Russia raids Navalny’s offices but Kremlin critic is free

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AFP

Moscow

Russian police on Thursday conducted fresh searches at Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny’s anti-corruption foundation, with his team calling the raid a new bid to disrupt their work.

Navalny, 43, said he was not detained, contrary to earlier reports. “I was simply forcibly dragged out of the office (for some reason),” he said on Twitter.

Navalny also said the police were seizing “everything,” and suggested the raids took place Thursday because he was to address supporters in a weekly YouTube programme in the evening.

Navalny also linked the searches to his refusal to remove a 2017 report that accused Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev of massive corruption and has racked up nearly 33 million views on YouTube.

A picture posted by his staff on Twitter showed Russian President Vladimir Putin’s top opponent sitting on the floor with his legs crossed and two men in black uniform looking at him.

A video released by the team showed how law enforcement agents tried to break into the FBK offices using a power saw that sent sparks flying.

“New Year’s fireworks,” Navalny’s ally Nikolai Lyaskin quipped on Twitter. Another video showed men clad in black uniforms, masks and helmets searching the FBK premises.

In a separate development, Russia’s top opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta said Thursday that authorities had searched the Moscow apartment of its special correspondent Yulia Polukhina.

After the raid, the mother-of-two was taken to “an unknown destination,” the award-winning newspaper said in a statement.

“So far this looks like an abduction,” Novaya Gazeta said.

It added that the searches were linked to Novaya Gazeta publications including those concerning “illegal armed groups” operating in the war-torn eastern Ukraine where Kiev is battling against pro-Kremlin separatists.

Authorities have been steadily ramping up pressure on Navalny and his allies in recent years with regular searches and short jail terms for the Kremlin critic and his allies.

The FBK offices were searched several times this year.

The foundation’s door, which has been repeatedly broken down, now has its own account on Twitter.

“I am alive and hanging in there,” the account said on Thursday.

Navalny helped organise major protests against the government this summer that saw tens of thousands march in Moscow to demand fair elections.

A number of people received jail terms for taking part in those protests.

On Wednesday, Navalny said that one of his allies had been forcibly conscripted and sent to serve at a remote Arctic base, a move his supporters also said amounted to kidnapping.

Ruslan Shaveddinov, a project manager at Navalny’s FBK foundation, went missing Monday after police broke into his Moscow flat and his phone’s SIM card was disabled.

He resurfaced Tuesday at an air defence site on the Novaya Zemlya archipelago in the Arctic Ocean.

Separating the Barents and Kara seas, the Novaya Zemlya islands were used by the Soviet Union to conduct nuclear tests.

Opposition supporters said the treatment of Shaveddinov was a new low in Moscow’s fight against dissenters.