Police arrested more than a thousand people and used force to break up rallies across Russia on Saturday (January 23). As tens of thousands of protesters defied bitter cold and an official ban to demand the release of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny. Navalny had called on his supporters to take to the streets after being arrested last weekend on his return to Moscow, for the first time since being poisoned with a military-grade nerve agent in August. In central Moscow, Reuters reporters estimated at least 40,000 people gathered in one of the biggest unauthorized rallies in years. This was the moment police seized Navalny's wife, Yulia. Other close allies were also arrested. Police beat protesters with batons, bundled them into police vans. They chanted "Freedom for Navalny", but also “Putin is a thief” and “Disgrace”. Navalny and his supporters hope the mass demonstrations will pressure the authorities to let him go. The ex-lawyer accuses Vladimir Putin of ordering his killing, which the Russian president denies. A protest monitor group, OVD-Info, reported more than a thousand arrests at rallies in nearly 70 towns and cities. Opposition figures said the scale and sweep of these protests was unusual. In Russia's Far East, protesters braved temperatures a long way below freezing. The West has told Moscow to let Navalny go, sparking new tensions in already strained Russia ties as U.S. President Joe Biden launches his administration. In Brussels, EU lawmakers called for the bloc to halt the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline to take Russian natural gas to Europe. Russian mobile phone and internet services suffered outages, making it harder for protesters to communicate among themselves and share video footage online. Navalny could face years in jail over legal cases that he calls trumped up. His supporters hope to tap into public frustration over years of falling wages and economic fallout from the pandemic. But Putin's grip on power looks unassailable. The 68-year-old president regularly records an approval rating of over 60%, many times higher than that of Navalny.