Russian security officials searched yesterday the offices of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny’s anti-corruption foundation, with his team calling the raid a new bid to disrupt their work.
“What’s happening is part of the co-ordinated campaign against the anti-corruption foundation,” Navalny, 43, told reporters, adding however that authorities would not intimidate them.
“This complicates our work but we will not halt it,” said Navalny, President Vladimir Putin’s most outspoken critic.
A picture posted by his staff on Twitter showed Navalny sitting on the floor with his legs crossed and two helmeted and masked men in black uniforms looking at him.
The opposition politician said he was not detained, contrary to earlier reports.
“I was simply forcibly dragged out of the office (for some reason),” he said.
Navalny linked the searches to his refusal to take down a 2017 video report that accused Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev of corruption and has racked up nearly 33mn views on YouTube.
The team said the searches were conducted by court bailiffs.
A video released by Navalny’s staff showed the officials trying to break into the foundation’s 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 through the premises.
Navalny said that they were seizing “everything”, and suggested the raids took place yesterday because he was set to address supporters in a weekly YouTube broadcast in the evening.
Authorities have been steadily ramping up pressure on Navalny and his allies in recent years with regular searches and short jail terms for the top Kremlin critic and his allies.
In August, investigators launched a money-laundering probe into the anti-corruption foundation, which seeks donations from the public and publishes investigations into state officials.
In October, authorities declared the foundation a “foreign agent”.
In a separate development, Russia’s top opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta said yesterday that authorities had searched the Moscow flat of one of its journalists, Yulia Polukhina.
After the raid, the mother-of-two was taken to “an unknown destination”, the award-winning newspaper said in a statement.
The newspaper added that the searches were linked to Novaya Gazeta reports on topics including “illegal armed groups” that operated in war-torn eastern Ukraine where Kyiv is battling pro-Kremlin separatists.
The Investigative Committee said in a statement later that the journalist was questioned in connection with a case against a criminal gang she had written about.
Polukhina would later be released, the statement said.
The offices of Navalny’s foundation have been searched several times this year and staff even created a Twitter account for its regularly broken front door.
“I’m alive and hanging in there,” the account said yesterday.
Navalny helped organise major anti-government protests 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 the 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 that he and his supporters said amounted to kidnapping.
Ruslan Shaveddinov, a project manager at Navalny’s foundation, went missing on Monday after police broke into his Moscow flat and his phone’s SIM card was disabled.
He resurfaced on Tuesday at an air defence site on the Novaya Zemlya archipelago in the Arctic Ocean.
“He was able to call us twice and we learnt that he’s in Novaya Zemlya and polar bears are roaming nearby,” Navalny said.
The Novaya Zemlya islands were used by the Soviet Union to conduct nuclear tests.
Opposition supporters said Shaveddinov’s treatment was a new low in Moscow’s fight against dissenters.
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