Russia bans Navalny’s supporters as ‘extremist’ ahead of Putin Biden summit

Moscow: A Moscow court on Wednesday night outlawed the organisations founded by Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny by labelling them extremist, the latest move in a campaign by authorities to silence dissent and bar Kremlin critics from running for parliament in September.

The Moscow City Court’s ruling, effective immediately, prevents people associated with Navalny’s Foundation for Fighting Corruption and his sprawling network of regional offices across Russia from seeking public office. Many of Navalny’s allies had hoped to run for parliamentary seats in the Sept. 19 election.

In St Petersburg, workers paint over graffiti of Navalny described as the “hero of our time”.Credit:AP

The extremism label also carries lengthy prison terms for activists who have worked with the organisations, anyone who donated to them, and even those who simply shared the groups’ materials.

Navalny, the most ardent political foe of President Vladimir Putin, was arrested in January upon returning from Germany, where he spent five months recovering from a nerve agent poisoning that he blames on the Kremlin — an accusation that Russian officials reject. In February, Navalny was given a 30-month prison term for violating the terms of a suspended sentence from a 2014 embezzlement conviction that he dismissed as politically motivated.

The case is just one part of a multi-pronged government strategy to steamroll the opposition ahead of elections that has included the banning of other organisations and arrests of activists.

Lawyer Yevgeny Smirnov said during the hearing that stretched into the evening hours that the prosecutors’ motion was intended to bar Navalny’s associates from running for public office.

“This case has been linked to the law that bans all those who are connected with the Foundation for Fighting Corruption from getting elected,” Smirnov said.

Vladimir Putin, pictured here on June 5 at an economic forum, has denied he owns a palace on the Black Sea, as alleged by Navalny. Credit:Tass

Navalny also has relied on his offices across Russia to organise anti-Kremlin protests and implement his Smart Voting strategy — a project to support the candidates most likely to defeat those from the Kremlin’s dominant United Russia party in various elections.

During the hearing, prosecutors accused Navalny’s organisations of staging protests to overthrow the government.

As the Moscow court was considering the case, Russian lawmakers fast-tracked a new law that banned members of organisations declared extremist from running for public office. The law was signed by Putin last week — and combined with the court ruling will dash the hopes of several of Navalny’s associates who have declared their intention to run for parliament.

Ivan Zhdanov, a top Navalny associate who headed his foundation, vowed that the team will continue publishing exposes of corrupt officials.

“Navalny’s team will not stop its activities, they shouldn’t hope for that,” Zhdanov, who lives abroad, told the independent Dozhd TV.

The September vote is widely seen as an important part of Putin’s efforts to cement his rule ahead of the 2024 presidential election. The 68-year-old leader, who has been in power for more than two decades, pushed through constitutional changes last year that would potentially allow him to hold onto power until 2036.

Ahead of the vote, the government has targeted other opposition figures as well. Last week, authorities arrested Andrei Pivovarov, the head of another anti-Kremlin group that they have labeled “undesirable” — a designation used by the Kremlin to outlaw more than 30 groups.

Protests in Navalny’s name will become a criminal offence. Credit:Getty

Days before his arrest, Pivovarov announced the dissolution of his Open Russia movement to protect members from prosecution, but that didn’t stop authorities from pulling him off a Warsaw-bound plane at St Petersburg’s airport last week. A court in southern Russia’s Krasnodar region ordered him to be held for two months pending an investigation.

Open Russia was financed by Russian tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who moved to London after spending 10 years in prison in Russia on charges widely seen as political revenge for challenging Putin’s rule. Khodorkovsky has described the ongoing crackdown on dissent as a reflection of authorities’ concern about the waning popularity of the main Kremlin-directed party, United Russia.

Another opposition activist, Dmitry Gudkov, a former Russian lawmaker who has aspired to run again for the parliament, was held for two days last week on financial charges that he and his supporters allege were trumped up. He went abroad after being released, saying that he had received a warning that he would be jailed if he didn’t leave the country.

AP

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