Since this Wednesday the movements and organizations led by the jailed Russian opponent Alexei Navalny are illegal in Russia. The Moscow City Court declares them as “extremist”.
With this decision, one of the most active opposition forces to the Kremlin in Russia is dismantled three months before the parliamentary elections, scheduled for next September.
The decision can be appealed, but it is mandatory to start applying it immediately.
Thus, the Foundation for the Fight Against Corruption and the Foundation for the Protection of Citizens’ Rights are outlawed. The Russian Ministry of Justice had already included them two years ago in a list of organizations that perform foreign agent functions. The headquarters of the movement that Navalni had created in the Russian regions are also outlawed.
The trial took place behind closed doors because classified documents were to be shown there.
The extremist label also means that activists who have worked with these organizations, or anyone who has supported them with donations or microloans, or even who has shared materials from these groups, could be prosecuted.
In May, the Duma passed a law prohibiting those who work for or support extremist groups from running any type of election. The law, ratified by Putin this June, says that the leaders of these groups will not be able to attend parliamentary elections for five years; three years for those who have financed them.
To prevent their collaborators from being persecuted, Navalny and his collaborators ceased all activity in April, when the Moscow City Court and the Prosecutor’s Office prohibited them from continuing to work at the beginning of the trial that ended this Wednesday.
It was announced then from his exile in Lithuania by Leonid Volkov, a close ally of Navalni who ran its regional offices. “It is a great blow for all of us. Unfortunately, we can no longer work in the old format. It is not safe for our employees and supporters,” read one of the last messages from the opposition team.
Navalni, 45, is the best known critical voice against Russian President Vladimir Putin. Last January he was arrested upon returning from Germany, where he spent five months recovering from poisoning with a nerve agent that he attributes to the Russian secret services with knowledge of the Kremlin. The Russian authorities deny it.
Since February, Navalny has served 2.5 years in prison for a long-standing fraud conviction. His arrest and imprisonment sparked the biggest protests in recent years against Putin, with tens of thousands of protesters in dozens of cities across the country.
The parliamentary elections in September are an event of the utmost importance for the ruling United Russia party, whose popularity is declining.
The strategy followed by the Navalny network, the “smart vote” could do it a lot of harm, since it has promoted in previous electoral appointments the vote in favor of the candidate best prepared to defeat United Russia.