- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 24, 2021

The Kremlin reacted angrily Sunday to U.S. criticisms of its handling of nationwide protests against President Vladimir Putin, protests which so far have led to at least 3,500 detentions across the country.

The U.S. and a number of Western allies condemned the crackdown on protesters Saturday in more than 100 cities supporting leading opposition figure Alexei Navalny, who was detained by officials upon his return last week from Germany after a mysterious poisoning attack widely blamed on Mr. Putin’s government.

An expose video Mr. Navalny compiled shows a massive, luxurious Black Sea mansion purportedly built for Mr. Putin also has gone viral, infuriating the Kremlin.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov singled out a decision by the U.S. Embassy in Moscow to issue a “demonstration alert” warning U.S. citizens of the safety risks associated with Saturday’s protests. Embassy spokeswoman Rebecca Ross issued a statement on Twitter saying the U.S. supported “the right of all people to peaceful protest [and] freedom of expression.”

“Of course, these publications are inappropriate,” Mr. Peskov said in an interview Sunday on a state TV channel, the Moscow Times reported. “And of course indirectly, they are absolutely an interference in our domestic affairs.”

Mr. Peskov said Western media outlets were exaggerating the size of the protests, and he denied that Mr. Putin has any relationship to the Black Sea property in Mr. Navalny’s video, which the opposition leader said includes a private hockey rink, full-scale theater, two spas and 11 bedrooms.

Mr. Navalny is accused of violating the terms of a suspended sentence that was imposed in a 2014 fraud and money-laundering conviction, which he says is unfounded and designed to punish him for his political activism.

He is to appear in court on Feb. 2 for a hearing on whether the suspended sentence will be converted to 3½ years in prison, The Associated Press reported.

The State Department has issued a statement calling for Mr. Navalny’s release and European Union officials said Sunday the bloc plans to meet this week to discuss the situation in Russia.

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