A prominent hard-line ally of Russian President Vadimir Putin has accused the West of using Aleksei Navalny to try to “destabilize” Russia and says the jailed Kremlin foe must be held accountable for allegedly breaking the law.
Nikolai Patrushev, secretary of the Security Council, made the comments in an interview with the online media outlet Argumenty i fakty. The article was published on January 26, three days after tens of thousands of people protested across Russia against Navalny’s jailing and deep-rooted government corruption.
Despite a violent crackdown on the unsanctioned rallies that saw thousands of people detained, allies of Navalny have called for fresh nationwide demonstrations this weekend.
A Russian court will hear an appeal over Navalny’s detention on January 28.
“Yesterday the cogwheels of ‘justice’ began to spin, documents began to be drawn up, and today the lawyers were notified that the appeal against the arrest was scheduled for January 28 — the day after tomorrow. All of a sudden,” a top Navalny aide, Leonid Volkov, said in a post on Twitter on January 26. He attached a picture of the notification in the post.
Navalny was detained on January 17 upon returning to Russia from Germany, where he had been recovering from a near-fatal poisoning by a military-grade nerve agent in August he accuses Putin of ordering.
A court later extended his detention for 30 days to allow for a different court to decide in early February on whether to convert into real prison time the suspended 3 1/2-year sentence that Navalny served in an embezzlement case that is widely considered trumped up and politically motivated.
The suspended sentence ended on December 30, but penitentiary officials appear to be claiming that terms of the sentence were broken when Navalny was flown out of the country on an emergency air ambulance because of the attack.
Referring to the 44-year-old Navalny as “this figure,” Patrushev said he “has repeatedly [and] grossly broken Russian legislation, engaging in fraud concerning large amounts” of money.
“And as a citizen of Russia, he must bear responsibility for his illegal activity in line with the law,” he added.
Patrushev also alleged that “the West needs this figure to destabilize the situation in Russia, for social upheaval, strikes, and new Maidans,” a reference to the pro-European protests in late 2013 and early 2014 that ousted Ukraine’s Moscow-friendly president, Viktor Yanukovych.
The European Union, the United States, and other countries have called for Navalny’s release and strongly condemned the crackdown on the January 23 nationwide, largely peaceful protests — Russia’s biggest anti-government demonstrations in years.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on January 26 said there could be “no dialogue” with those who joined the “illegal” protests and “took part in riots.”
Allies of Navalny have remained defiant, with Leonid Volkov, a Navalny aide, calling on Twitter for fresh demonstrations across Russia on January 31, “For freedom for Navalny. For freedom for everyone. For justice.”
Asked about the protests during which the independent political watchdog OVD-Info says more than 3,700 people were detained, Putin said on January 25 that “all people have the right to express their point of view within limits, outlined by law.”
Speaking to students via video, Putin also called allegations that an opulent Black Sea mansion belongs to him an attempt to “brainwash” Russian citizens.
“Nothing that’s shown there as my property belongs to me, or my close relatives, and doesn’t and didn’t belong. Never,” he said in a response to one student’s questioning of an investigative report published by Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation on January 19, two days after he was taken behind bars.
The report — A Palace for Putin — showcases a luxurious, 100 billion-ruble ($1.35 billion) estate near the popular holiday town of Gelendzhik that it said belongs to Putin
A nearly two-hour YouTube video accompanying the report went viral on Russian social media, with more than 86 million people watching it.
Navalny alleges that Putin effectively owns the palace via a complex trail of companies.
Peskov said that “one or several [businessmen] directly or indirectly own” the property, adding that the Kremlin “has no right to reveal the names of these owners.”
Putin has often denied having any serious wealth, and his name has never emerged in any publicly available documents that would attest to massive riches or offshore companies.
But several investigative reports, including by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), have alleged some of Putin’s friends and relatives have amassed hundreds of millions of dollars worth of assets without the corresponding jobs to accumulate such wealth.