Law enforcement officers stand guard during a demonstration after Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was sentenced to three and a half years in jail, in Moscow, Feb. 2, 2021.
Law enforcement officers stand guard during a demonstration after Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was sentenced to three and a half years in jail, in Moscow, Feb. 2, 2021.

The Russian government dismissed Western criticism Wednesday of its sentencing of opposition politician Alexey Navalny and the massive rallies that followed that resulted in the arrest of hundreds of protestors.

A Russian court sentenced Navalny Tuesday to three and a half years in prison, defying condemnation abroad and public outcry at home to send one of the Kremlin’s most vocal critics to jail.   

Western countries have demanded that Moscow release Navalny, but Russia has told them not meddle in its sovereign affairs. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told reporters in Moscow that the Western demands were "arrogant and improper," and maintained the Kremlin would not be influenced by Western “hysterics.”

A still image taken from video footage shows Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny
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Navalny’s sentencing immediately triggered new protests in Moscow and St. Petersburg that followed large demonstrations over the past two weekends, resulting in the arrest of more 1,400 protestors.

Russian police beat many peaceful protesters and used tasers against some in an attempt to suppress the opposition.

Lavrov defended the Russian police response to the protests, contending it was much less forceful than some police actions against demonstrators in Western countries.

Given that the opposition figure had previously spent 10 months under house arrest during a previous phase of the trial, the verdict means Navalny will now spend the next two years and eight months in a Russian penal colony.

The court found Navalny violated his parole from a prior 2014 suspended sentence by failing to notify prison authorities of his whereabouts when he was evacuated to Berlin for treatment following a near-fatal poisoning attack.  He was arrested soon after arriving back in Moscow.

Navalny insists the poison attack was carried out by Russian security services who laced his underwear with a military grade nerve agent while the opposition leader was traveling in Siberia last August. Russian authorities deny this.

Charles Maynes contributed to this report.