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Leonid Volkov, the top aide of Alexei Navalny, pictured in Vilnius, Lithuania on March 12, 2024. “It was a typical, characteristic bandit greeting from Putin, from bandit St. Petersburg,” he said in a short video posted to Telegram, referring to Mr. Putin’s hometown and its notorious mafia.Gerhard Mey/Reuters

A top aide to the late Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny has accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of masterminding an attack that left him seriously injured outside his home in exile in Lithuania, with another Navalny confidant saying “no one is safe now.”

Leonid Volkov, who had served as Mr. Navalny’s chief of staff for more than a decade in an effort to challenge Mr. Putin’s grip on power, was left with a broken arm and gashes on his face and leg after he was assaulted with tear gas and hit 15 times with a meat hammer as he sat in his car Tuesday night.

Lithuania’s State Security Department quickly assessed that the attack was likely orchestrated in Moscow and aimed at stopping Mr. Volkov’s efforts to organize actions – based on plans communicated by Mr. Navalny before his death last month – to disrupt this weekend’s presidential election in Russia.

Mr. Volkov himself said he had no doubt who was behind it.

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“It was a typical, characteristic bandit greeting from Putin, from bandit St. Petersburg,” he said in a short video posted to Telegram, referring to Mr. Putin’s hometown and its notorious mafia. “Hello to you, too, Vladimir Vladimirovich,” he added, using Mr. Putin’s first and patronymic names and attempting a wave with his broken right arm.

Mr. Volkov, who also had cuts and bruises on his face, said he was able to walk and continue his work despite the assailant’s attempts to “make mincemeat out of me.” The 43-year-old said he was back home on Wednesday after a brief hospital stay.

His wife, Anna Biryukova, wrote on social media that she saw two attackers when she looked out the window of their family home on the outskirts of Vilnius just after 10 p.m. Tuesday night. “Having to choose between your husband as he’s being attacked and not leaving your sleeping children alone is a horrific experience that I wouldn’t wish on anyone,” she said.

Lithuanian Foreign Affairs Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis called the attack “shocking” and said an investigation was under way. “Perpetrators will have to answer for their crime,” he said. President Gitanas Nauseda, meanwhile, pointed the finger of blame right at the Kremlin and said the attack appeared to be connected to other recent “provocations” in Lithuania, an apparent reference to an incident on Friday that saw 12 Lithuanian flags desecrated in the city of Klaipeda.

“I can only say one thing to Putin: Nobody is afraid of you here,” Mr. Nauseda told reporters in Paris on Wednesday after a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron to discuss NATO’s response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Mr. Volkov, meanwhile, vowed to continue his opposition to Mr. Putin’s rule.

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In this handout picture posted on the official X account (formerly known as Twitter) of Leonid Volkov's wife Anna Biryukova @a_biryukova on March 12, 2024 shows Leonid Volkov's wounds after he was attacked outside his home in Vilnius.-/Getty Images

The assault on Mr. Volkov was the first known attack on a Russian activist based in Lithuania, which has played host to leading members of the Russian and Belarusian opposition for several years. However, the Kremlin is suspected of orchestrating a series of other high-profile assaults and assassinations targeting critics living in other European countries, including Britain and Germany.

“No one is safe now,” wrote Vladimir Ashurkov, the London-based executive director of the Anti-Corruption Foundation that Mr. Navalny founded, in a message to The Globe and Mail on Wednesday.

Mr. Volkov has been based in Vilnius since 2021, when the Kremlin declared the Anti-Corruption Foundation to be an “extremist” organization.

The assault took place less than a month after Mr. Navalny was found dead in an Arctic prison colony – his allies believe he was murdered – and 11 days after tens of thousands of supporters attended his funeral in Moscow in defiance of the Kremlin. Mr. Volkov co-hosted a simultaneous online memorial that was watched by hundreds of thousands of mourners.

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Ekaterina Schulmann, a non-resident scholar at the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center in Berlin, said the assault seemed intended to intimidate Mr. Putin’s remaining opponents. “An attack on Leonid Volkov, the next man in Navalny’s team after the leader’s death, coming so close on the heels of Navalny’s murder and funeral, is evidently intended to show that the Kremlin is both willing and able to physically exterminate its enemies wherever they are,” she said.

The attack also comes just days before voting is scheduled to open in stage-managed presidential elections that will see Mr. Putin, who has ruled Russia as president or prime minister since 1999, returned to office for another six-year term.

After two candidates opposed to the invasion of Ukraine were disqualified at the start of the campaign – and with all of Mr. Putin’s most prominent critics either dead, in jail or in exile – the only remaining candidates are the heads of three political parties that in fact support the Kremlin and the war.

Before his death, Mr. Navalny called on supporters to stage a flash-mob-style protest and arrive en masse at polling stations at noon Sunday, the final day of the three-day election, to create chaos and register their dissent by voting for anyone but the incumbent.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has warned that anyone who takes part in the protest action Sunday would be breaking Russian law. But Mr. Volkov said Wednesday that the action, known as “Noon Against Putin,” would go ahead. “We have to do something, right?” he said.

Late Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny's long-time aide Leonid Volkov was assaulted with a hammer in the Lithuanian capitol Vilnius on March 13, former Navalny spokesperson Kira Yarmysh said.


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