Russia targets opposition leader Navalny with mass raids
MOSCOW, Russia – Russian investigators on Thursday, September 12, raided dozens of regional offices of top protest leader Alexei Navalny as well as the homes of his supporters after mass opposition rallies this summer.
Navalny said the raids were the result of Kremlin "hysteria" after allies of President Vladimir Putin suffered major losses in local elections in Moscow on Sunday, September 8.
Navalny, who had instructed supporters to vote strategically to push out pro-Kremlin candidates, 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 and drawn in the video hastily shot on his mobile phone.
He said the raids were being carried out at more than 200 addresses in "the biggest police operation in Russia's modern history."
Police, investigators, national guard and security services were all involved and seized equipment such as phones and computers, he said.
Navalny has credited his strategic voting campaign for the ruling party losing almost a third of its seats in elections for Moscow city parliament, writing in a blog entry: "Why such hysteria? Two words: smart voting."
Navalny said the raids were targeting 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.
Law enforcement agencies have not yet made any official comment on the raids.
Navalny's spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh accused authorities of trying to deal a "massive blow" to the organization.
"These raids are an act of intimidation," she said.
"The police's only goal is to confiscate our material and paralyze our work," she said, adding: "We won't stop."
Police targeted activists across the country from Russia's westernmost exclave of Kaliningrad to the far eastern city of Vladivostok, Navalny's aides said.
Yarmysh told Agence France-Presse 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 scarfs over their faces 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.
'Witnesses' in probe
The raids came after Russian investigators in August launched a money laundering probe into Navalny's foundation.
Navalny's aide Leonid Volkov said on social media that those targeted by raids were being called in for questioning as "witnesses" in the probe.
Navalny and his supporters organized a wave of protests over the summer after popular opposition politicians were barred from standing in the Moscow parliament election, prompting a police crackdown.
The 43-year-old charismatic opposition leader missed several of the rallies while serving a 30-day jail term for organizing previous unauthorized protests.
Since emerging as the Kremlin's chief critic and a highly effective campaigner and organizer, Navalny has faced a slew of legal action apparently aimed at hindering his 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. – Rappler.com