Russian police raided more than 150 addresses affiliated with opposition leader Alexey Navalny across the country Thursday, a massive effort seen as punishment for a summer of political unrest.
An estimated 1,000 police officers – some wearing masks and riot gear as they smashed through doors – took part in raids targeting the offices of Mr. Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, as well as the homes of some of his supporters, in Moscow and 40 other cities. The officers disabled security cameras before they confiscated computers and other equipment and told the activists that the raids were part of a money-laundering investigation into Mr. Navalny’s group.
The co-ordinated police action came just days after Mr. Navalny’s supporters showed their growing clout via a municipal election Sunday in Moscow. The opposition used strategic voting to oust several pro-Kremlin incumbents, although the pro-government United Russia party maintained its majority.
Mr. Navalny and his allies also staged a series of large anti-government demonstrations in the Russian capital over the summer, protesting an official decision to bar more than a dozen opposition candidates from running in the city council vote. The authorities responded harshly to the protests, arresting more than 2,700 people.
In a video address, the 43-year-old Mr. Navalny – who is President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent domestic critic – called Thursday’s nationwide crackdown “the biggest police operation in Russia’s modern history.”
He said it was revenge for the success of the opposition’s “smart voting” campaign in the city council election. Mr. Navalny had asked his supporters to vote for whichever candidate had the best chance of defeating United Russia in their district.
“Why such hysteria? Two words: smart voting,” he wrote in a blog post. “Putin got upset and is stomping his feet.”
A spokeswoman for Mr. Navalny said the police raid seemed intended to stop the work of the Anti-Corruption Foundation, which has enraged and mobilized Russians by exposing how Mr. Putin’s inner circle has enriched itself over the course of his 20-year rule.
Last month, during the height of the protests, Russian investigators opened a probe into Mr. Navalny’s foundation, which relies on donations to fund its work, accusing it of receiving one billion rubles (about $20-million) that had been procured illegally.
Russia’s law enforcement agencies did not comment Thursday on the raids.
Golos, a non-governmental organization that monitors elections in the country, said the homes of several of its volunteers were also raided Thursday. A Golos call centre collected about a thousand allegations of voting fraud during Sunday’s municipal elections in Moscow and other cities.
Oleg Kozlovsky, a Moscow-based researcher for Amnesty International, said the police action was intended “to cripple Navalny’s infrastructure financially and to intimidate opposition supporters.” Since Golos was also targeted, Mr. Kozlovsky said, there was little doubt the raids were connected to Sunday’s election. “It’s a knee-jerk reaction to any successful activities of the opposition.”
Lyubov Sobol, a 31-year-old lawyer who emerged as a leader of the protest movement over the summer while Mr. Navalny was serving a 30-day jail sentence, used her Twitter accounts to warn that Russians needed to pay attention to what was happening Thursday. “If you believe that the security forces can only enter Navalny’s offices, then you are deeply mistaken,” she wrote.
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