In a note from jail, opposition leader Alexei Navalny urged Russians Thursday to overcome their fear and "free" the country from a "bunch of thieves," while the Kremlin cast the arrests of thousands of protesters as a due response to the unsanctioned rallies. Navalny, who was sentenced to two years and eight months in prison earlier this week, said in a statement posted on his Instagram account that "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." Navalny, 44, an anti-corruption campaigner who is Russian President Vladimir Putin’s most determined political foe, was arrested Jan. 17 upon returning from his five-month convalescence in Germany from a nerve agent poisoning, which he has blamed on the Kremlin.
In a no-holds-barred response to the protests, police arrested over 10,000 protest participants across Russia and beat scores of them, according to arrest-monitoring group OVD-Info. Speaking in a live YouTube broadcast, Leonid Volkov, Navalny’s chief strategist who is currently residing abroad, said the protests should pause until the spring after reaching a peak. He urged supporters to focus on challenging Kremlin candidates in September’s parliamentary elections and securing new Western sanctions against Russia to press for Navalny’s release, the AP reports. Hours later, President Biden made his first public comment on the matter, saying "Mr. Navalny, like all Russian citizens, is entitled to his rights under the Russian constitution. He’s been targeted, targeted for exposing corruption. He should be released immediately and without condition." (Navalny has a new nickname for Putin.)