RUSSIA
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Vladimir Putin

Russia opens probe against opposition leader

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 17 October, 2012, 6:13pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 17 October, 2012, 6:13pm

In a new sign of a widening crackdown on Russian opposition, investigators on Wednesday opened a criminal probe against leftist leader Sergei Udaltsov and several other opposition activists for allegedly plotting mass riots.

The Investigative Committee said in a statement it will investigate claims made in a recent documentary aired by a Kremlin-friendly TV channel that opposition leaders worked with Georgian officials to overthrow the government. But Udaltsov is not officially suspected of that more serious charge.

Udaltsov, a 35-year-old, shaven-headed Communist who wore a Stalin T-shirt for his wedding, has been one of the most recognisable faces of last winter’s anti-government protests in Moscow, which were peaceful.

Investigators, backed by armed men wearing ski masks, searched Udaltsov’s apartment in Moscow on Wednesday. The home of his parents was also searched, said Violetta Volkova, Udaltsov’s lawyer.

A documentary aired last week on NTV, a channel seen as a propaganda arm of the Kremlin, showed what it says was footage of the Left Front leader meeting with officials from neighbouring Georgia to discuss raising US$200 million for protests against President Vladimir Putin, and plans for organising riots in Moscow.

The Investigative Committee said that it would pursue criminal cases against not only Russians, but also citizens of Georgia and other unspecified countries.

“Once their involvement in the preparation of criminal acts is established, they will be subject to criminal liability under Russian law and the norms of international law, and will be issued with international arrest warrants,” the committee said.

Officials in Georgia have refrained from commenting on allegations of Georgia’s involvement with the Russian opposition. Lawmaker Givi Targamadze, who was featured in the NTV programme as the mastermind of Georgian support, was not available for comment on Wednesday but told Georgian media last week that he had never met Udaltsov.

Udaltsov said he has met “a great number of people” recently to discuss fundraising, but all of his efforts and intentions are legal. He has insisted the footage presented in the documentary has been doctored.

The Investigative Committee said on Wednesday that it had carefully studied the footage and said it was not tampered with.

Renowned human rights activist Lev Ponomarev told the Interfax news agency on Wednesday that a “broad crackdown on the opposition is very dangerous for this country” and said that early morning searches reminded him of secret police tactics in the 1930s in the Soviet Union.

The Russian Communist Party, which forms the largest opposition faction in parliament, has supported Udaltsov, dismissing allegations against him as nonsense. Party leader Gennady Zyuganov said Udaltsov is being persecuted for his views.

“The main goal is to nip the protests in the bud,” he told Interfax. “There’s no one left in the Kremlin who can say ‘no’ to that.”

In addition to Udaltsov, the criminal investigation is targeting two little known Russian leftist activists, but their role in the alleged plot was not identified.