Russian police have arrested more than 3,000 people in nationwide protests demanding the release of opposition leader Alexey Navalny, the Kremlin’s most important enemy.
The unprecedented protests in more than 60 cities – in temperatures as low as -50 Celsius (-58 Fahrenheit) – showed how Navalny has built influence far beyond the political and cultural centers of Moscow and St. Petersburg.
In Moscow, around 15,000 protesters gathered in and around Pushkin Square in the city center, where clashes with police erupted and protesters were dragged by helmeted riot officers to police buses and detention trucks. Some were beaten with batons.
Navalny’s wife Yulia was among those arrested.
The protests spread across the vast territory of Russia, from the island city of Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk in northern Japan and the eastern Siberian city of Yakutsk, where temperatures plunged to -50 ° C, to the lowest cities. most populated in Russia.
Navalny and his anti-corruption campaign have built a vast network of support despite official government crackdowns and being routinely ignored by state media.
Navalny was arrested on January 17 on his return from Germany to Moscow, where he had spent five months recovering from a severe nerve poisoning that nearly killed him, which he blamed on the Kremlin. Russian authorities have denied the accusation.
Authorities say his stay in Germany violated the terms of a suspended sentence in a 2014 criminal conviction, while Navalny said the conviction was on fabricated charges.