Jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny is calling for Russians to stand up to “insane czar” Vladimir Putin by holding anti-war demonstrations and to not fear arrest in what has become a widening Kremlin crackdown on internal dissent since the Ukraine invasion began nearly a week ago.
“I am urging everyone to take to the streets and fight for peace,” Mr. Navalny, who has a history of leading protests against Mr. Putin but is currently detained at a Russian penal colony, said Wednesday.
“If, to prevent war, we need to fill up the jails and police vans, we will fill up the jails and police vans,” the 49-year-old opposition leader said in a statement posted on Facebook, according to the German news outlet Deutsche Welle.
“Let us at least not become a nation of frightened silence. Cowards who pretend not to notice the war of aggression unleashed by our obviously insane czar against Ukraine,” Mr. Navalny said.
The comments amid signs of a widening crackdown by Russian authorities against internal opposition to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. A key human rights group has said police have detained thousands in cities across Russia over the past several days.
At least 411 people were arrested in 13 Russian cities on Monday, according to the group, OVD-Info, bringing the total detained since the Ukraine invasion began on Feb. 24 to more than 6,400. A report Tuesday by The New York Times noted the number of arrests reported a day earlier by OVD-Info.
The arrests and ongoing demonstrations have fueled speculation over the potential for protests against Mr. Putin to grow following a massive crackdown by authorities a year ago, when the country was rocked by rallies after the jailing of Mr. Navalny. A previous crackdown occurred after large-scale protests in Russia in 2017.
The latest protests, against the Ukraine invasion, started occurring last week in several Russian cities, including Moscow. The Kremlin has sought to downplay the protests, insisting that a much broader share of Russians support the invasion.
Mr. Navalny expressed outrage over the Ukraine invasion while appearing last week for a court hearing being held in a penal colony in the Russian city of Pokrov.
“This war between Russia and Ukraine was unleashed to cover up the theft from Russian citizens and divert their attention from problems that exist inside the country,” he said at the hearing, according to a report by the U.S. government-backed news outlet Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
Dressed in a prison uniform, Mr. Navalny said the war would “lead to a huge number of victims, destroyed futures, and the continuation of this line of impoverishment of the citizens of Russia.”
Mr. Navalny has been detained at Pokrov since returning last year from Germany, where he had been recovering from a near-fatal poison attack he blames on the Putin government.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.
• Guy Taylor can be reached at email@example.com.