May 31, 2022 - World

Putin critic Navalny says he faces new criminal charge

Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny appearing screen during his during an appeal hearing in Moscow on May 24.

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny during an appeal hearing in Moscow on May 24. Photo: Contributor/Getty Images

Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny said Tuesday that he was charged with founding an extremist group as part of a new criminal case against him.

Why it matters: If convicted, he could face up to 15 an additional years in prison — on top of the nine-year sentence, widely seen as politically motivated, he received in March for fraud and contempt of court.

  • He was already serving a prison sentence of about 2.5 years for violating parole after fleeing to Germany to recover from a poisoning attempt by Russia's security forces in 2020.

What they're saying: "Well, what do I know? Maybe Putin doesn't hate me, maybe he secretly adores me. That's why he wants me to be hidden in an underground bunker, guarded by reliable people, just like himself," Navalny said on Twitter on Tuesday.

  • "How else can I explain the fact that not even eight days have passed since my 9-year high-security sentence came into force, and today the investigator showed up again and formally charged me with a new case," he added.
  • "It turns out that I created an extremist group in order to incite hatred towards officials and oligarchs. And when they put me in jail, I dared to be disgruntled about it (silly me) and called for rallies. For that, they're supposed to add up to 15 more years to my sentence."

The big picture: A Russian court labeled Navalny's Anti-Corruption Foundation, created to expose corruption within the Kremlin, "extremist" in June 2021, meaning that anyone associated with the group could face prison sentences of up to 10 years.

  • Navalny was named as a suspect for founding and leading the group, while two of his allies, Leonid Volkov and Ivan Zhdanov — both of whom have left the country — were accused of funding extremist groups in August 2021.
  • Russia's crackdown on the Anti-Corruption Foundation was just one part of the Kremlin's broader campaign to stifle political dissent and suppress groups advocating for democratic reforms and human rights.
  • That campaign significantly broadened after the start of Russia's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, forcing independent media and social networks out of the country, Axios' Sara Fischer reports.
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