Biden Admin Keeps Pressure on Putin, Blasts 'Harsh Tactics' Against Pro-Navalny Protesters

The Biden administration on Sunday offered support for the thousands of "peaceful protesters" across Russia who've come out in support of jailed Vladimir Putin critic, Alexei Navalny—while also calling for the immediate release of the 3,300 demonstrators arrested over the weekend.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken kept up pressure on the Kremlin Sunday to pull back on the extremely tight security measures and police crackdowns which are intended to quash pro-Navalny protests across the country's 11 time zones.

"The U.S. condemns the persistent use of harsh tactics against peaceful protesters and journalists by Russian authorities for a second week straight," Blinken tweeted Sunday. "We renew our call for Russia to release those detained for exercising their human rights, including Aleksey Navalny."

Navalny, 44, is perhaps Russian President Putin's best-known critic and opposition leader who was arrested on January 17 after returning from Germany. He'd spent the previous five months there recovering from a nerve-agent poisoning that he blamed directly on the Kremlin.

But the Russian Foreign Ministry immediately rebuked Blinken's remarks as a "crude interference in Russia's internal affairs." The Kremlin accused Washington of attempting to destabilize the situation in Moscow by offering support for the protesters.

"U.S. gross interference in the internal affairs of Russia is the same proven fact as the 'promotion' of fakes and calls for unauthorized shares controlled by Washington by Internet platforms. Supporting the violation of the law by US Secretary of State Blinken is another proof of Washington's behind the scenes role," the Russian Foreign Ministry wrote on its official Facebook page Sunday morning.

The Kremlin went on to make a veiled reference to the January 6 Capitol "protests," which left five people dead and capped weeks of former President Donald Trump calling for "wild" demonstrations against the November election results. The Russian Foreign Ministry shared a document that accused the U.S. and other Western governments of "overextending and unbalancing Russia" for their own gain.

President Joe Biden personally urged Putin to release the jailed Kremlin critic during a phone call the two had earlier this week, according to White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki. The call was an effort to "maintain transparency and consistent communication going forward" between the two leaders. Putin agreed to extend the Obama-era "new START" nuclear treaty for five years and Biden doubled down on U.S. support for Ukraine. Biden reportedly chided Putin for the poisoning of Navalny, but it's unclear how the Russian leader responded.

A two-hour film released by Navalny's anti-corruption group last week described Putin's "secret palaces" and enormous wealth, and has garnered millions of views since his arrest.

Newsweek reached out to the White House for additional remarks Sunday morning.

Russia protests
MOSCOW, RUSSIA - JANUARY 31: (RUSSIA OUT) Police detain protesters during an unauthorized protest rally against the jailing of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, on January 31, 2021, in Central Moscow, Russia. Police on Sunday detained more than 4100 protesters demanding the release of Vladimir Putin's critic Alexei Navalny. Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images/Getty