Russian authorities have arrested a prominent opposition activist after they transferred him from a flight and attacked the houses of several others.
Andrei Pivovarov, the head of the Open Russia movement, was picked up from a plane bound for Warsaw at St Petersburg airport just before taking off on Monday afternoon.
Pivovarov’s team said police questioned him, searched his apartment and opened a criminal case against him on Tuesday for allegedly violating Russia’s law on “undesirable organizations.”
“These situations show us that they are afraid of us and that we are the majority,” Pivovarov’s Twitter account said.
The Krasnodar branch of the investigative committee, which looks at important cases, said in a statement that Pivovarov had published in August 2020 materials in support of an “undesirable organization.”
The statement also accused the activist of trying to flee investigators on Monday.
Pivovarov said he would go on vacation when he was arrested.
Pivovarov’s withdrawal from the plane came after Belarusian authorities on May 23 diverted a Ryanair flight from Greece to Lithuania to the capital, Minsk, and arrested a journalist on board.
Polish airline LOT, which operated Pivovarov’s flight, said the plane was rolling when Russian air traffic control ordered the crew to return to the parking position.
“The pilot had to comply with this order as it was under Russian jurisdiction,” the Polish news agency PAP said.
Poland said it was studying the issue.
“This is an unusual action, because if the Russians wanted to arrest this person, they could have done so before boarding. The question is why it was done exactly at that time,” he told state channel TVP , Deputy Foreign Minister Piotr Wawrzyk.
“The standards of the civilized world do not apply here.”
Open Russia labeled “undesirable”
Open Russia was funded by tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who moved to London after spending ten years in prison in Russia on charges considered by some to be political revenge for challenging the government of President Vladimir Putin.
Russia declared the group “undesirable” in 2017, effectively banning its activities.
His allies in Russia continued their activism under an independent legal entity to try to protect themselves from prosecution.
But the group folded its activities in Russia last week to prevent its supporters from facing criminal proceedings as parliament prepares to pass legislation that would increase criminal responsibility for anyone cooperating with “undesirable organizations.” .
Russia says the law is necessary to protect its national security from external interference.
Also on Tuesday, police stormed a rural house of opposition politician Dmitry Gudkov, a former lawmaker who aspired to run for parliament in September.
At least two of his associates searched his homes.
“I do not know the formal reason for this,” Gudkov wrote on the social media platform Telegram. “But the real (reason) is clear.”
Gudkov’s father, Gennady, also critical of the Kremlin, described the searches as “a special operation to eliminate Gudkov’s team.”
Authorities had not yet commented on the operation, which Gudkov said was underway.
Repression of dissent
The moves came as Russia appears to be repressing political opposition ahead of the September parliamentary elections.
Putin’s United Russia party has recently lost support as economic problems weigh.
The president’s main political enemy, Alexey Navalny, was arrested in January on his return from Germany, where he had spent five months recovering from poisoning by a nerve agent blaming the Kremlin, allegations that Russian officials reject.
He is serving a two-and-a-half-year prison sentence for violating the terms of a suspended sentence stemming from a 2014 embezzlement conviction that he denounces as a political motivation.
With Navalny in jail, prosecutors have asked a Moscow court to designate Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) and its network of regional offices as “extremist” groups.
In a parallel move, a bill passed by the lower house of the Russian parliament bans members, donors and supporters of “extremist” groups from seeking public office, a move that would prevent Navalny’s associates from running for parliament in the September.