MOSCOW — Russian police have detained almost 1,400 people at anti-war protests across Russia after President Vladimir Putin sent troops to invade Ukraine, an independent monitor said Thursday.
“More than 1,391 people have already been detained in 51 cities,” said OVD-Info, which tracks arrests at opposition rallies.
More than 700 people were detained in Moscow and over 340 people in the second-largest city Saint Petersburg, the monitor said.
In a move that appeared to be aimed at silencing any outward criticism of the invasion inside Russia, authorities warned anti-war sympathizers from gathering for protests of the military operation.
The Investigative Committee, a government body that investigates major crimes, warned Russians of legal repercussions for joining unsanctioned protests related to “the tense foreign political situation.”
It said it was responding to social media calls to protest against Putin’s decision to attack Ukraine.
“One should be aware of the negative legal consequences of these actions in the form of prosecution up to criminal liability,” it said.
The Russian interior ministry said it will take “all necessary measures to ensure public order.”
Russia has strict protest laws and demonstrations often end in mass arrests.
The Kremlin said earlier it believes Russians will “support” Moscow’s military operation in Ukraine, saying the duration of the mission will depend on “results” and last as long as necessary.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said a “solid majority” of Russians support Moscow’s recognition of east Ukraine’s rebels. “That is why we can expect that this will be supported too,” Peskov said.
There are no fresh independent polls indicating the public mood in Russia on war with Ukraine.
Peskov did not say how long Moscow’s operation could last, saying that it will be President Vladimir Putin’s decision and based on “results.”
He said the operation has its “goals that need to be achieved.”
“Ideally, Ukraine needs to be liberated and cleansed of Nazis,” he told reporters.
He said the invasion was “not an occupation.”
In the early hours of Thursday morning, Putin announced he was launching a major military operation in Ukraine.
In doing so, he defied a barrage of international sanctions and weeks of calls from Western leaders not to make any moves against Ukraine.
But Peskov said that it was not possible to fully isolate Russia, and that its relations with certain countries were already strained.
“A country like Russia cannot be behind an iron curtain,” he said.
“Of course, we may have problems with a number of states [due to the invasion], but we had problems with these states even before that.”
Jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny said earlier on Thursday that he was against the invasion in a speech during his trial, held behind bars.
“I am against this war,” Navalny was heard saying in a video published by independent news outlet Dozhd.
“This war between Russia and Ukraine was unleashed to cover up the theft from Russian citizens and divert their attention from problems that exist inside the country,” Navalny said.