On Wednesday, a Moscow court ordered the arrest of a prominent ally of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, but Lithuania, where his colleague lives, explicitly refused his detention request.
The lawsuit by the Basmani District Court against Leonid Volkov was seen as part of the authorities’ efforts to quell demonstrations calling for the release of Navalny, a major enemy of the Kremlin who has been imprisoned since January 17.
Volkov, Navalny’s chief strategist, has been accused of encouraging minors to participate in unauthorized gatherings, which could lead to him being imprisoned for up to three years. He had already been placed on the international wanted list.
Volkov, who has lived abroad since 2019, rejected the accusations and the Lithuanian government refused to implement the Russian court’s order.
“The use of international tools in politically motivated prosecutions is a wrong practice,” said Lithuanian Interior Minister Agni Pelotait.
She added, “This raises serious doubts about Russia’s membership in these organizations,” referring to the Russian arrest warrant that was sent via Interpol.
Navalny, 44, an anti-corruption investigator and a leading critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, was arrested on his return from Germany, where he spent five months recovering from the nerve gas poisoning he blamed on the Kremlin. The Russian authorities have rejected this accusation.
Protests across Russia drew tens of thousands of people onto the streets for a consecutive weekend in January in the biggest show of discontent in years. Further 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 period while recovering in Germany.
This stems from a 2014 embezzlement conviction that Navalny rejected as fabricated and which the European Court of Human Rights ruled unlawful. He described his new prison as “personal revenge for Putin” for his survival and exposure of the assassination plot.
The authorities responded to the protests with a sweeping crackdown, arresting around 11,000 people across Russia, many of whom were later fined or sentenced to prison terms of 7 to 15 days. They also moved to isolate key members of Navalny’s team, and put many of his senior colleagues under house arrest for two months without access to the Internet.
In a shift in strategy amid the campaign, Volkov said last week that the pro-Navy demonstrations should stop until spring, arguing that trying to maintain rallies every weekend would only result in thousands of more arrests and exhaustion of participants.
On Tuesday, however, he announced a new form of protest, urging residents of major cities to gather briefly in apartment squares on Sunday with their cell phone lights on. He said 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 come on the heels of the autocratic President Alexander Lukashenko’s re-election in August in an election widely seen as fraud.
Navalny’s arrest and the suppression of the protests exacerbated 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 interfering in Russia’s internal affairs and has warned that it will not listen to Western criticism of Navalny’s rule and police actions against his supporters.
Associated Press contributor Liudas Dabkus in Vilnius, Lithuania.