Tens of thousands have taken to the streets in recent weeks to protest against the incarceration of Alexey Navalny, a prominent critic of President Vladimir Putin.
An ally of Kremlin critic Alexey Navalny has announced plans for a new nationwide protest in support of the jailed politician, telling Russians to gather in residential courtyards on Sunday evening and turn on their mobile phone torches.
Tens of thousands have taken to the streets in recent weeks to protest against the incarceration of Navalny, a prominent critic of President Vladimir Putin, who says he is being persecuted for political reasons.
Police detained over 11,000 people who took part in what they said were unsanctioned protests which the Kremlin condemned as illegal and dangerous.
Calls for protests
Leonid Volkov, a Navalny ally based outside Russia, said the new protest format this weekend, which is reminiscent of tactics used by the anti-government opposition in neighbouring Belarus, should help distance protesters from the police.
Volkov called on people in big Russian cities to gather in residential courtyards near their homes at 1700 GMT and to stand there for several minutes shining their mobile phone torches.
He suggested some people bring candles and make heart shapes out of them to mark Valentine's Day, and photograph them from above in an event he said would last just 15 minutes.
The idea, he said, would then be to flood social media with images of the brief protest.
"Thought you were the only one in the whole big block who is not indifferent to what's happening in the country? You'll see that's not the case," Volkov wrote in a post on the Telegram messenger.
"No OMON (riot police), no fear. Maybe it'll seem like these 15 minutes will change nothing - but in fact they will change everything."
Navalny was arrested in January after returning to Russia for the first time since being poisoned last August in Siberia with what many Western countries said was a nerve agent. The Kremlin has questioned whether he was really poisoned.
He was jailed on February 2 after a court ruled he had violated the terms of a suspended sentence in an embezzlement case he says was trumped up.
The case has sparked new tensions between Russia and the West and renewed talk of sanctions. Navalny's allies have urged the West to target individuals close to Putin with punitive measures.
Russia's foreign ministry accused Navalny's allies of treachery on Tuesday for discussing potential sanctions with the West.
Russia sanctions with EU
Aides of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny said they discussed possible sanctions against prominent members of President Vladimir Putin's circle including business tycoons to ramp up pressure on Russia.
Leonid Volkov, the head of Navalny's regional network and another associate Vladimir Ashurkov on Monday discussed via video link with EU states the bloc's "next steps" on Russia.
The video call was hosted by Poland and included envoys from the United States, Canada, Britain and Ukraine, Poland's mission in the EU said on Twitter.
Volkov wrote on the Telegram messenger late Monday that he and Ashurkov discussed "personal sanctions" against billionaires Roman Abramovich and Alisher Usmanov.
He said they also named the head of Russian state bank VTB Andrey Kostin and television executive Konstantin Ernst, among others.
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Volkov did not say whether the meeting resulted in concrete agreements, but said Navalny's team will promote personal sanctions against the Putin circle "in the coming weeks and months."
The video call took place at a time of heightened tensions between the European Union and Russia, exacerbated by the arrest and jailing of Navalny.
Moscow on Friday expelled three European diplomats during the visit of EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell to Russia for allegedly taking part in protests in support of Navalny.
On Monday Germany, Sweden and Poland each ordered the removal of a Russian diplomat in retaliation.
EU foreign ministers have said they will debate punitive measures and possible sanctions against the Kremlin when they meet next on February 22.