Kremlin Critic Navalny ‘Knew He Was Breaking The Law’: Putin

This combination of pictures created on October 1, 2020 shows Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny (L, on January 16, 2018 in Moscow) and Russian President Vladimir Putin (on July 4, 2019 in Rome). Tiziana FABI, Mladen ANTONOV / AFP

 

 

President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday that jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny ignored Russian law when he went to Germany for treatment after a near-fatal poisoning attack last year.

Navalny, a longtime anti-corruption and political campaigner, was arrested in January after he returned to Russia following months of treatment in Germany for a nerve agent poisoning he blames on the Kremlin.

“This person knew that he was breaking the law in Russia,” Putin said after a summit meeting with US President Joe Biden in Geneva, in reference to Navalny violating the conditions of a suspended sentence.

“Consciously ignoring the requirements of the law, he went abroad for treatment,” Putin said, accusing Navalny of having “deliberately acted to be detained”.

Navalny was subsequently jailed for two-and-a-half years on old fraud charges and his organisations banned as “extremist”, barring members and sponsors from running in parliamentary elections in September.

Putin said Navalny’s anti-graft group “publicly called for riots, involved minors in riots” and “publicly described how to make Molotov cocktails”.

Russian authorities have also piled pressure this year on independent media, with several outlets declared “foreign agents” and US-funded Radio Liberty/Radio Free Europe facing a flurry of large fines.

Putin has in turn accused Washington of “double standards” and of seeking to interfere in Russian domestic affairs.

He defended protesters who stormed the US Capitol, saying they had legitimate political demands, and said he would not be lectured on human rights by Washington.

Jailed Navalny Losing Sensation In Hands Says Lawyer

This screen grab from a handout footage provided by the Babushkinsky district court on February 5, 2021, shows Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, charged with defaming a World War II veteran, looking from inside a glass cell during a court hearing in Moscow. Handout / Moscow's Babushkinsky district court press service / AFP
This screen grab from a handout footage provided by the Babushkinsky district court on February 5, 2021, shows Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, charged with defaming a World War II veteran, looking from inside a glass cell during a court hearing in Moscow.
Handout / Moscow’s Babushkinsky district court press service / AFP

 

 

The health of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny is deteriorating as he keeps up his hunger strike in prison, with a new numbness in his hands, his lawyers said Wednesday.

Last Wednesday President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent opponent, who is serving two and a half years on embezzlement charges, launched a hunger strike to demand proper medical treatment for severe back pain and numbness in his legs.

Members of Navalny’s defence team, who visited him in his penal colony in the town of Pokrov 100 kilometres (60 miles) east of Moscow on Wednesday, said he is still refusing food and was coughing.

“He looks bad, he’s not feeling well,” lawyer Olga Mikhailova told AFP, adding Navalny now weighs “around 80” kilogrammes (176 pounds).

Navalny, who is 189 centimetres (six feet two inches) tall, weighed 93 kilogrammes (205 pounds) when he arrived in his penal colony last month.

“No one is going to treat him,” Mikhailova added.

Navalny’s lawyers and allies are demanding that he be transferred to a “normal” hospital but Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has said that Navalny is not entitled to any special treatment.

Another member of the opposition politician’s team, Vadim Kobzev, said that 44-year-old Navalny was losing a kilogramme a day.

Taking to Twitter, Kobzev said Navalny felt pain when he walked and was now also feeling a numbness in his hands in addition to back pain and a loss of sensation in his legs.

“It’s clear that his illness is getting worse,” Kobzev wrote.

Earlier this week, Navalny said he had a cough and fever and that three members of his prison unit had been hospitalised with tuberculosis.

Navalny was arrested in January after returning from Germany, where he spent months recovering from a poisoning attack with Novichok nerve agent he blames on the Kremlin.

He is serving a two-and-a-half year sentence for breaching the parole terms of a suspended sentence on old fraud charges.

Rights campaigners say the Pokrov penal colony is known for its especially harsh conditions, and Navalny himself has called it a “concentration camp.”

Jailed Kremlin Critic Navalny Announces Hunger Strike

In this file photo taken on February 20, 2021, Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny stands inside a glass cell during a court hearing at the Babushkinsky district court in Moscow. PHOTO: Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV / AFP

 

Jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny announced on Wednesday that he has gone on a hunger strike until he receives proper medical treatment for severe back pain and numbness in his legs.

Last week the 44-year-old opposition politician, who is serving a 2.5-year prison sentence in one of Russia’s most notorious penal colonies, said he was suffering from a pinched nerve that had caused his right leg to go numb.

In a post on Instagram on Wednesday, Navalny said that the back pain that had earlier caused his right leg to go numb was causing his left leg to now lose sensitivity too.

“I have gone on a hunger strike demanding that the law be obeyed and that a visiting doctor be allowed to visit me,” he wrote.

READ ALSO: Suspected ADF Militia Kill 23 In New Eastern DR Congo Massacre

Navalny, who is considered a flight risk by authorities, said last week that he is woken eight times per night by guards announcing to a recording camera that he is still in his cell.

On Wednesday, he said that instead of receiving medical treatment he is continuing to be “tortured with sleep deprivation”.

Navalny was detained in January after returning to Russia from Germany, where he had been recovering for several months from a poisoning attack he says was orchestrated by the Kremlin.

He was last month sent to prison for 2.5 years on old embezzlement charges his allies and Western governments say are politically motivated.

AFP

Jailed Navalny’s Health Worsening, Lawyers Denied Access

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny stands inside a glass cell during a court hearing at the Babushkinsky district court in Moscow on February 20, 2021. The Kremlin’s most prominent opponent Alexei Navalny faces two court decisions on Saturday that could seal a judge’s ruling to jail him for several years, after he returned to Russia following a poisoning attack.
Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV / AFP

 

 

Lawyers for jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny sounded the alarm Wednesday over the politician’s deteriorating health in prison and demanded immediate access, saying he complained of back pain and leg numbness.

Last August President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent critic survived a near-fatal poisoning with Novichok, a military-grade nerve agent, and was flown to Germany for treatment.

The 44-year-old was arrested upon his return to Russia in January and was sentenced to two-and-a-half-years in jail the following month. He is serving his sentence outside Moscow, in a penal colony notorious for harsh discipline.

Navalny’s lawyer Olga Mikhailova said on Wednesday he had recently been complaining of strong back pain, adding that his leg has gone numb this week.

The opposition politician had seen a neurologist but the doctor had not said what was wrong with him, Mikhailova said, adding that Navalny had simply been given ibuprofen.

“That’s all his treatment,” she told AFP, adding that the painkiller did not help, while his leg went numb on Tuesday.

“I don’t know what’s wrong with him. He should be seen by a proper doctor,” she said.

Mikhailova said she was not allowed to see Navalny on Wednesday.

Navalny’s team expressed strong concern.

The opposition politician’s right-hand man Leonid Volkov suggested the prison administration might be hiding the fact that he had been transferred to a prison infirmary.

“We don’t know where Alexei Navalny is and why they are hiding him from his lawyers,” Volkov said on Facebook.

– ‘Life in danger’ –
Maria Pevchikh, head of investigations at Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, said: “The rapid deterioration of his health condition raises our extreme concerns.”

“We believe that Navalny’s life is in danger and demand immediate access to him for his lawyers,” she tweeted.

Volkov said that on Thursday Navalny’s lawyers would make a new attempt to see him in his prison in the town of Pokrov, located more than 100 kilometres (62 miles) east of Moscow.

Navalny himself has described the Pokrov prison as a “concentration camp”, saying he was woken up every hour at night because he was considered a flight risk and guards recorded him on camera during his sleep.

Last month Navalny was sentenced to two and a half years in a penal colony for breaching parole terms while in Germany recovering from the poisoning attack.

On Tuesday, his team launched a campaign seeking Navalny’s release and announced plans to stage what they said would be “modern Russia’s biggest protest.”

Navalny’s allies urged supporters to register with the website free.navalny.com and mark their location on an online map.

The team said they would set a date for the protest once 500,000 supporters have been registered.

As of Wednesday, 200,000 people have signed up, including more than 40,000 people in Moscow and over 22,000 in the second city Saint Petersburg.

Tens of thousands of Navalny supporters took to the streets across Russia in January and February but those rallies were broken up and more than 10,000 were detained.

Washington and Brussels have demanded Navalny’s immediate release and imposed sanctions on Russian officials over his poisoning. On Wednesday, Canada followed suit, slapping sanctions against nine Russian officials in response to “gross” rights violations and Navalny’s silencing.

US To Impose Sanctions On Russia For Navalny Poisoning: Report

This handout picture provided by the Babushkinsky district court on February 12, 2021, shows Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, charged with defaming a World War II veteran, standing inside a glass cell during a court hearing in Moscow. (Photo by Handout / Moscow’s Babushkinsky district court press service / AFP) 

 

US President Joe Biden’s administration is preparing to impose sanctions on Russia for the poisoning and imprisonment of Kremlin critic Alexey Navalny, CNN reported Monday.

Citing two administration officials, CNN wrote that the United States will coordinate with the European Union to determine what the sanctions will entail and their exact timing.

According to one official, a potential option is an executive order that would trigger sanctions on Russia for repeated attacks on US democracy, including the SolarWinds cybersecurity hack and placing bounties on US soldiers in Afghanistan, CNN wrote.

The sanctions would be Biden’s first on Russia, and would be a marked departure from his predecessor Donald Trump’s approach to dealing with Moscow.

Trump was often accused of taking a soft line towards Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, particularly during their 2018 summit in Helsinki when he backed Putin’s claim that Moscow didn’t interfere in the 2016 US election — despite American intelligence agencies pointing to the contrary.

The European Union approved sanctions on four senior Russian officials earlier Monday, as UN human rights experts called earlier Monday for an international probe into Navalny’s poisoning and his immediate release.

The EU sanctions are on four justice and law enforcement officers involved in Navalny’s detention. The four are the first individuals to be targeted under the EU’s new human rights sanctions regime, which came into effect in December. They will be banned from travelling to the EU and any assets held there will be frozen.

Meanwhile, Agnes Callamard, the UN’s special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary executions, and Irene Khan, the top expert on freedom of opinion and expression, insisted on the need to ensure accountability for Navalny’s “sinister poisoning.”

They demanded his “immediate release” from a Russian penal colony, where he was transferred last week from a Moscow prison.

Navalny was jailed last month after returning to Moscow from Germany, where the 44-year-old had spent months recovering from a poisoning with a banned nerve agent he blames on Putin. The Kremlin denies it was behind the attack.

The imprisoning of Putin’s best-known opponent sparked nationwide protests that saw thousands of demonstrators detained and triggered calls in the West for Navalny’s release.

 Head Of Russian Prisons Confirms Navalny Was Sent To Penal Colony

This handout picture provided by the Babushkinsky district court on February 12, 2021, shows Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, charged with defaming a World War II veteran, standing inside a glass cell during a court hearing in Moscow. Handout / Moscow’s Babushkinsky district court press service / AFP

 

Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny has been transferred to a penal colony where he is to serve more than two years, the head of Russia’s prison service told news agencies Friday.

Read Also: How Ex-Convicts Formed A Robbery Gang In Prison, Got Arrested – Police

“He has been transferred to where he is supposed to be under the court ruling,” state news agency RIA Novosti quoted Alexander Kalashnikov, the head of the Federal Prison Service, as saying.

This screen grab from a handout footage provided by the Babushkinsky district court on February 5, 2021, shows Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, charged with defaming a World War II veteran, looking from inside a glass cell during a court hearing in Moscow. Handout / Moscow's Babushkinsky district court press service / AFP
This screengrab from a handout footage provided by the Babushkinsky district court on February 5, 2021, shows Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, charged with defaming a World War II veteran, looking from inside a glass cell during a court hearing in Moscow. Handout / Moscow’s Babushkinsky district court press service / AFP

“He has been transferred to where he is supposed to be under the court ruling,” state news agency RIA Novosti quoted Alexander Kalashnikov, the head of the Federal Prison Service, as saying.

Kalashnikov did not disclose the name of the prison but insisted that Navalny would serve his sentence in “absolutely normal conditions.”

“I guarantee that there exists no threat to his life and health,” he added.

Last week the European Court of Human Rights had ordered Russia to release Navalny, saying his life was in danger in prison, but Moscow swiftly rejected the call.

A spokeswoman for the Federal Prison Service said she could not provide further details and was not at liberty to release personal data about convicts.

Navalny’s lawyer Vadim Kobzev told AFP on Friday he was still unaware of his client’s whereabouts.

On Thursday afternoon the opposition politician’s defence team said Navalny had been transferred from a Moscow jail to an unknown location, possibly to a penal colony.

Navalny spent months recovering in Germany from the poisoning with the Soviet-era nerve agent Novichok that saw him fall ill on a flight in Siberia in August.

Russia has denied involvement but Navalny has said it was ordered by Putin.

Navalny was immediately arrested on return to Moscow in mid-January, and Amnesty International declared him a prisoner of conscience.

AFP

Russia Rejects Calls From Europe Court To Release Navalny

This handout picture provided by the Babushkinsky district court on February 12, 2021, shows Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, charged with defaming a World War II veteran, standing inside a glass cell during a court hearing in Moscow. (Photo by Handout / Moscow’s Babushkinsky district court press service / AFP)

 

 

Europe’s rights court told Russia on Wednesday to release jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny out of concern for his life, but Moscow swiftly rejected the call. 

Navalny, President Vladimir Putin’s most outspoken opponent, was arrested and jailed upon returning to Russia last month following months of treatment in Germany for a nerve agent poisoning he blames on the Kremlin.

His jailing sparked the largest anti-government demonstrations in years and a new crisis in Russia’s ties with the West, whose leaders are demanding the anti-corruption campaigner be set free.

Navalny, 44, appealed to the European Court of Human Rights for his release on January 20, just days after his arrest at a Moscow airport, saying his life was in danger if he remained in custody.

The Strasbourg-based court said Wednesday it had upheld that request and told Moscow to release Navalny “with immediate effect”.

It said that the ruling was taken with “regard to the nature and extent of risk to the applicant’s life”.

Russia is a member of the Council of Europe, a rights body of which the ECHR is a part. Member states are obliged to enforce ECHR decisions and in the past Russia has done so, including in cases involving Navalny.

But shortly after the court made its decision public, Russia’s justice ministry said its demands were “unreasonable and unlawful” and there were no legal grounds to release Navalny.

Justice Minister Konstantin Chuychenko told the Interfax news agency that the ECHR demands represented “clear and gross interference” in the activities of Russia’s justice system.

According to consitutional changes introduced in Russia last year, decisions enforced by international treaties may not be executed if they contradict Russia’s basic law.

– Back in court on Saturday –
Navalny is being held in a Moscow detention centre after a court ruled earlier this month to convert a suspended sentence for fraud he was handed in 2014 to nearly three years in jail over alleged violations of parole terms.

The ECHR had in 2017 ruled that the decision in that case was “arbitrary” and ordered Russia to pay compensation to Navalny and his brother Oleg, who served jail time.

Navalny will be back in court on Saturday to appeal his jailing in that case and in another trial where he is facing charges of defamation for calling a World War II veteran and others who appeared in pro-Kremlin video “traitors”.

The prosecution has asked the court to fine Navalny 950,000 rubles ($13,000/10,600 euros) in the defamation case.

In his complaint to the ECHR, Navalny argued that the Russian government could not provide “sufficient safeguards” for his life and health while he is in custody.

Navalny fell violently ill on a flight over Siberia last August and was airlifted to Berlin for treatment. Western scientists later concluded that he was poisoned with a Soviet-era nerve toxin, Novichok.

While Navalny, whose investigations into the lavish lifestyles of Russia’s elite have infuriated many in power, says Putin ordered the attack, the Kremlin has repeatedly denied any involvement.

Navalny’s allies on Wednesday insisted that Russia must continue to follow the ECHR’s decisions.

“This must happen, it simply cannot be otherwise given that the European Convention (on Human Rights) is part of Russian legislation,” his lawyer Olga Mikhailova told AFP.

“Russia has always complied with such decisions and will carry it out now,” Ivan Zhdanov, a key Navalny aide and lawyer by training, wrote on Telegram.

The head of Navalny’s regional network, Leonid Volkov, said the decision is “binding” for Russia under its obligations as a member of the Council of Europe.

He said that non-compliance could lead to Russia’s exclusion from the council and to “numerous and far-reaching consequences”, such as the rupture of a number of international agreements.

Other Council of Europe members have refused to enforce the court’s rulings, including Turkey which has rejected calls by the court to release a Kurdish political leader and a civil society figure accused of involvement in a 2016 coup attempt.

Russia Expels EU Diplomats Over Navalny Support

This screen grab from a handout footage provided by the Babushkinsky district court on February 5, 2021, shows Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, charged with defaming a World War II veteran, looking from inside a glass cell during a court hearing in Moscow. Handout / Moscow's Babushkinsky district court press service / AFP
This screen grab from a handout footage provided by the Babushkinsky district court on February 5, 2021, shows Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, charged with defaming a World War II veteran, looking from inside a glass cell during a court hearing in Moscow. Handout / Moscow’s Babushkinsky district court press service / AFP

 

Russia on Friday expelled diplomats from three European countries for taking part in protests in support of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, after the European Union said ties with Moscow had hit a new low.

With EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell in Moscow for a rare visit, Russia said it had declared diplomats from Poland, Germany and Sweden persona non grata for participating in “illegal protests” on January 23 in support of Navalny.

The West has fiercely condemned Navalny’s arrest in mid-January, a crackdown on mass demonstrations by his supporters, and a court ruling on Tuesday to jail the 44-year-old anti-corruption campaigner for nearly three years.

Moscow announced the expulsions just hours after Borrell met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to discuss ties, with the unspecified number of diplomats “ordered to leave Russia in the near future”.

READ ALSO: Russia’s Navalny Goes On Trial On Slander Charges

The foreign ministry did not provide details of how they had been involved in the protests, saying only that Russia expects foreign diplomats to “strictly follow the norms of international law”.

Russia has bristled at Western backing for Navalny, President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent opponent, accusing Europe and the United States of interfering in its domestic affairs.

“Our relationship is indeed in a difficult moment,” Borrell told Lavrov during the talks, adding that the relationship is “under severe strain and the Navalny case is a low point”.

The two men said there were hopes for cooperation in some areas, including on the coronavirus pandemic, but the announcement of the expulsions was unlikely to help ease tensions.

In a statement on Friday, Borrell said he had learned of the decision to expel three European diplomats in his meeting with Lavrov.

Borrell “strongly condemned this decision and rejected the allegations that they conducted activities incompatible with their status as foreign diplomats”.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel described the action as “not justified”, while French President Emmanuel Macron “condemned” the decision.

Sweden’s foreign ministry said the decision was “completely unfounded” and warned that it reserved the right “to an appropriate response”, while Poland said it could lead to the “further deepening of the crisis in bilateral relations”.

Borrell’s visit was the first to Russia by a senior EU envoy since 2017, following years of deteriorating relations sparked by Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.

Navalny back in court

Ties have further worsened in recent months, after three European labs concluded that Navalny was poisoned with a Soviet-designed nerve agent in an attack in Siberia in August.

He blames Putin for the poisoning, a charge the Kremlin denies.

Navalny was flown to Germany to recover from the poisoning then arrested at a Moscow airport when he returned to Russia in mid-January.

He was accused of violating the parole conditions of a 2014 suspended sentence on fraud charges and on Tuesday jailed for two years and eight months.

He was back in court on Friday on separate charges of defaming a World War II veteran, which could see him jailed for an additional two years.

The hearing was adjourned to Friday, February 12.

The trained lawyer is accused of describing people who appeared in a pro-Kremlin video — including the 95-year-old veteran — as “the shame of the country” and “traitors” in a June tweet.

In court Navalny and his lawyers said the case was politically motivated and a pretext to silence him.

‘Truth is on my side’

“It is clear to everyone that the truth is on my side,” he said, standing in a glass cage for defendants in the Moscow courtroom.

Borrell’s visit drew criticism from some European capitals worried Moscow would spin it as evidence Brussels is keen to return to business as usual, with some in Europe calling for new sanctions on Russia.

The Kremlin on Friday also lashed out against what it called “aggressive and unconstructive rhetoric” from the United States this week.

“We’ve already said that we will not heed patronising statements of this sort,” said Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

President Joe Biden on Thursday said the US will no longer be “rolling over in the face of Russia’s aggressive actions” and his officials said they would take action against Moscow over Navalny and for other “malign” behaviour.

Russia’s Navalny Goes On Trial On Slander Charges

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, charged with violating the terms of a 2014 suspended sentence for embezzlement, stands inside a glass cell during a court hearing in Moscow on February 2, 2021. (Photo by Handout / Moscow City Court press service / AFP) 

 

Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny went on trial Friday on charges of defaming a World War II veteran, days after being handed a nearly three-year prison term that sparked an international outcry.

An AFP journalist said the 44-year-old anti-corruption campaigner was present in the courtroom, standing inside a glass case for defendants.

Legal pressure has been mounting on Navalny and his allies since he returned in mid-January to Russia from Germany, where he had been recovering from a poisoning attack with the nerve agent Novichok.

He was ordered by a Moscow court this week to serve two years and eight months in prison for violating the terms of a 2014 suspended sentence on embezzlement charges he says were politically motivated.

On Friday, Navalny was facing defamation charges for describing people — including the 95-year-old veteran — who appeared in a pro-Kremlin video as “the shame of the country” and “traitors” in a June tweet.

The charge carries a maximum penalty of two years in prison and the court was not expected to pronounce a verdict Friday.

Navalny’s detention on his return to Moscow sparked mass demonstrations across the country that saw police arrest 10,000 protesters.

READ ALSO: Red Cross To Help 500 Million Get COVID-19 Shots

On Thursday he called on his supporters to fight fear and liberate Russia from a leadership he described as a “handful of thieves”, while his aides said more protests were planned for later this year.

The hearing came hours ahead of a planned meeting between the EU’s top diplomat Josep Borrell and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, in the first visit by a senior envoy from the bloc since 2017.

Borrell said ahead of the meeting that he would raise the issue of Navalny’s detention and the police crackdown on protesters.

AFP

Police Lockdown Moscow, Other Cities To Prevent Navalny Protests

Law enforcement officers are seen deployed in downtown Saint Petersburg prior to an expected rally in support of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny on January 31, 2021.  Olga MALTSEVA / AFP

 

Police locked down the centre of Moscow and other cities on Sunday as protesters took to the streets across Russia demanding the release of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.

Hundreds of police in riot gear lined the streets of the capital from the early hours of Sunday morning, restricting movements of pedestrians around the centre.

In a rare move, Moscow city authorities also closed several central Metro stations and diverted overground transport.

Opposition supporters had called for a second weekend of demonstrations after tens of thousands protested across the country last Saturday over the arrest of President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent opponent.

READ ALSO: Hong Kong Imposes Two-Day COVID-19 Lockdown

With protests beginning in Moscow and Saint Petersburg, independent monitor OVD-Info said at least 650 people had so far been detained across the country. It reported more than 4,000 detentions during last weekend’s protests.

Navalny was detained at Moscow airport in mid-January after flying back to Russia from Germany where he was recovering from an August poisoning he blames on the Kremlin.

The 44-year-old anti-corruption campaigner is being held in a Moscow detention centre and facing years of potential jail time in several different criminal cases, despite calls from Western governments for his release.

– ‘People are outraged’ –
On Sunday protesters rallied in cities including Vladivostok in the Far East, where several dozen gathered in a central square despite police closing it off ahead of the rally.

 

Law enforcement officers are seen deployed in downtown Saint Petersburg prior to an expected rally in support of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny on January 31, 2021.  Olga MALTSEVA / AFP

Several thousand were also reported to have protested in the Siberian city of Novosibirsk despite temperatures dropping to -20 degrees Celsius (-4 degrees Fahrenheit).

Local politician and Navalny ally Helga Pirogova told AFP that Sunday’s protest in Novosibirsk was potentially bigger than the week before.

“People are still outraged by what is happening,” the 32-year-old said.

In Moscow organisers were scrambling to deal with the massive police effort, announcing last-minute changes in locations as AFP journalists saw police starting to detain people.

Hundreds were marching through the centre chanting “Freedom!” and “Putin is a thief!”

In second city Saint Petersburg police closed off the main thoroughfare Nevsky Prospekt and police cars were parked all across the centre, an AFP journalist reported.

“The whole centre is cordoned off,” said Natalya Grigoryeva, who came to the Saint Petersburg rally with her daughter. “And who is this all against, against their own people?”

Russian authorities have issued several warnings against participating in the unauthorised rallies and threatened criminal charges against protesters.

Navalny is due in court in several cases next week, including on February 2 on charges of violating the terms of a 2014 suspended sentence.

His wife Yulia posted a picture of her family on Instagram on Sunday, urging supporters to make their voices heard.

“If we remain silent, then tomorrow they will come for any one of us,” she wrote.

– Allies in custody –
This week several Navalny associates, including lawyer Lyubov Sobol and his brother Oleg, were placed under house arrest until late March pending charges for violating coronavirus restrictions by calling people to join protests.

Navalny’s spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh was detained late Saturday also over violating virus measures, the same day she was due to walk free after a nine-day jail term for violating protest laws.

The head of Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, Ivan Zhdanov, said Saturday the Investigative Committee informed him that a criminal case on fraud charges had been launched against Navalny.

In December last year, investigators said they were initiating a probe into Navalny allegedly misappropriating over $4 million of donations to his organisations.

Days after Navalny was taken into custody, his team released a video report alleging Putin had been gifted a $1.35 billion property on the Black Sea coast, garnering over 100 million views on YouTube.

The Kremlin has denied that the Russian president owns the opulent complex, which according to Navalny features an underground ice hockey arena, a private casino and vineyards.

Billionaire businessman Arkady Rotenberg — Putin’s former judo partner who is under Western sanctions — said Saturday he was the owner of the property and that he was building a hotel there.

AFP

Putin Denies He Owns ‘Palace’ As Navalny Aides Urge Fresh Rallies

File photo: Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting with the members of the Security Council via teleconference call, in Moscow, Russia on November 6, 2020. Alexey NIKOLSKY / Sputnik / AFP

 

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday dismissed claims by opposition leader Alexei Navalny that he owns a lavish property on the Black Sea, as the opposition urged fresh nationwide demonstrations.

Fresh from protests last weekend, Navalny’s aides called again for Russians to take to the streets on Sunday ahead of a court case that could see Russia’s most prominent Kremlin critic put behind bars for more than three years.

The 44-year-old campaigner was detained earlier this month when he returned to Moscow from Germany, where he had been recuperating from exposure to a Soviet-designed toxin.

He called on his supporters in dozens of cities to rally last weekend and released a two-hour investigation into the palatial seaside property to spur allies to demonstrate.

The rallies saw a record number of arrests, and Putin on Monday denied having anything to do with the property in Navalny’s video, which has now been watched 86 million times.

“Nothing that is listed there as my property belongs to me or my close relatives, and never did,” Putin said during a video call with Russian students.

 

This combination of pictures created on October 1, 2020 shows Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny (L, on January 16, 2018 in Moscow) and Russian President Vladimir Putin (on July 4, 2019 in Rome). Tiziana FABI, Mladen ANTONOV / AFP

 

Navalny’s report — his most-watched anti-corruption probe by far — claims the property is worth $1.35 billion and features everything from an underground ice rink to a casino.

– ‘Terrorists’ jibe –
One of his key aides, Leonid Volkov, on Monday urged Russians to take to the streets again on January 31 “for Navalny’s freedom, for freedom for all, and for justice”.

Saturday’s rallies saw clashes between police and protesters, 3,700 of whom were detained according to a monitoring group.

READ ALSO: Biden To Reinstate COVID-19 Travel Ban

Putin said on Monday that Russian citizens have the right to express themselves but that they must do so “within the framework of the law”.

A Moscow court on Monday handed down the first jail term following the protests, sentencing one demonstrator to 10 days in detention.

Putin also said minors should not be encouraged to join the unsanctioned rallies, referring to a claim repeated by authorities that the opposition had encouraged young people to protest.

“That’s what terrorists do. They put women and children in front of themselves,” the Russian leader said.

– Tech firms take flak –
The Russian foreign ministry on Monday repeated claims that US diplomats had encouraged Russians to participate in the rallies and said it had lodged a “strong protest” with the American ambassador.

That allegation followed earlier claims by the Kremlin that the US embassy was interfering in Russian affairs by publishing protest routes ahead of the rallies.

An embassy spokeswoman told AFP that it was “routine practice” for diplomatic missions to issue safety messages to their citizens abroad.

The foreign ministry’s spokeswoman Maria Zakharova on Monday also said Russia would probe American tech companies over “interference” related to the demonstrations.

Ahead of the rallies, Russia’s media watchdog Roskomnadzor ordered social media platforms including YouTube and Instagram to delete calls for demonstrations posted on their platforms.

Navalny’s arrest was met with widespread condemnation in the West with the European Union saying it was considering new sanctions on Russia.

European diplomats said on Monday that EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell would visit Moscow early next month to press the Kremlin on Navalny’s arrest.

AFP

Russia Rules Out Navalny Poisoning, Diagnoses Pancreatitis

Alexei Navalny
This handout picture posted on September 23, 2020 on the Instagram account of @navalny shows Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny sitting on a bench in Berlin. Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who the West believes was poisoned with a Soviet-era nerve agent, has been discharged from hospital after a month, his doctors in Berlin said on September 23, 2020.
Handout / Instagram account @navalny / AFP

 

 

Russian officials said on Friday that metabolic problems and pancreatitis caused Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny to fall ill in August, ruling out findings by European labs that he was poisoned with Novichok.

In August, the 44-year-old anti-graft campaigner collapsed on a flight from Siberia to Moscow and was eventually transferred for treatment to Germany where experts ruled he was poisoned with the Soviet-designed nerve agent.

The interior ministry’s Siberian branch said doctors who treated Navalny for two days before he was flown to Berlin confirmed their diagnosis of “disruption of carbohydrate metabolism and chronic pancreatitis”.

“The diagnosis of ‘poisoning’… was not confirmed,” it said in a statement.

The interior ministry added that no poisonous substances were found on Navalny’s clothes or on objects collected from his hotel or the airport cafe in the Siberian city of Tomsk where he was seen before the flight.

Navalny has claimed that Russian President Vladimir Putin is personally responsible for the poisoning, while the Kremlin has rejected all allegations it could have been involved.

The head of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) Sergei Naryshkin also claimed Friday that NATO countries plotted to use a Russian opposition leader as a “sacred sacrifice” to uphold the protest mood in the country.

Navalny said it was “funny” that both the interior ministry statement and Naryshkin’s interview with state television were released on the same day.

“It seems NATO countries convinced me to start a fatal diet,” Navalny wrote on Twitter.

Navalny’s poisoning has put further strain on Russia’s already fragile relationship with Western Europe.

In October, EU sanctioned several senior Russian officials over the poisoning, saying the attack with Novichok could not have been carried out without the complicity of the FSB security service, the defence ministry and Putin’s office.

Separately, the Russian foreign ministry accused Germany of using “made up pretexts” to avoid cooperating in investigating the incident. Moscow called on Berlin to “abstain from further artificial politicisation of the situation”.

In a phone call with German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas on Thursday, Russia’s top diplomat Sergei Lavrov highlighted the “unacceptability” of Berlin “refusing to fulfill its international legal commitments,” the foreign ministry in Moscow said.

Also on Thursday, police raided the offices of Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) in Moscow and removed equipment. The new raid was linked to a criminal case against Ivan Zhdanov, the foundation’s head, for failing to implement a court order.

A court in October last year ordered that Navalny, his associate Lyubov Sobol and the Anti-Corruption Foundation must jointly pay almost 88 million rubles ($1.1 million) to a catering firm linked to Kremlin associate Yevgeny Prigozhin.

Navalny has vowed to return to Russia after fully recovering in Germany.

-AFP