Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny attends a rally marking the 5th anniversary of the murder of opposition politician Boris Nemtsov and protests against proposed changes to the country’s constitution on February 29, 2020 in Moscow, Russia.
Shamil Zhumatov | Reuters
WASHINGTON – Foreign Minister Anthony Blinken has condemned the Russian authorities’ “persistent use of tough tactics” against peaceful protesters who took to the streets across Russia on Sunday to demand the release of opposition leader Alexei Navalny.
For the second year in a row, tens of thousands gathered across the country to draw attention to Navalny, a loud critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who was arrested by authorities earlier this month.
According to a surveillance group, more than 4,500 people were arrested by the Russian authorities for participating in the protests.
“We again call on Russia to release those detained for the exercise of their human rights, including Aleksey Navalny,” Blinken wrote in a tweet.
Last year, Navalny was medically evacuated to Germany from a Russian hospital after falling ill after reports that something had been added to his tea. Russian doctors treating Navalny denied that the Kremlin critic had been poisoned, blaming his comatose condition for low blood sugar levels.
In September, the German government announced that the 44-year-old Russian dissident had been poisoned by a chemical agent on nerves and described the toxicological report as “clear evidence”. The nerve agent was in the Novichok family, which was developed by the Soviet Union.
The Kremlin has repeatedly denied having played a role in Navalny’s poisoning.
Earlier this month, Navalny flew from Berlin to Russia, where he had recovered for almost half a year since being poisoned last summer. He was arrested at passport control.
The Russian authorities had issued an arrest warrant for Navalny, alleging that he had violated the three and a half year suspended sentence he received in 2014 for embezzlement.
“Mr. Navalny should be released immediately, and the perpetrators of the outrageous attack on his life must be held accountable,” wrote Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security adviser, on Twitter shortly after his arrest.
Last week Blinken expressed “deep concern” about the treatment of Navalny and the general human rights situation in Russia.
“It remains to be seen how concerned and perhaps even frightened the Russian government seems to be of a man, Mr. Navalny,” Blinken told reporters during a press conference on Wednesday.
Newly confirmed Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks to reporters during his first press conference at the State Department in Washington on January 27, 2021.
Carlos Barria | Reuters
“As the President said, we are examining all these measures, which are of great concern to us, whether they are the treatment of Mr Navalny and, in particular, the obvious use of a chemical weapon in an attempt to assassinate him. ” “Added the nation’s top diplomat.
Blinken also said Wednesday that the Biden administration is investigating the hack on SolarWinds, reports of Russia’s bounties to American forces in Afghanistan, and possible election disruptions.
Biden previously vowed to “work with our allies and partners to hold the Putin regime accountable for its crimes”. He had previously accused the Trump administration of not representing Moscow strictly enough.