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Navalny asks Russians to overcome 'fear'

February 5, 2021

Opposition leader Alexei Navalny sent a message to Russians from prison, urging them to overcome fear. Meanwhile, US President Joe Biden has made his first public comments on Navalny.

In this photo taken from a footage provided by Moscow City Court, Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny shows a heart symbol during a hearing.
Image: Moscow City Court/AP Photo/picture alliance

Imprisoned Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny on Thursday called on Russians to overcome their fear and "free'' the country from a "bunch of thieves."

He thanked his family and supporters in an Instagram post, after Russian authorities had arrested thousands of protesters on the basis that their rallies were not authorized. 

"Iron doors slammed behind my back with a deafening sound, but I feel like a free man. Because I feel confident I'm right. Thanks to your support. Thanks to my family's support," said the 44-year-old anti-corruption activist who will serve 2 years and 8 months in prison as a result of a conviction earlier this week for violating the terms of a prior probation.

On Thursday, US President Joe Biden made his first public comments on Navalny's conviction, demanding the opposition leader's release.

"The Russian efforts to suppress freedom of expression and peaceful assembly are a matter of deep concern to us and the international community," Biden said. "Mr Navalny, like all Russian citizens, is entitled to his rights under the Russian constitution. He's been targeted for exposing corruption. He should be released immediately and without condition."

Biden also said that Washington would no longer be "rolling over in the face of Russia's aggressive actions." 

Navalny supporters in prison

Earlier in the evening, French President Emmanuel Macron said that Navalny's sentencing was a "huge mistake" for Russia's stability.

"The Navalny case is a very serious situation," Macron told an online forum sponsored by the Atlantic Council, a US-based think-tank. 

"I think this was a huge mistake even for Russian stability today," he added.

Russia won't heed 'interference'

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also discussed Navalny's case during their first phone call on Thursday. 

Lavrov told his new counterpart it was necessary to respect Russia's legislation and judicial system, according to a statement by the Russian Foreign Ministry.

The conversation came on the heels of renewed comments from Moscow saying that it does not intend to pay attention to "interference" from other countries in its internal affairs, as international criticism over Navalny's sentencing mounts.

Ahead of a scheduled trip to Moscow, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borell said he did not consider international criticism of the Navalny case to be meddling in Russian internal affairs.

"The issue here is compliance with universal principles and international obligations," he told Interfax.

Supporters to shift focus to parliamentary elections

Meanwhile, supporters of Navalny have called for a temporary pause on mass protests during the winter, adding that more would be held in the spring.

In a livestream on YouTube, Navalny's chief strategist Leonid Volkov — who is currently residing abroad — said that weekly protests would otherwise gradually reduce the number of participants, which would be demotivating.

He told supporters to focus on challenging Kremlin contenders in September's parliamentary elections and securing new Western sanctions against Russia to increase pressure for Navalny's release.

dvv/msh (AFP, dpa)