Person of the Week: Aleksei Navalny being held in Vladimir pre-trial detention centre; UN rapporteurs call for his release and investigation of his poisoning.

Week-ending 5 March 2021

This week Aleksei Navalny was being held in a pre-trial detention centre in Kolchugino in Vladimir region. Two UN human rights experts – Agnes Callamard, the UN’s rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, and arbitrary executions, and Irene Khan, the rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression – called for the release of Aleksei Navalny and for an international investigation into his poisoning. A Moscow court upheld an arrest warrant for Leonid Volkov, a close Navalny associate living in Lithuania. There were reports individuals who may have sold data enabling the FSB operatives who are allegedly complicit his attempted assassination to be tracked are facing prosecution. The US and the EU announced new sanctions against Russia over the failure to investigate his poisoning and the decision to subsequently imprison him.


The Moscow Times, 3 March 2021: Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny quipped that “everything is fine” and made jokes about prison life Wednesday as he sent his first message from a detention center outside Moscow. In the message posted on Instagram, President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent critic said he was being held in the Kolchugino detention center in the Vladimir region northeast of Moscow. “But everything is fine with me, there’s even a chin-up bar in the exercise yard here,” he said. Navalny was sentenced last month to two and a half years in a penal colony for breaching parole terms while in Germany recovering from a poisoning attack. His message was posted after his defence team visited him in the Kolchugino jail, where he is under quarantine.

RFE/RL, 28 February 2021: Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny will reportedly serve his prison sentence near Moscow, according to Russian media sources, although the Kremlin critic’s allies say they are still unsure of his location. The TASS news agency reported on February 27 that Navalny was taken to the Vladimir region, where he will be imprisoned in a penal colony in the city of Pokrov, 100 kilometers east of Moscow. TASS, citing an anonymous source, said Navalny was taken to the Vladimir region on February 26 and will first undergo quarantine. The source did not say whether he was already in the penal colony. Earlier, the news site Yarnovosti reported Navalny was in a pretrial detention center in Kolchugino, Vladimir region, and would be transferred to Penal Colony No. 2 in Pokrov. The Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN) on February 26 confirmed Navalny was moved to a prison from a Moscow detention center where had been held since mid-January. But the FSIN did not specify where the anti-corruption crusader was being taken to begin serving a 2 1/2-year sentence, leaving family and allies uncertain over his whereabouts, health, and safety.

The Moscow Times, 28 February 2021: Russian officials said Sunday that Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny is in a prison colony in Vladimir region, three hours outside Moscow, where he will spend the next two and a half years.  Four former inmates of penal colony IK-2 — which Russian state media have identified as the institution where the opposition leader will do his time — told The Moscow Times that it is one of Russia’s toughest prisons. “This is, by any measure, an extremely strict prison. They try to control your every step, your every thought,” said Konstantin Kotov, who spent two years in IK-2 after being arrested during Moscow’s summer 2019 election protests and convicted under a controversial law criminalizing “repeated” participation in unauthorized rallies.

RFE/RL, 1 March 2021: Two UN human rights experts have called for an international investigation into the poisoning of Kremlin critic Aleksei Navalny, saying evidence points to the “very likely involvement” of Russian government officials. In a joint statement on March 1, Agnes Callamard, the UN’s top expert on extrajudicial, summary, and arbitrary executions, and Irene Khan, an expert on freedom of opinion and expression, demanded Navalny’s “immediate release” from prison. “Given the inadequate response of the domestic authorities, the use of prohibited chemical weapons, and the apparent pattern of attempted targeted killings, we believe that an international investigation should be carried out as a matter of urgency in order to establish the facts and clarify all the circumstances concerning Mr. Navalny’s poisoning,” they said.

RFE/RL, 1 March 2021: The Moscow City Court has upheld an arrest warrant issued by a lower court last month for Leonid Volkov, a close associate of jailed opposition politician Aleksei Navalny. The warrant for Volkov, the head of the network of Navalny’s teams across Russia, was issued on February 10 at the request of the Investigative Committee. Volkov, who is currently based in Lithuania, is accused of calling on minors to take part in unsanctioned mass rallies in late January.

RFE/RL, 28 February 2021: When the team of Russian opposition politician Aleksei Navalny attempted to open a representative office in the capital of the North Caucasus republic of Daghestan earlier this month, events unfolded quickly. News of the plan broke in local media on February 19. Late in the evening of the very next day, a group of unknown assailants accosted Navalny’s regional coordinator, Ruslan Ablyakimov, at a local scenic overlook and beat him savagely. “Then they lifted me up and asked me: ‘What are you doing here? Why did you come from Moscow?’” Ablyakimov told RFE/RL’s North Caucasus Service. “I didn’t answer, so they continued beating me. They wanted to throw me down from the overlook but the leader stopped them.” On February 21, Navalny’s team announced that the plan to open an office in Daghestan had been put on hold. The landlord who had previously agreed to rent space for the project suddenly backed out. Ablyakimov himself fled the republic for another, undisclosed location in the country, telling the Caucasus Knot website that he had been “followed 24 hours a day.”

RFE/RL, 1 March 2021: Within four months of falling violently ill on a flight to Moscow from Siberia in August, Russian opposition figure Aleksei Navalny had duped one of his alleged poisoners into confessing on a phone call and collaborated with investigative journalists on a report identifying the men suspected of using a nerve agent in a botched assassination attempt. Navalny is now serving a 2 1/2-year prison term outside Moscow, having been arrested the moment he arrived back in Russia in January. And the Russian authorities appear to be going after those who enabled Navalny, and journalists he worked with, to shine light on the murky operation behind the attack. On March 1, business daily Kommersant reported that a criminal investigation had been launched into a law enforcement officer accused of selling passenger data for the Moscow-bound flight on which Navalny was taken ill on August 20. Using such data, Navalny worked with the investigative group Bellingcat and Russian news site The Insider to piece together the movements of purported agents who trailed him, including those who he and the U.K.-based organization say poisoned him in the city of Tomsk.

Human Rights in Ukraine, 1 March 2021: The recent use of a World War II veteran for Russia’s politically motivated persecution of opposition leader Alexei Navalny has whetted the appetite of those Russian ruling party politicians responsible for legislating repression.  The legislative amendments now proposed could have added a further five years to Navalny’s sentence and will certainly be used as a weapon in the current regime’s war against both historical truth and ‘dissidents’.  The legislative amendments, first reported on 22 February, have been prepared by a group of State Duma deputies, headed by Duma vice speaker Iryna Yarovaya.  The latter has been responsible over recent years for a number of particularly repressive laws on so-called ‘terrorism’ and ‘extremism’; on restrictions to peaceful assembly and to NGOs whom the state claims are ‘foreign agents’. 

The Guardian, 2 March 2021: The US has announced sanctions on seven Russian government officials and 13 Russian and European companies in response to the poisoning of the opposition leader Alexei Navalny, which a US intelligence assessment confirmed to be the work of the FSB. Senior administration officials described the measures taken, which are also a response to Navalny’s continued imprisonment, as catching up with sanctions imposed on Moscow by the EU in October while the Trump administration had largely turned a blind eye.

The Moscow Times, 2 March 2021: European Council chief Charles Michel said Tuesday the EU has no plans to lift punishing sanctions against Russia that were imposed over the conflict in Ukraine. Ukraine has been fighting Russia-backed separatists in the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions following Moscow’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula in 2014.  Ukraine and its Western allies accuse Russia of sending troops and arms to support the separatists.  Michel, who on Tuesday began his two-day visit to Ukraine with a trip to the country’s war-torn east, said “Russia has not reciprocated Ukraine’s positive steps” to settle the conflict.

RFE/RL, 2 March 2021: The United States and European Union are expected to take coordinated action against Russia as soon as March 2 over the nerve-agent poisoning and imprisonment of opposition leader Aleksei Navalny. European diplomatic sources said on March 1 that EU member states approved sanctions on four senior Russian justice and law enforcement officials involved in the Kremlin critic’s recent detention. Meanwhile, two sources in U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration told Reuters and CNN that the United States plans to take action against Russia for the poisoning of Navalny.

RFE/RL, 3 March 2021: A court in Russia’s Volga city of Kostroma has sentenced a man to 18 months of forced labor on a criminal charge for attacking a police officer during January 23 rallies against the arrest of opposition politician Aleksei Navalny. The Sverdlov district court said on March 2 that a 26-year-old Kostroma resident pleaded guilty to pushing a hat off of a police officer’s head and kicking the officer from behind as police moved in to detain demonstrators. The court ruled that the man will be placed in a specialized correctional center, where he will work at an industrial facility for 18 months. Ten percent of his salary will be given to the state. The news website Mediazona identified the man as Aleksei Vinogradov.

The Moscow Times, 3 March 2021: Russia has declared an independent doctors’ union linked to opposition leader Alexei Navalny a “foreign agent,” Interfax reported Wednesday. The Doctors’ Alliance headed by Navalny’s ophthalmologist Anastasia Vasilyeva rose to prominence last year for criticizing the government’s coronavirus response and distributing aid to underfunded regional doctors. Vasilyeva is currently under house arrest for calling on supporters to protest Navalny’s arrest in January. Russia’s Justice Ministry said the Doctors’ Alliance “repeatedly received foreign funding and engaged in political activities,” according to Interfax. The union with its 42 regional branches is the 76th non-governmental organization to be added to Russia’s “foreign agent” roster. 

The Moscow Times, 3 March 2021: Facebook on Wednesday said it derailed a deceptive campaign to use hundreds of bogus Instagram accounts to mislead people in Russia protesting the arrest of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny. The network of Instagram accounts used hashtag and location “poisoning” typically associated with spam or financial scams to drown out posts by protesters, according to Facebook global threat disruption lead David Agranovich. The tactic involves coopting hashtags being used as social media markers for hot topics, in this case protests, by unleashing torrents of posts bearing the labels.

The Guardian, 5 March 2021: Aides to Alexei Navalny have said they will continue to push for new western sanctions against Kremlin-linked businessmen and officials, as Moscow brushes off the west’s response to the poisoning and jailing of the opposition politician. In interviews, senior advisers to Navalny said they welcomed this week’s sanctions against Russian officials but they had hoped to see oligarchs and others who could influence Vladimir Putin’s decision-making also included. “I’m not going to say that the first round was a false start,” said Leonid Volkov, an aide to Navalny based in Vilnius, Lithuania. “But clearly European decision-makers were being careful. Because this is the first time this [human rights] sanctions regime is being used.” This week Volkov released a video appeal in which he said “sanctions against Putin’s oligarchs would be a maximally painful blow to the Kremlin”. EU and US sanctions announced on Tuesday targeted senior security and political officials as well as companies and research institutes tied to Navalny’s poisoning and imprisonment, but stopped short of including prominent businessmen seen as close to Putin.

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