After mass arrests at protests, Moscow jail space in short supply

By Maria Tsvetkova

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Anti-Kremlin protester Filipp Kuznetsov was detained in Moscow on Saturday and found guilty by a court on Monday of taking part in an illegal protest. But it was only late on Wednesday that the authorities were able to find a jail cell for him.

After arresting what one monitoring group said was a record number of protesters at weekend rallies demanding Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny be freed from jail, Moscow police appear to be struggling to find enough space in detention facilities.

Tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets across Russia on Saturday to demand the release of Navalny, who was arrested at a Moscow airport this month after flying home for the first time since being poisoned with a nerve agent.

Kuznetsov, a 28-year-old entrepreneur, was arrested on Saturday near the prison housing Navalny. A court on Monday sentenced Kuznetsov to 10 days in jail for taking part in the protests, deemed illegal because they had not been pre-sanctioned by the authorities.

“I’m sitting in a police bus because there is no space in the jails,” Kuznetsov told Reuters by phone on Wednesday afternoon.

He said he knew Moscow’s jails were full from policemen who had guarded him and 17 other protesters in a police bus overnight outside a jail that had refused to accept them because it was full.

Kuznetsov messaged later on Wednesday to say the police had eventually found a prison for him after driving from jail to jail for more than 16 hours.

The policemen guarding him and the others had allowed volunteers to bring food while they were waiting in the bus and had sometimes escorted them to the nearby jail to use the bathroom, Kuznetsov said.

By the time he got to jail, he said he had not slept for over 30 hours.

“Free people don’t get tired. We support each other,” he said.

The Moscow police department did not respond to a request for comment.


The OVD-info protest monitoring group, which counts arrests one by one and offers legal support, said police on Saturday detained nearly 4,000 people at protests across Russia, over 1,500 of them in Moscow.

It said it had compared the figures with the number of arrests counted at previous protests, and found both were record figures for President Vladimir Putin’s long rule.

“The number of people arrested after the rallies was really big and there is no space for them in Moscow jails,” said Grigory Durnovo, an OVD-info analyst.

Putin has called the pro-Navalny marches illegal. Kremlin critics cite their constitutional right to protest.

(Reporting by Maria Tsvetkova and Mikhail Antonov, Editing by Andrew Osborn and Timothy Heritage)

Europeans, UK tell U.N. Navalny poisoning a ‘threat to international peace, security’

By Michelle Nichols

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The poisoning of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny “constitutes a threat to international peace and security,” Britain, France, Germany, Estonia and Belgium wrote in a letter to the United Nations Security Council, seen by Reuters on Thursday.

“We call on the Russian Federation to disclose, urgently, fully and in a transparent manner, the circumstances of this attack and to inform the Security Council in this regard,” they said in the letter sent to the 15-member body late on Wednesday.

Navalny was flown to Berlin in August after falling ill on a Russian domestic flight. He received treatment for what Germany said was poisoning by a potentially deadly nerve agent, Novichok, before being discharged in September.

The letter to the Security Council said that on Sept. 2 the German government confirmed that tests had shown “unequivocal proof that Mr Navalny had been poisoned by a chemical nerve agent from the Novichok group, which was developed by the Soviet Union and subsequently held by its successor state” Russia.

Russia has denied any involvement in the incident and said it has yet to see evidence of a crime. The Russian mission to the United Nations did not have an immediate comment on the letter.

The European members of the Security Council and Britain noted that last November the Security Council adopted a statement reaffirming that any use of chemical weapons “anywhere, at any time, by anyone, under any circumstance is unacceptable and a threat to international peace and security.”

“As such, we consider that the use of a chemical nerve agent from the Novichok group in the abhorrent poisoning of Mr Alexey Navalny constitutes a threat to international peace and security,” they wrote.

The letter was sent as Russia takes the monthly presidency of the Security Council for October.

The United States did not sign the letter, but on Wednesday U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said: “The Russian Government must provide a full accounting for the poisoning of Alexei Navalny and hold those involved responsible.”

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

U.S. House members ask Trump to probe Navalny poisoning, suggest sanctions

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Republican and Democratic leaders of the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee called on President Donald Trump’s administration on Tuesday to investigate the suspected poisoning of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, suggesting sanctions might be necessary.

“If the Russian government is once again determined to have used a chemical weapon against one of its own nationals, additional sanctions should be imposed,” Representatives Eliot Engel, the Democratic committee chairman, and Michael McCaul, the panel’s top Republican, said in a letter to Trump.

Germany, where Navalny is in a hospital, has said Navalny was poisoned with a Soviet-style Novichok nerve agent and wants the perpetrators held to account. Russia has until now not opened a criminal investigation and said there is no evidence yet of a crime.

Navalny is the most popular and prominent opponent of President Vladimir Putin, and the German announcement that he was poisoned by a nerve agent has raised the possibility of further Western sanctions against Moscow.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the letter. Trump said on Friday his administration had not yet seen proof that Navalny was poisoned.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Alistair Bell)