News of the Day: 25 December 2020

The Guardian: Russian police raided the home of opposition activist Lyubov Sobol early on Christmas Day and took her in for questioning, Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny and his supporters have said. Navalny’s supporters said they thought the police action was a response to her trying to knock at the door of an alleged FSB security agent in Moscow who Navalny says took part in the botched plot to poison him with novichok in August. The morning raid comes days after Navalny said he had tricked one security service agent in Russia’s FSB spy agency into admitting the plot, and revealing he was poisoned via his underwear. The FSB has dismissed Navalny’s allegations as a provocation. Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Fund said on Twitter. on Friday: “Today, police came to Lyubov Sobol’s apartment at 7 am.”

RFE/RL: Russian law enforcement agencies have opened a criminal case against Lyubov Sobol, a lawyer for the outspoken Kremlin critic Aleksei Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) and took her in for questioning, the head of the foundation said on December 25. FBK Director Ivan Zhdanov said on Twitter that investigators launched a probe into Sobol for trespassing “with the use of violence or a threat to use it” after she rang the doorbell of an agent who has implicated the Federal Security Service (FSB) in the poisoning of the 44-year-old Kremlin critic. Sobol’s lawyer Vladimir Voronin told the AFP news agency that the opposition lawyer was currently a witness in the probe but added that he expected Sobol to be charged later on December 25. There was no immediate comment from Russian authorities.

The Moscow Times: Russia has listed four NGOs, two civil society groups and one media outlet as “foreign agents” and “undesirable organizations” amid a renewed crackdown on critical voices this week. The Justice Ministry labeled three AIDS service organizations and one educational affiliate of exiled oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s Open Russia pro-democracy group as “foreign agents” Monday. St. Petersburg’s Humanitarian Action foundation, Oryol’s Phoenix Plus nonprofit, Yekaterinburg’s Aktsent social and legal aid group and the Open St. Petersburg education project received the label for “influencing” state policy.  The designations come as Russian lawmakers this week pushed through legislation expanding the “foreign agent” label to any politically active, foreign-funded individual. Failure to comply could lead to up to five years in prison if President Vladimir Putin signs the proposals into law. The Russian Prosecutor General’s Office also declared the Prague Civil Society Centre and the Council of Europe’s (CoE) Association of Schools of Political Studies “undesirable” organizations in separate decisions announced Monday and Thursday. The civil society, independent media and education groups pose “a threat to the foundations of Russia’s constitutional system and security,” the Prosecutor’s Office said.

The Moscow Times: A former Moscow region official has been sentenced to 15 years in a maximum-security prison on corruption charges Friday, more than a year after a dramatic court hearing during which he attempted to take his own life. Alexander Shestun, the former head of the Serpukhov district of the Moscow region, was found guilty of taking bribes, fraud, money laundering and illegal participation in entrepreneurial activity, the state-run RIA Novosti news agency reported.  In addition to his 15-year prison sentence, the Podolsk city court ordered Shestun to pay a fine of 49 million rubles ($661,000) and forbade him from holding government office for eight years after his release.  Prosecutors had originally asked the court to sentence him to 20 years in a maximum-security prison as well as to fine him 50 million rubles ($675,000) and recover 64 million rubles ($864,000) from him. Shestun denies his guilt and believes that the case against him is politically motivated. 

RAPSI: Russia’s Justice Ministry refused to exclude a foundation established by Alexey Navalny from the list of NGOs acting as foreign agents, the Ministry’s press service reported Friday. Another NGO, which was denied removal from the register, is the Chelyabinsk Region’s diabetic social movement ‘Together’, the statement reads. Moreover, the Ministry included two foreign NGOs, the Prague Civil Society Centre and the Council of Europe’s Association of political research schools, in the list.

Caucasian Knot: Journalist Anna Politkovskaya survived a poisoning during her trip to Beslan, and two years later she was shot dead. Versions about poisoning were also put forward after the deaths of Kabardino-Balkarian human rights defender Timur Kuashev and Dagestani activist Mukhamed Gamzatov. The “Caucasian Knot” has reported that in August, opposition leader Alexei Navalny fell into a coma after being poisoned at the Omsk airport. He regained consciousness in Berlin, where he was taken for medical treatment. Alexei Navalny claimed that the Russian authorities initiated an attempt on his life. Authors of the journalistic investigation came to the conclusion that the oppositionist was poisoned by a group of Russian law enforcers. Earlier, Yaroslav Savin, a member of the political council of the “Parnas” Party branch, noted the connection between the oppositionist’s poisoning and other similar cases. “This is not the first attempt. As you know, the secret services use poisons. They tried to poison both Anna Politkovskaya and [journalist] Vladimir Kara-Murza,” Yaroslav Savin told the “Caucasian Knot” correspondent. The Alexei Navalny’s case also reminded of the incident with Timur Kuashev, a Kabardino-Balkarian journalist and human rights defender, which ended more tragically. The journalist disappeared in the evening on July 31, 2014. On the other day, his body was found in a suburb of Nalchik. A sign of the injection was found on the journalist’s body, but investigators claimed that the 26-year-old journalist had died not from poisoning, but from acute coronary insufficiency.

Caucasian Knot: The law enforcers, whom the authors of the investigative journalism believe to be involved in the poisoning of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, had flown to Grozny and Vladikavkaz and could carry out special missions there, Hristo Grozev, a Bellingcat journalist and the author of the investigation into the attempt on Navalny, has suggested in his interview with the Meduza. The “Caucasian Knot” has reported that in August, Alexei Navalny, an opposition leader, fell into a coma after being poisoned at the Omsk airport. On September 7, Navalny, taken out for treatment at the “Charite” Berlin-based clinic, was driven out of an artificial coma; and his health condition improved. Navalny said that the Russian authorities were behind the attempt on his life. The law enforcers, who, according to the journalistic investigation, poisoned Alexei Navalny, may be involved in other poisonings and special missions, including in Northern Caucasus, Hristo Grozev, a journalist from Bulgaria, one of the authors of the investigation, has suggested. “Now, we’ll analyze other trips of this group and compare them with other unknown and known poisonings <…>. There is a lot of work to be done. It is impossible that such a staff with such experts existed only because of Navalny alone. And their other flights to Vladikavkaz and Grozny show that there were other targets,” Mr Grozev said in an interview published by the Meduza.

RAPSI: A 17-year college student suspected of preparation for execution of a terrorist attack was arrested in Russia’s town of Tambov, the Investigative Committee’s press service reports. Investigators found and seized chemical matters, devices and tools meant for a homemade bomb during searches conducted in a rented flat. According to investigators, the student, an adherer of destructive subcultures, prepared for committing a terrorist attack in one of the Tambov buildings using a selfmade explosive device. Allegedly, he received an instruction for its fabrication on the Internet.

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