Russian security forces rounded up more than 1,000 demonstrators on Wednesday as thousands of people in cities across the country rallied in support of jailed opposition leader Alexey Navalny, according to OVD-Info, an independent monitoring group.
The unauthorized marches fell short of the 500,000 protesters that Navalny’s team had aimed to draw, but big crowds in Moscow, St. Petersburg and other cities has shown the dedication of his supporters, who are demanding that the hunger-striking Kremlin critic be released and allowed to receive independent medical care.
In a statement on Telegram, Navalny’s team said they were confident that their “requirements will certainly be met. After all, truth and good are on our side.”
Navalny’s chief of staff Leonid Volkov, speaking live on Telegram, called the turnout “unprecedented” and said in Moscow “based on what we’ve seen 60,000 at least – much more than we saw in January.”
State media and the Interior Ministry had lower estimates for turnout. RIA Novosti reported about 14,400 people took part in “unauthorized protest actions in 29 cities of Russia.”
The ministry put the number of protesters in Moscow at 6,000.
The nationwide protests came on the same day that President Vladimir Putin delivered his annual address to the nation, warning foreign powers not to cross Moscow’s “red lines” while making no mention of Navalny.
“Whomever organizes any provocations that threaten our core security will regret this like they’ve never regretted anything before,” Putin warned in a wide-ranging address to lawmakers in the Russian capital.
He said that “unfriendly actions against Russia do not stop” and claimed it has become “customary to pick on Russia on any possible occasion,” despite it being “a welcoming country, open for real friendship.”
“We behave with the utmost restraint and modesty, often do not respond at all not only to unfriendly actions, but even to outright rudeness. We want to have good relations with everyone, but we see what is happening,” Putin said.
“We really don’t want to burn bridges. But if someone perceives our intentions as indifference or weakness and is ready to burn or even blow up bridges, then Russia’s response will be asymmetrical, swift and harsh.”