U.S. 'deeply concerned' by Navalny sentence: Blinken

FILE PHOTO: Newly confirmed U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken takes questions during his first press briefing at the State Department in Washington, U.S., January 27, 2021. REUTERS/Carlos Barria/Pool

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States is deeply concerned by a prison term meted out to Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny on Tuesday, and repeated its call for his immediate release, saying it would coordinate closely with allies about how to hold Russia accountable.

“The United States is deeply concerned by Russian authorities’ decision to sentence opposition figure (Alexei) Navalny to two years and eight months imprisonment, replacing his suspended sentence with jail time,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.

“We reiterate our call for the Russian government to immediately and unconditionally release Mr. Navalny, as well as the hundreds of other Russian citizens wrongfully detained in recent weeks for exercising their rights, including the rights to freedom of expression and of peaceful assembly,” he added.

A Russian court sentenced Navalny to three and a half years in jail after ruling he had violated the terms of his parole, but said his prison term would be shortened for time he had served earlier under house arrest.

Navalny, one of President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent critics, was arrested at the Russian border on Jan. 17 after returning from Germany where he had been recovering from being poisoned with a military-grade nerve agent.

“Even as we work with Russia to advance U.S. interests, we will coordinate closely with our allies and partners to hold Russia accountable for failing to uphold the rights of its citizens,” Blinken said. The United States and Russia have agreed to extend the New START strategic nuclear arms control treaty, due to expire on Friday, by five years.

Reporting by Arshad Mohammed and Doina Chiacu in Washington; Writing by Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Chris Reese and Matthew Lewis