A Moscow court has ordered the arrest of a top ally of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, but Lithuania has rejected the demand to take him into custody.
MOSCOW – A Moscow court ordered the arrest of a top ally of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny on Wednesday, but Lithuania, where the associate lives, bluntly rejected the demand to take him into custody.
The action against Leonid Volkov by the Basmanny District Court was seen as part of an effort by the authorities to quell the demonstrations demanding the release of Navalny, one of the Kremlin’s main enemies who has been imprisoned since January 17. .
Volkov, a chief strategist at Navalny, was charged with encouraging minors to participate in unauthorized demonstrations, which could land him in jail for up to three years. He had already been placed on an international wanted list.
Volkov, who has lived abroad since 2019, has rejected the charges and the Lithuanian government has refused to carry out the Russian court’s order.
“Using international tools for politically motivated prosecution is wrong practice,” said Lithuanian Interior Minister Agne Bilotaite.
“This raises serious doubts about Russia’s membership in these organizations,” he said, referring to the Russian arrest warrant sent through Interpol.
Navalny, 44, an anti-corruption investigator who is the most prominent critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, was arrested upon returning from Germany, where he spent five months recovering from nerve agent poisoning that blames the Kremlin. The Russian authorities have rejected the accusation.
Protests across Russia brought tens of thousands of people to the streets for two consecutive weekends in January in the biggest show of discontent in years. More protests rocked Moscow and St. Petersburg after a Moscow court on February 2 sentenced Navalny to two years and eight months in prison for violating the terms of his probation while recovering in Germany.
That stems from a 2014 embezzlement conviction that Navalny has rejected as fabricated and the European Court of Human Rights has ruled illegal. He described his new imprisonment as “Putin’s personal revenge” for surviving and exposing the assassination plot.
The authorities responded to the protests with a heavy crackdown, arresting some 11,000 people across Russia, many of whom were later fined or sentenced to prison terms of between 7 and 15 days. They have also moved to isolate key members of Navalny’s team, putting several of their top associates under house arrest for two months without internet access.
In a change of strategy amid the crackdown, Volkov said last week that pro-Navalny rallies should stop until spring, arguing that an attempt to hold rallies every weekend would only lead to thousands more arrests and wear down the participants.
On Tuesday, however, he announced a new form of protest, urging residents of large cities to briefly gather in residential yards on Sunday with their cellphone flashlights on. He argued that the new tactics, similar to those used by anti-government protesters in neighboring Belarus, would prevent Russian riot police from interfering and allow more people to participate without fear of repression. The Belarus protests follow the re-election in August of the country’s former autocratic president, Alexander Lukashenko, in a vote widely viewed as rigged.
Navalny’s arrest and crackdown on protests have further fueled tensions between Russia and the West. The United States and the European Union have urged Russia to release Navalny, but the Kremlin has accused them of meddling in Russia’s internal affairs and has warned that it will not listen to Western criticism of Navalny’s sentences and police actions against his supporters.
Associated Press journalist Liudas Dapkus in Vilnius, Lithuania, contributed.