Saturday, May 15, 2021

Russian activists who will lead the anti-graft crusade without Navalny

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While Russian anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny was sent to jail this week after his high-profile detention at a Moscow airport, supporters such as Lyubov Sobol endured their own battles with the security forces.

After she and other activists called on Russians to take to the streets this weekend in support from Mr. Navalny, security officials demanded that these “illegal” calls be wiped off the internet under threat of arrest, and police showed up outside their homes.

“They file as many criminal cases against us as possible, search us all the time and train us in interrogations to make our jobs more difficult and scare us,” said Ms Sobol, 33, one of M Navalny. Times Wednesday after his seventh interrogation in a month.

The next day, she was also detained as part of preventive measures ahead of planned protests in dozens of cities across Russia that are expected to elicit a strong police response.

“If you want to be a politician in Russia, you have to be prepared for it,” Ms. Sobol said before being kidnapped.

Mr Navalny has for years been the public face of the Russian opposition movement – a lightning rod for popular protests and a thorn in President Vladimir Putin’s side. Monday it was imprisoned for a month in an impromptu court heart at a police station after returning from Germany, where he was recovering from being poisoned last summer with the nerve agent novichok.

Less well known are the cadre of activists who support him and who also live under the threat of harassment and arrest. They will now be called upon to continue the work of Mr. Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation as he faces the threat of an additional three and a half years in prison, followed by 10 years in a separate case.

Alexei Navalny is escorted out of a police station following the court ruling that sentenced him to 30 days in prison © AFP via Getty Images

Mr Navalny’s detention will not be his first long absence. Prior to his poisoning – which the Kremlin in turn denies or blames Western intelligence agencies – he was jailed more than a dozen times for protesting Mr. Putin, who was nearly blinded with a chemical by a pro-activist. Putin, and spent a year under the leadership of Mr. Putin. arrest on suspended fraud charges used as a pretext to detain him this week.

The day after Mr Navalny’s arrest, his team released a two-hour video investigation alleging that the oligarchs had spent billions on a lavish palace for Mr Putin on the Black Sea coast. As of Friday, he had racked up over 53 million views on Youtube.

Maria Pevchikh, 33, a graduate of the London School of Economics who heads the foundation’s investigative unit that studied the video, said Mr Navalny ordered his team to dig in the palace as he was still in intensive care in Berlin and had helped find leads as he recovered. .

Maria Pevchikh heads the investigation unit of the Anti-Corruption Foundation which searched for the video alleging that the oligarchs spent billions in a lavish palace for President Vladimir Putin © Anti-Corruption Foundation

As he prepared for his return to Russia, Mr. Navalny gave instructions on how to run the foundation in the event of an arrest, according to Ms. Pevchikh, and prepared a list of oligarchs and officials he wants the US and EU to subject to sanctions.

“We have been preparing for this for seven years. They could kill him, and have tried to do so before. But are we ready? Yes, ”Ms. Pevchikh said.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters this week that Mr Putin’s claims that Mr Navalny were “absolutely absurd”. He later added that “Putin does not have a palace like the one featured in the documentary and said the president” has nothing to do with [Navalny’s] Stop”.

But staff at Mr. Navalny’s foundation say the Kremlin’s actions suggest otherwise. Last week, police arrested one of his cameramen for “inciting extremism” in two tweets that could see him jailed for five years.

Bailiffs seized Mr Navalny’s apartment last year after a court ordered him to pay Yevgeny Prigozhin, a Kremlin-linked caterer, more than $ 1 million in defamation costs. Ms. Sobol and others face similar lawsuits.

The crowdfunding foundation is labeled “Foreign agent” in Russia – a term Moscow can apply to any organization it accuses of receiving foreign support – and faces separate money laundering charges after police raided Mr Navalny’s offices in 45 cities in 2019.

Leonid Volkov, who heads Mr Navalny’s regional network, fled Russia after the raids and now runs offices as far as Vladivostok from Vilnius, the Lithuanian capital.

“Alexei and I weighed the risks and decided that at this point it was best for me to work abroad. The loss to our work would be great and there would not be much political benefit, ”Volkov said.

Leonid Volkov, left, with Alexei Navalny in Germany © Leonid Volkov / AP

Vladimir Ashurkov, executive director of the foundation, sought political asylum in the UK in 2014 after being charged with unrelated money laundering.

Ms Pevchikh, who lives in London but travels regularly to Russia, has no plans to return immediately after state media claimed she was a Western spy who poisoned Mr Navalny.

For now, Mr Navalny’s allies are working to defy police bans on holding rallies in his support on Saturday.

“You can’t be afraid all the time,” said Ksenia Fadeeva, head of the foundation in Tomsk, the city where Mr. Navalny was poisoned in August. “This is our country. . . we must fight against what is happening and not be afraid. It certainly makes us more angry and determined.

Ms Fadeeva was elected to city council a month later, defeating a candidate from Mr Putin’s United Russia party to become one of the few members of the Navalny team to hold an elected post.

Mr Navalny wants to repeat those successes through a “smart vote” in the parliamentary elections due later this year, where Ms Sobol heads the foundation’s list of candidates.

Ms Pevchikh, meanwhile, is already preparing her next presentation on corruption. “We are canceling all of our other plans for the next 30 days or the next three and a half years. It depends on how long they’ve jailed him, ”she said.

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