geographic scale, spanning more than 100 cities.

The OVD Info monitor said police seized at least 3,521 protesters, with 1,398 people detained in Moscow and 526 in Saint Petersburg.

The head of the Kremlin's human rights council, Valery Fadeyev, said most of those detained in Moscow had been released.

He also defended the detentions, saying the protests were illegal and took place during a coronavirus pandemic. "I see no violations whatsoever," he said.

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