Wall Street Journal: Russia Raids Offices and Homes of Political Opposition

Coordinated strikes against nearly 200 homes and offices in 42 cities target Kremlin opponents

MOSCOW—Russian authorities raided the homes and offices of political opposition activists across the country Thursday, detaining some for interrogation, seizing electronics and blocking personal accounts in one of the biggest ever coordinated strikes against the Kremlin’s political opponents.

Nearly 200 homes and regional offices in 42 cities affiliated with opposition politician Alexei Navalny ’s Anti-Corruption Fund were searched, according to members of the organization and independent lawyers. The searches stemmed from an investigation by Russian authorities into alleged money laundering by the organization, those people said. Mr. Navalny’s group denies the charges, which some critics of Russian President Vladimir Putin call politically motivated.

Mr. Navalny has used the fund as a platform to expose the corruption of individual Russian government officials. The organization has crystallized into the closest thing Russia has to a coherent political opposition force across the country.

Following months of protests in Moscow against Mr. Putin’s tightly controlled political system, Mr. Navalny led calls earlier this month to topple politicians associated with the pro-Kremlin United Russia party in Sept. 8 local elections across the country. By and large, the strategy worked in Moscow, where Mr. Navalny tried to turn the vote into a referendum on Mr. Putin, cutting the number of United Russia’s seats in the 45-seat city council from 38 to 25.

Though the city council is relatively toothless, members of the Anti-Corruption Fund say it shows the vulnerability Mr. Putin and his political cronies face at the ballot box.

“The more powerful our actions, the stronger the reaction,” Mr. Navalny’s spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh wrote on Twitter Thursday. “We’ve never had such a massive strike against the Anti-Corruption Fund and our organization and regional headquarters…We won’t stop.”

Critics said the raids against Mr. Navalny’s followers and other opposition groups appear to also be a strike against those seen as instrumental in organizing the protest movement that erupted in July, slowly turning into the biggest public show of dissent against Mr. Putin for the past several years.

Mr. Navalny, who was regularly detained ahead of planned rallies, was in the group’s Moscow office on Thursday, trying to reach out to regional offices to determine the size of the raids, “though the telephones of many of our colleagues have been seized,” Ms. Yarmysh said.

Opposition activists said Russia’s Investigative Committee was responsible for the raids. The agency didn’t answer phone calls seeking comment.

In some cases, authorities also searched the homes of relatives of Anti-Corruption Fund members.

The parents of Alexander Smirnov, the deputy of Mr. Navalny’s headquarters in the city of Yaroslavl, northeast of Moscow, were awakened at 6 a.m., when more than a dozen Russian police personnel stormed their house, taking away the family computer and their telephones, Mr. Smirnov wrote on Twitter.

He said he himself was then taken to court to face disorder charges for his participation in protests in Moscow last month. He wasn’t reachable for further comment.

The investigation against Mr. Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Fund not only strikes against the personnel who run the organization across the country, but also gives Russia’s top security agency, the Federal Security Service, with headquarters on Moscow’s Lubyanka Square, insights into how they are funded.

“If I was sitting on Lubyanka, I would want to know how they’re funded, how they get their money, who’s giving it to them,” said Mark Galeotti, senior associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute. “That’s how you really bring them down.”

The deputy of Mr. Navalny’s headquarters in St. Petersburg said the personal bank accounts of members had been blocked. Other accounts have likewise been suspended, according to Ms. Yarmysh, the spokeswoman.

Other organizations unaffiliated with Mr. Navalny were also targeted, including the vote-monitoring group Golos, and a branch of regional ecological activists, said Pavel Chikov, a lawyer associated with the human rights group Agora, which has helped many of the hundreds of people detained for participating in recent protests.

Source – Wall Street Journal