The highest US diplomat condemns the "powerful" crackdown on Russian protests and once more requires the Putin critic to be launched
Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny takes part in a rally marking the 5th anniversary of the murder of opposition politician Boris Nemtsov and protests against planned changes to the country's constitution on February 29, 2020 in Moscow.
Shamil Zhumatov | Reuters
WASHINGTON – Foreign Minister Anthony Blinken has condemned the "persistent use of tough tactics" by Russian authorities 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 and blamed 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 for nerves and described the toxicological report as "clear evidence". The nerve agent belonged to the von Novichok family, which was developed by the Soviet Union.
The Kremlin has repeatedly denied playing 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 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 Navalny's treatment 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 very dear to our hearts, 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 reviewing 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 has also previously accused the Trump administration of not being tough enough on Moscow.