Crackdown on Russia’s opposition widens

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

Russia’s top investigative agency said in a statement it also will investigate claims made in a recent documentary aired by a Kremlin-friendly TV channel that opposition leaders worked with Georgian officials to arrange terrorist attacks across Russia.

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

Investigators, backed by armed men wearing ski masks, searched Mr. Udaltsov’s apartment in south Moscow for more than five hours Wednesday. The home of his parents also was searched, said Violetta Volkova, Mr. Udaltsov’s lawyer.

“I’m going to hold on until the end, and I won’t be quiet,” Mr. Udaltsov said as he left his home for questioning escorted by masked armed police. “It’s a wave of new repression.”

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

One of Mr. Udaltsov’s allies, Konstantin Lebedev, was detained for 48 hours following brief questioning, Ms. Volkova said. Mr. Udaltsov’s questioning was still ongoing late Wednesday afternoon.

A documentary 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 neighboring Georgia to discuss raising $200 million for protests against President Vladimir Putin and plans for organizing riots in Moscow.

The Investigative Committee said it would pursue criminal cases not only against Russians, but also against 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 program as the mastermind of Georgian support, was not available for comment on Wednesday but told Georgian media last week that he had never met Mr. Udaltsov.

Mr. Udaltsov said he recently has met “a great number of people” 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 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 early-morning searches reminded him of secret police tactics in the 1930s in the Soviet Union.

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