Alexei Navalny’s supporters plan Valentine’s Day gatherings across Russia

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Supporters of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny plan to hold candle-lit gatherings in residential courtyards across Russia on Sunday despite warnings that they could be arrested.

Mr Navalny’s allies called a halt to street rallies until the spring after police detained thousands of people at protests against the arrest and imprisonment of the opposition politician.

But supporters want Russians to show solidarity with Mr Navalny by gathering outside their homes for 15 minutes on Valentine’s Day evening, shining their mobile phone torches and arranging candles in the shape of a heart.

“(President Vladimir) Putin is fear. Navalny is love. That’s why we will win,” Leonid Volkov, one of Mr Navalny’s close allies, wrote on Twitter as he called on people to gather.

Mr Navalny was arrested last month on his return from Germany following treatment for poisoning, in Siberia, with what many western countries said was a nerve agent.

He was jailed on February 2 for violating bail on what he said were false charges.

He blamed Mr Putin for the poisoning. Western countries were considering more sanctions against Russia.

The Kremlin denied involvement and doubted whether Mr Navalny was poisoned.

Mr Volkov, who is based in Lithuania, is one of several allies of Mr Navalny now abroad or under house arrest in Russia.

He urged people to flood social media with pictures of Sunday’s gatherings – a new venture for the opposition that resembles political actions in neighbouring Belarus – using the hashtag #loveisstrongerthanfear in Russian.

Another activist has called on women to form a human chain on a pedestrian street in Moscow on Sunday afternoon in support of Mr Navalny’s wife Yulia – who according to media reports flew to Germany this week – and other women affected by the police action against protesters.

Russian law enforcement agencies said on Thursday that people taking part in unsanctioned rallies could face criminal charges.

Some human rights groups said police used disproportionate force against protesters in recent weeks.

The Kremlin has denied repression by police and said the protests were illegal as they were not approved and risked spreading the coronavirus.

Last week, Mr Putin blamed the pandemic for fuelling the protests and tried to downplay the role of Mr Navalny.

Speaking at a meeting of chief editors of mostly pro-government media, Mr Putin refused to refer to Mr Navalny by name, calling him “the defendant”.

“This defendant is being used just as people’s fatigue is emerging all over the world, including in our country,” he said.

“Irritation has piled up, people have become disgruntled including by their living conditions, by the level of income.”

Mr Navalny was in effect an outlet for anger at the authorities over the pandemic, he said.

“Be it pandemic or not pandemic. Who is to blame? The authorities. But that’s the fate of the authorities.”

The national

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