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New police raids in Russia, critic pulled off flight

  • Published at 11:42 am June 1st, 2021
Andrei Pivovarov
Andrei Pivovarov, chief of Open Russia opposition group, attends a forum of independent members of municipal councils in Moscow, Russia on March 13, 2021 Reuters

Political activist Andrei Pivovarov was pulled off a Warsaw-bound plane in Saint Petersburg on Monday

A prominent Kremlin critic faced a criminal probe in Russia on Tuesday after being pulled off a Warsaw-bound flight as police searched the homes of several government opponents.

Kremlin critics have accused authorities of launching a campaign of arrests and intimidation against opponents of President Vladimir Putin ahead of parliamentary elections in September.

Political activist Andrei Pivovarov was pulled off a Warsaw-bound plane in Saint Petersburg late on Monday.

Pivovarov, the former executive director of the recently disbanded Open Russia group, said the plane was preparing for take-off when he was removed by police.

Police searched his Saint Petersburg apartment overnight and a criminal probe was launched against the 39-year-old activist for cooperating with an "undesirable organization," Pivovarov's team said on Facebook.

His lawyer Sergei Badamshin confirmed the launch of the case to AFP but declined to provide any details. Pivovarov faces up to six years in prison if convicted.

Open Russia, founded by self-exiled Putin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky, announced last week it was shutting down to shield its members from prosecution.

It was designated an "undesirable" organisation in Russia in 2017 in line with a law targeting foreign-funded groups accused of political meddling.

Police also conducted searches Monday morning at the country house outside Moscow of former opposition lawmaker Dmitry Gudkov and the homes of his allies, he said.

"I don't know what the formal reason (for the searches) is. The real one is clear," he said on messaging app Telegram. 

Dmitry's father Gennady Gudkov, who is also a former lawmaker and lives outside Russia, said police searched the homes of several other relatives.

"A beautiful morning in Putin's Russia," Gennady Gudkov tweeted. 

Putin's leading domestic opponent, Alexei Navalny, was sentenced earlier this year to two-and-a-half years in a penal colony on old fraud charges that he says are politically motivated, and authorities are gearing up to outlaw his political network.

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