Police in Moscow have detained dozens of supporters of opposition leader Aleksei Navalny who were campaigning for his bid to be elected as president in 2018, according to the politician's campaign and a monitoring group.
Nikolai Lyaskin, a senior activist in Navalny’s campaign headquarters in the Russian capital, said at least 52 volunteers had been detained as they tried to raise awareness about the Kremlin foe's attempt to run in the 2018 election -- which incumbent President Vladimir Putin is widely expected to win.
OVD-Info, a Moscow-based nongovernmental organization that monitors police actions at protests, said at least 48 people had been detained in the July 8 campaign action, in which activists fanned out across the city to pass out leaflets and carry red balloons bearing Navalny's name.
There were reports of detentions of Navalny volunteers in other Russian cities on July 8 as well, though there was no immediate comment about the reports from police.
Lyaskin was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying that some of those detained were released without charge, while others faced misdemeanor charges of violating rules on public demonstrations.
The reported detentions came a day after Navalny was released from a Moscow detention center -- having served 25 days under administrative arrest on charges that he violated a law against organizing public meetings.
Authorities on July 6 raided Navalny's Moscow headquarters where they seized computers, leaflets, and copies of the first edition of a newspaper that was to be distributed on July 8.
Police also briefly detained the coordinator of Navalny's office in the city of Perm late on July 6 -- releasing him the next day and seizing campaign materials from his car.
Navalny, an anticorruption crusader who has emerged as the key opposition political figure in Russia, has vowed to run for president in March 2018.
Navalny has spearheaded nationwide protests in Russia this year that have jolted the country's political establishment.
But it appears unlikely he will be allowed to run for the presidency.
Russia's Central Election Commission in June barred him from the election, citing a criminal conviction that Navalny says was a politically motivated attempt to block him from running for the presidency.
The reported July 8 detentions came on the same day that Putin delivered rare public comments about Navalny, whose name often remains unspoken when discussed publicly by Putin and other Kremlin officials.
Asked by a reporter at the conclusion of the Group of 20 summit in the northern German city why he does not say Navalny’s name, Putin suggested the opposition leader was not worthy of a dialogue with authorities.
"I believe that we can have a dialogue, especially at the presidential or government level, with people who offer a constructive agenda -- even a critical one," Putin was quoted by the state-run TASS news agency as saying.
"But if we're talking only about attempts to attract attention to one’s self, then this is not interesting for a dialogue," Putin added.
Navalny has built a loyal following -- most notably among young people with little interest in Kremlin dogma beamed out by state television -- thanks to his new-media savvy, irreverent rhetoric, and investigations of the wealth of senior officials and Kremlin-connected tycoons.
Dozens Of Russian Opposition Leader Navalny's Campaign Workers Detained