Russia police launch mass raids against opposition activists
Moscow — Russian investigators on Thursday raided dozens of regional offices of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, after allies of President Vladimir Putin suffered losses in local elections in Moscow on Sunday.
Navalny, who had instructed supporters to vote strategically to push out pro-Kremlin candidates, said the raids were the result of Kremlin “hysteria”. Putin’s ruling United Russia party lost almost a third of its seats.
Navalny and his supporters had also organised protests ahead of the poll after opposition politicians were barred from standing.
Navalny said on YouTube: “Putin got upset and is stomping his feet.… That’s what we’re seeing in 41 cities across the whole country,” he added, looking tired in a video hastily shot on his smartphone.
He said the raids were carried out at more than 200 addresses in “the biggest police operation in Russia’s modern history”.
Police, investigators, national guards and security service members were all involved and seized equipment including phones and computers, he said.
The raids, reportedly by more than 1,000 officers, targeted his network of campaign offices and the homes of campaign coordinators and their relatives, as well as his Anti-Corruption Foundation, which has worked to expose officials’ questionable wealth.
“We’re calling them raids but in fact they are more like assault and robbery,” he said later in a live appearance on his YouTube channel, adding that in each raid “first all electronics are seized, and then the person has all bank cards blocked”.
One female activist was forced to undress, he said.
Law enforcement agencies have not yet made any official comment on the raids.
Navalny’s spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh accused the authorities of attempting to deal a “massive blow” to the organisation.
“These raids are an act of intimidation,” she said.
“The police’s only goal is to confiscate our material and paralyse our work,” she said. “We won’t stop.”
Yarmysh said she had seen a vehicle marked as belonging to the powerful Investigative Committee outside Navalny’s Moscow office but “we don’t have any raids”.
In the city of Yekaterinburg in the Urals region, officers wearing masks and black uniforms without identifying marks prevented anyone from entering the office, local media reported.
The office in the city of Perm, also in the Urals, reported that operatives climbed through the windows and then pulled the front door down.
The raids came after Russian investigators in August launched a money-laundering probe into Navalny’s foundation, which seeks donations from the public.
Russian investigators initially accused the foundation of laundering 1-billion roubles ($15.3m). In early August, a Moscow district court froze 75-million roubles ($1.1m) held in accounts by the foundation and staff members.
Navalny’s aide, Leonid Volkov, said on social media that those targeted by the raids were being called in for questioning as “witnesses” in the probe.
The 43-year-old missed several protests while serving a 30-day jail term for organising previous unauthorised protests.
Since emerging as the Kremlin’s chief critic and a highly effective campaigner and organiser, Navalny has faced a slew of legal action apparently aimed at hindering his political activities.
“The only way the police state could respond to the mass rallies was with mass raids,” a lawyer for Navalny’s anti-corruption foundation, Alexander Golovach, wrote on Twitter.