Kremlin accuses Navalny of fomenting violent overthrow of regime

Russian authorities have opened a criminal case against imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny and his closest allies, accusing them Tuesday of forming an extremist group and involvement in one. The investigation is the latest step in a multi-pronged crackdown on the Kremlin’s most ardent foe and his team.

Russia’s Investigative Committee said in a statement that it was investigating Navalny and his top allies, Leonid Volkov and Ivan Zhdanov, for creating and leading an extremist group — a criminal offense punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

Several other close associates of the politician, including Lyubov Sobol, Georgy Alburov, and Ruslan Shaveddinov, are under investigation for potential charges of participating in an extremist group, the statement said. If convicted, they would face up to six years in prison.

The Investigative Committee alleged that Navalny and his allies founded the Foundation for Fighting Corruption, set up a wide network of regional offices, and launched websites, social media pages and YouTube channels with the goal of “discrediting the authorities and their policies, destabilizing the situation in the regions, igniting a protest sentiment among the population and forming public opinion about the need for a violent overthrow of power.”

Navalny’s associates described the new probe as part of the crackdown that took place in the months before Russia’s parliamentary election on Sept. 19 and said they expect it continue for months and, possibly, years beyond it.

“Many in Russian opposition circles had a hope that the steamroller of political repressions would stop after the election of the State Duma, but it was obvious to me that it would go on right up until 2024, when (President) Vladimir Putin would want to get reelected,” Sobol told The Associated Press in an interview Tuesday.

Putin’s current presidential term expires in 2024, and he is expected to either run for reelection thanks to a constitutional reform measure the Kremlin pushed through last year, or choose some other strategy to stay in power. Analysts and Kremlin critics have said that electing an obedient parliament this year could be key to both options.

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