MOSCOW (AP) — In his first conversation with new Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Russia’s top diplomat on Thursday slapped down U.S. criticism of opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s jailing and of the massive arrests of protesters seeking his release.
A Foreign Ministry statement said Sergey Lavrov “gave detailed explanations about the need to respect (Russia’s) legislation and judicial system.”
Since Navalny was arrested on Jan. 17 upon returning to Russia from Germany where he was recovering from nerve-agent poisoning, the United States has repeatedly called for his release. It has also called for the freeing of protesters arrested in nationwide demonstrations the past two weekends.
More than 10,000 people reportedly were arrested in those protests and in others that broke out Tuesday, after Navalny was ordered to spend 2 1/2 years in prison because he allegedly violated terms of a suspended sentence while in Germany.
Lavrov “drew (Blinken’s) attention to the problems related to the prosecution in the United States of those who protested in connection with the results of the presidential elections, and called for the transparency of the relevant judicial procedures,” the ministry statement said.
Russia has called US criticism over Navalny interference in its domestic affairs.
According to State Department spokesperson Ned Price, Blinken in turn raised the issue of the opposition leader’s poisoning — which Navalny blames on the Kremlin.
Blinken also called for the release of Paul Whelan and Trevor Reed, two US citizens imprisoned in Russia following convictions that Washington disputes — Whelan for espionage and Reed for assaulting a police officer.
Both diplomats welcomed the recent five-year extension of the New START nuclear arms treaty, the Russian statement said.