Russian state security services have carried out simultaneous nationwide raids on the Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny’s regional headquarters four days after pro-Putin candidates suffered massive losses in the Moscow city assembly elections.
The operation, involving more than 1,000 officers in at least 200 individual raids and ostensibly in connection with money-laundering charges Navalny says are politically motivated, was carried out across 40 towns and cities the length and breadth of Russia, from Murmansk in the Arctic to Vladivostok on the Pacific coast. The homes of dozens of Navalny activists were also searched.
Leonid Volkov, a key Navalny aide, described it as a “pure act of political repression”.
Navalny directly linked the raids to a desire for revenge by the Kremlin after its losses in the Moscow elections. Navalny had instead urged his supporters to vote tactically at the polls to inflict the maximum possible electoral damage. Ratings for Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party have slumped to a near-record low of about 32% amid growing poverty and a five-year increase in the national pension age.
“Putin is very upset,” Navalny said in an online video. He said the raids were larger than any operation Russian law enforcement agencies had ever carried out to tackle corruption, drug-smuggling or terrorism. “It’s clear that only Putin himself could give the order for such a large-scale operation,” he said.
Masked officers carrying automatic weapons detained an unknown number of activists for questioning, while computers and other equipment were removed from offices across Russia. Navalny’s spokeswoman, Kira Yarmysh, called the raids “an act of intimidation and robbery”.
Russia’s powerful Investigative Committee alleges that Navalny’s FBK anti-corruption organisation laundered 1bn roubles (£12.2m) from 2016 to 2018. It said the money was “obtained by criminal means” and funnelled into a series of bank accounts in the guise of donations to the FBK from ordinary Russians. Investigators have given few other details and have not yet brought charges against anyone.
Navalny has dismissed the accusations as an attempt to silence the work of the FBK, which has produced a number of reports about alleged high-level corruption, including by members of Putin’sinner circle. Investigators also froze more than 100 bank accounts linked to the FBK and its employees.
Golos, an independent election monitoring group, said police also searched the homes of its activists. Navalny’s headquarters in Moscow were raided by police before the elections on Sunday.
Abbas Gallyamov, a former Kremlin speechwriter turned political analyst, told the Vedomosti newspaper that the security service raids were an attempt to cripple Navalny’s network of activists before regional and governor elections, due to take place next year across Russia. “There are practically no political tools left in the hands of the regime,” he said.
“We are not going to stop our work,” Navalny said after the raids. “It’s going to be quite hard for a while, but we are not giving up.”
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