linked to Ramzan Kadyrov, the strongman who has led the Russian region of Chechnya since 2007. Around the time of his murder, Mr. Nemtsov was compiling a report on the involvement of Russian soldiers in the war that had begun in eastern Ukraine in 2014. Mr. Yashin finished and released the report, and became one of the few politicians willing to openly criticize the Chechen leader.

In 2017, Mr. Yashin and fellow opposition candidates won seven out of 10 seats on the local council in the Krasnoselsky district of Moscow.

seven years in a penal colony.

Ms. Kotenochkina said the case against her and Mr. Gorinov had been a “hint” to Mr. Yashin that he should leave the country or face prison.

government label tantamount to enemy of the state.

“Now people see: We are not running anywhere, we stand our ground and share the fate of our country,” he wrote.

“This makes our words worth more and our arguments stronger. But most importantly, it leaves us a chance to regain our homeland. After all, the winner is not the one who is stronger right now, but the one who is ready to go to the end.”

Alina Lobzina contributed reporting.

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How the Ex-Chancellor Gerhard Schröder Became Putin’s Man in Germany

But it was more than that, Mr. Schröder said. “I had been chancellor. I couldn’t go back to being a lawyer dealing with rental contracts. I needed a project,” he said. “Something I knew how to do and where I could serve German interests.”

When Mr. Putin called Mr. Schröder on his cellphone the night of Dec. 9, 2005, he accepted the offer.

Many in Germany were appalled. No chancellor before him had taken a job in a company controlled by a foreign country, let alone one that had benefited from their support in office.

But the pipeline project itself remained uncontroversial.

“The next government continued with it seamlessly,” Mr. Schröder recalled. “Nobody in the first Merkel government said a word against it. No one!”

Mr. Ischinger, who was Mr. Schröder’s ambassador to the United States and later ran the Munich Security Conference, concurred.

“You can’t blame Schröder for Nord Stream 1,” Mr. Ischinger said. “Most German politicians, whether in government or in opposition, did not critically question this. No one asked whether we were laying the foundation for getting ourselves into an unhealthy dependence.”

Ms. Merkel, through a spokesperson, declined to comment for this article.

Nord Stream 1 took six years to plan and build. In 2011, Mr. Schröder attended both opening ceremonies — one on the Russian end, in Vyborg, along with Mr. Putin, Russia’s prime minister at the time, and the other on the German end, in Lubmin, on the Baltic Sea, along with Ms. Merkel and Mr. Putin’s trusted ally, Dmitri A. Medvedev, Russia’s president at the time.

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Putin’s War in Ukraine Shatters an Illusion in Russia

The last time I was in Russia, the summer of 2015, I came face to face with a contradiction. What if a place was unfree, but also happy? How long could it stay that way?

Moscow had blossomed into a beautiful, European city, full of meticulously planted parks, bike lanes and parking spaces. Income for the average Russian had risen significantly over the course of the previous decade. At the same time, its political system was drifting ever closer to authoritarianism.

Fifteen years earlier, Boris Yeltsin had left power in shame, apologizing on national television “for having failed to justify the hopes of the people who believed that we would be able to make a leap from the gloomy and stagnant totalitarian past to a bright, prosperous and civilized future at just one go.”

By the summer of 2015, his successor, President Vladimir V. Putin, had seemingly made Russia bright and prosperous. The political system he built was increasingly restrictive, but many had learned to live with it.

sentencing of her friend Aleksei A. Navalny, Russia’s popular opposition leader, who used his allotted time to give a speech against the war.

Ahmed Shah Massoud on the eve of Sept. 11, 2001, Mr. Putin had to clear the field of opponents.

Greg Yudin, a professor of political philosophy at the Moscow School of Social and Economic Sciences, argues it was the political opposition’s success, which began to accelerate in 2018 and 2019, that tipped Mr. Putin toward war.

Professor Yudin said it was inconceivable to Mr. Putin that there could be people inside Russia who wanted the best for their country, yet were against him. So he looked for traitors and nursed an obsession with the idea that the West was after him.

OVD-Info, a human rights group, substantially higher than in the protests in 2012, when about 5,000 people were detained over 12 months, said Ms. Arkhipova, who studied that movement.

Ms. Albats has stayed and is angry at Russian liberals who have not.

The message, she said, is that “Russian liberals, they don’t have any tolerance for any problems.” She added, “They just run away.”

argues that Russia is moving out of authoritarianism — where political passivity and civic disengagement are key features — into totalitarianism, which relies on mass mobilization, terror and homogeneity of beliefs. He believes Mr. Putin is on the brink, but may hesitate to make the shift.

“In a totalitarian system, you have to release free energy to start terror,” he said. Mr. Putin, he said, “is a control freak, used to micromanagement.”

However, if the Russian state starts to fail, either through a collapse of Russia’s economy or a complete military defeat in Ukraine, “unleashing terror will be the only way for him to save himself.”

Which is why the current situation is so dangerous, for Ukraine and for people in Russia opposed Mr. Putin.

“Putin is so convinced that he cannot afford to lose, that he will escalate,” Professor Yudin said. “He has staked everything on it.”

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Long Arm of Russian Law Reaches Obscure Siberian Church

ABODE OF DAWN, Russia — High on a hilltop bathed in the autumnal colors of pine, birch and larch trees, Aleksei Demidov paused for a few minutes of quiet prayer. He was directing his thoughts to his religious teacher, known as Vissarion, hoping he might feel his energy.

As he prayed, a cluster of small bells rang out from a spindly wooden gazebo. They belonged to the Church of the Last Testament, founded in 1991 by Vissarion. Except then his name was Sergei Torop, and he was just a former police officer and an amateur artist.

These days, Mr. Demidov and thousands of other church members consider Vissarion a living god. The Russian state, however, considers him a criminal.

dramatic operation led by federal security services. Russia’s Investigative Committee, the country’s top federal prosecutorial authority, accused them of “creating a religious group whose activities may impose violence on citizens,” allegations they deny.

A year later, the three men are still being held without criminal indictment in a prison in the industrial city of Novosibirsk, 1,000 miles from their church community. No trial has been scheduled.

Since taking power at the turn of the century, President Vladimir V. Putin has gone to great lengths to silence critics and prevent any person or group from gaining too much influence. He has forced out and locked up oligarchs, muted the news media and tried to defang political opposition — like Aleksei A. Navalny.

outlawed in 2017 and declared an “extremist” organization, on par with Islamic State militants.

Though there are accusations of extortion and mistreatment of members of the Church of the Last Testament, scholars and criminal justice experts say the arrest of Mr. Torop underscores the government’s intolerance of anything that veers from the mainstream — even a small, marginal group living in the middle of the forest, led by a former police officer claiming to be God.

“There is an idea that there is a defined spiritual essence of Russian culture, meaning conservative values and so on, that is in danger,” said Alexander Panchenko, the head of the Center for Anthropology of Religion at the European University at St. Petersburg, who has been asked to serve as an expert witness in an administrative procedure that could strip the church of its legal status as a church, an act that he said was based on “false accusations.”

“Somehow the new religious movements are now dangerous as well,” Mr. Panchenko said.

told Russian state-owned media that while there was no requirement to donate money, it was encouraged.

She said that some food items were banned and that seeking medical care was difficult. The church drew notice in 2000 when two children died because the community is so remote that they could not get medical help in time. But Ms. Melnikova also said that conditions had softened since the early days.

The accusations come from a vague Soviet-era law used to punish nonregistered groups like Baptists, evangelicals and Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mr. Lunkin said. The prosecutors’ office did not respond to messages seeking information about the status of the case.

In interviews last month with more than two dozen church members, none said that they had been mistreated or strained financially, and all that they could come and go freely for work or school. They said the church did not impose a financial burden on them. When the authorities searched Mr. Torop’s home, they found only 700 rubles (about $10).

Mr. Torop and his church have not been politically active or spoken out against the government. Instead, followers believe their very independence from normal Russian life is what made their church a target. “We’ve created a self-sustaining society, and our freedom is dangerous for the system,” said Aleksandr A. Komogortsev, 46, a disciple who was a police officer in Moscow for 11 years before moving to one of the biggest villages three years ago.

“We have shown how it is possible to live outside the system,” he said, gushing over a breakfast of salad and potato dumplings about how fulfilling it was to work with his hands.

Tanya Denisova, 68, a follower since 1999, said the church was focused on God’s judgment, not politics. She moved to the village in 2001, after divorcing her husband, who did not want to join the church.

“We came here to get away from politics,” she said.

Like the other faithful, Ms. Denisova eats a vegetarian diet, mostly of food grown in her large garden. Pictures of Vissarion, referred to as “the teacher,” and reproductions of his paintings hang in many rooms of her house.

Each village where followers live, like Ms. Denisova’s Petropavlovka, functions as a “united family,” with the household heads meeting each morning after a brief prayer service to discuss urgent communal work to be done for the day, and with weekly evening sessions where members of the community can solve disputes, request assistance or offer help.

At one recent meeting, members approved two new weddings after ensuring the betrothed couples were ready for marriage.

For many of the believers, their leader’s arrest, combined with the coronavirus pandemic, is a sign that Judgment Day approaches.

Others said they felt his arrest was the fulfillment of a prophecy, comparing their teacher’s plight with that of Jesus more than 2,000 years ago.

Stanislav M. Kazakov, the head of a small private school in the village of Cheremshanka, said the arrest had made the teacher more famous in Russia and abroad, which he hoped would draw more adherents.

Mr. Kazakov said his school, like other community institutions, had been subjected to repeated inspections and fines since 2019, with at least 100 students as young as 8 questioned by the police. He said the arrest and intimidation by the police had made the community stronger.

“They thought we would fall apart without him,” he said. “But in the past year, we have returned to the kind of community that holds each other together.”

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Lawyer for Navalny Is Arrested in Moscow

MOSCOW — The lead lawyer defending the Russian opposition leader Aleksei A. Navalny in an extremism case that could outlaw Mr. Navalny’s opposition movement was arrested on Friday, the latest instance of a remarkable escalation by the Kremlin in its long-running campaign to stifle dissent.

The lawyer, Ivan Pavlov, was detained after Russia’s Federal Security Service, or F.S.B., raided his Moscow hotel room at 6:40 a.m., his colleagues said. He stood accused of disclosing details of a law-enforcement investigation unconnected to Mr. Navalny and faced three months of prison time. Mr. Pavlov’s colleagues said agents also searched their group’s St. Petersburg offices and broke down the apartment door of their technology manager.

Mr. Pavlov, one of Russia’s best-known human rights lawyers, has frequently represented high-profile defendants in cases involving the F.S.B., a successor to the K.G.B. that wields enormous influence in Russia. His arrest shook Russia’s activist community because lawyers have, for the most part, been able to continue to operate even as the authorities have intensified their crackdown on the opposition.

“Ivan’s arrest is connected to his professional activity,” a group of lawyers said in an open letter Friday. “We believe that these actions by law enforcement are aimed exclusively at scaring Ivan and his colleagues in order to force them to reject an active position in defending their clients.”

accused of spying for NATO last year.

Team 29 said that Mr. Pavlov was being investigated for allegedly disclosing classified details of the Safronov case to the news media.

But the raids came just four days after Mr. Pavlov took up the defense of Mr. Navalny, Russia’s most prominent opposition figure. On Monday, Team 29 announced it would be representing Mr. Navalny’s organizations in a lawsuit filed in April by Moscow prosecutors to have the organizations outlawed as extremist groups.

said they were shutting down their nationwide network of 40 regional offices.

The crackdown on dissent has accompanied rising tensions between Russia and the West, leaving regular Russians increasingly isolated from the outside world. In response to the April 15 American sanctions against Russia over hacking and other “harmful foreign activities,” Russia countered by, among other things, prohibiting the U.S. Embassy in Moscow from employing people who are not American citizens.

The U.S. Embassy said on Friday that the move had forced it to lay off three quarters of its consular staff. As a result, the embassy said, it would stop processing nearly all nonimmigrant visa requests in Russia, such as for tourism or work travel.

Ivan Nechepurenko contributed reporting.

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Navalny’s Group Is Disbanding Its Network in Russia

MOSCOW — Associates of Aleksei A. Navalny have been forced to disband the imprisoned Russian opposition leader’s network of 40 regional offices, one of his top aides said Thursday, a step that pushes the domestic resistance to President Vladimir V. Putin further underground.

The move was inevitable, Mr. Navalny’s aide, Leonid Volkov, said in a YouTube video, amid the Kremlin’s latest efforts to stifle political dissent. Moscow prosecutors on April 16 announced that they would seek a court ruling to have Mr. Navalny’s movement declared an extremist organization, and the court quickly ordered Mr. Navalny’s groups to halt all public activity, including participating in political campaigns or referendums.

“Alas, we must be honest: it’s impossible to work under these conditions,” Mr. Volkov said, warning that continuing to operate would expose Navalny supporters to criminal prosecution. “We are officially disbanding the network of Navalny offices.”

Mr. Volkov predicted that while some offices would close, others would transform into independent political entities engaged in local politics. Either way, the end of Mr. Navalny’s nationwide network — from Kaliningrad on the Baltic Sea to Vladivostok on the Pacific — represented the end of an era in Russian politics.

February conviction for defamation of a World War II veteran that resulted in an $11,500 fine. The court denied the appeal.

It was Mr. Navalny’s first public appearance since he started his hunger strike demanding better medical treatment.

Mr. Navalny ended the hunger strike last week after 24 days, saying his demands had been partially met. On the courtroom video screens, Mr. Navalny appeared gaunt, but as he talked over the judge’s attempts to interrupt his closing statement, his voice sounded nearly as forceful as it was in his dramatic courtroom appearances earlier this year.

Mr. Putin, Mr. Navalny said, was trying to wrap himself in the glory of the Soviet Union’s victory in World War II in order to justify his effort to stay in power.

“Your king with no clothes has stolen the banner of victory and is trying to fashion it into a thong for himself,” Mr. Navalny said, addressing the judge, according to a recording of his speech published by the BBC’s Russian-language service. “All your authorities are occupiers and traitors.”

splashy corruption investigations published on YouTube, the local offices highlighted what they described as theft and injustice carried out by local officials.

“Most will continue their work as self-sufficient, independent, regional civic and political movements, with strong people at the helm,” Mr. Volkov said of the offices. “This means that everything we have done together up until now will not have been for naught.”

Mr. Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation continues to operate, though prosecutors are also seeking to have it outlawed as extremist. Some of Mr. Navalny’s associates are keeping the foundation running from outside Russia; on Wednesday, they published a video disclosing what they said were the salaries of Mr. Navalny’s loudest critics on RT, the Russian state-funded television network.

Prosecutors have for years harried Mr. Navalny and other opposition figures, but usually under pretexts like violating rules on public gatherings, laws unrelated to their political activities or more recently regulations against gatherings to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

That approach provided a pretense of legal acceptance for political dissent, which is guaranteed under Russia’s 1993 post-Soviet Constitution. But this month’s effort to declare Mr. Navalny’s movement “extremist” has been distinct for directly targeting the political activity of Mr. Navalny’s nongovernmental organizations.

Hearings in the extremism case are continuing this week — behind closed doors, because the evidence has been deemed classified. When they announced the case this month, the prosecutors argued that Mr. Navalny’s groups were seditious organizations disguised as a political movement. In a news release, prosecutors said that “under the guise of liberal slogans these organizations are busy forming conditions for destabilizing the social and sociopolitical situation.”

Andrew E. Kramer contributed reporting.

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Navalny’s Group Is Shutting all Its Offices in Russia

MOSCOW — Associates of Aleksei A. Navalny have been forced to disband the imprisoned Russian opposition leader’s network of 40 regional offices, one of his top aides said Thursday, a step that pushes the domestic resistance to President Vladimir V. Putin further underground.

The move was inevitable, Mr. Navalny’s aide, Leonid Volkov, said in a YouTube video, amid the Kremlin’s latest efforts to stifle political dissent. Moscow prosecutors on April 16 announced that they would seek a court ruling to have Mr. Navalny’s movement declared an extremist organization, and the court quickly ordered Mr. Navalny’s groups to halt all public activity, including participating in political campaigns or referendums.

“Alas, we must be honest: It’s impossible to work under these conditions,” Mr. Volkov said, warning that continuing to operate would expose Navalny supporters to criminal prosecution. “We are officially disbanding the network of Navalny offices.”

Mr. Volkov predicted that while some offices would close, others would transform into independent political entities engaged in local politics. Either way, the end of Mr. Navalny’s nationwide network — from Kaliningrad on the Baltic Sea to Vladivostok on the Pacific — represented the end of an era in Russian politics.

splashy corruption investigations published on YouTube, the local offices highlighted what they described as theft and injustice carried out by local officials.

“Most will continue their work as self-sufficient, independent, regional civic and political movements, with strong people at the helm,” Mr. Volkov said of the offices. “This means that everything we have done together up until now will not have been for naught.”

February conviction for defamation of a World War II veteran that resulted in an $11,500 fine. It was his first public appearance since he started his hunger strike demanding better medical treatment.

Mr. Navalny ended the hunger strike last week after 24 days, saying his demands had been partially met. On the courtroom video screens Thursday, Mr. Navalny appeared gaunt, but as he talked over the judge’s attempts to interrupt his closing statement, his voice sounded nearly as forceful as it was in his dramatic courtroom appearances earlier this year.

Mr. Putin, Mr. Navalny said, was trying to wrap himself in the glory of the Soviet Union’s victory in World War II in order to justify his effort to stay in power.

“Your king with no clothes has stolen the banner of victory and is trying to fashion it into a thong for himself,” Mr. Navalny said, addressing the judge, according to a recording of his speech published by the BBC Russian Service. “All your authorities are occupiers and traitors.”

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Russia Suspends Public Activity by Navalny’s Political Groups

MOSCOW — Prosecutors in President Vladimir V. Putin’s government ordered an immediate halt on Monday to all public activity by Aleksei A. Navalny’s political groups, in one of the more sweeping legal moves against the Russian opposition in recent years.

Previously, prosecutors had targeted Mr. Navalny and other opposition figures mostly on pretexts, such as accusations they had violated rules for public gatherings, laws unrelated to politics or more recently restrictions on public meetings because of the coronavirus.

The order issued on Monday differed from those precedents in that it directly targeted the opposition groups for what are usually seen as political activities.

It was the latest move in a long cat-and-mouse battle between Mr. Putin and Mr. Navalny. The opposition leader has led an anti-corruption drive that has frustrated and embarrassed the Russian leader for years, despite unrelenting pressure from the Russian authorities.

wrote on Twitter, referring to a voting strategy in which the opposition coalesces around the single strongest candidate in a given race.

Though overshadowed by the assassination attempt on Mr. Navalny last year and his imprisonment and hunger strike this spring, the legal onslaught against his movement also carries potentially far-reaching implications. Mr. Putin’s system of governance is sometimes called a “soft authoritarian” approach because it allows open opposition and more internet freedoms than in China.

Other political parties exist in Russia that are ostensibly in the opposition, but in fact they back Mr. Putin and most of his policies while criticizing officials lower down the pecking order, such as regional governors. The order singled out Mr. Navalny’s nongovernmental groups — he has not been allowed to form a legal political party — for posing a risk to “the interests of the Russian Federation.”

The evidence in the case has been classified. The order, which was published online by Mr. Navalny’s aides, said the ban covering three of Mr. Navalny’s nongovernmental organizations could be appealed but would otherwise be in effect until a court ruling that might make it permanent.

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After Testing the World’s Limits, Putin Steps Back From the Brink

On Thursday, Mr. Putin’s defense minister announced a partial pullback of troops, a step welcomed by Ukraine’s president in a nervous Kyiv. Mr. Putin held out an olive branch to President Biden by appearing at his online climate summit. And on Friday, Mr. Navalny said his hunger strike demanding better medical care had “achieved enough” after he was examined twice by civilian doctors.

“No matter how much the system tries to show itself to be a deaf-mute, thousand-ton monolith, it in fact continues to react to pressure from inside and outside,” a top aide to Mr. Navalny, Leonid Volkov, posted on Twitter.

In Mr. Medvedev’s article interpreting the week’s events published on Friday morning, he compared the current state of world affairs to the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, when the United States and the Soviet Union came to the brink of nuclear war. The problem today, unlike the original Cold War war, he wrote, was that the United States no longer respected Russia’s strength.

“If the consequences of victory are so great that they put in question the continued existence of the victor, then this is not a victory,” Mr. Medvedev, the deputy chairman of Mr. Putin’s Security Council, wrote in a not-so-veiled reference to Russia’s nuclear arsenal.

A risk of Mr. Putin’s escalatory approach to foreign policy is that he may need to up the ante to achieve the desired effect. That was the case with Russia’s troop buildup near Ukraine. While the war in eastern Ukraine has lasted since 2014, with Moscow sending arms and men to the separatists it backs, the Kremlin had not since the outset of hostilities threatened as explicitly to openly invade Ukraine as it did in recent weeks.

Mr. Pavlovsky, who advised the Kremlin until 2011, compares Mr. Putin’s system to a ratchet: a mechanism that, even with occasional pauses, can only turn in one direction.

“When the system is all built on the principle of escalation, it cannot pull back in earnest,” he said.

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Aleksei Navalny, Putin’s Nemesis, Ends Hunger Strike

MOSCOW — Aleksei A. Navalny, the imprisoned Russian opposition leader, ended a three-week hunger strike on Friday that had embarrassed the Kremlin, drew international criticism and sparked protests at home.

The 24-day hunger strike, which Mr. Navalny said had left him so skinny he looked like a “skeleton, swaying, walking in its cell,” became the latest battle in a yearslong, high-stakes competition between President Vladimir V. Putin and his most prominent domestic political opponent.

Mr. Putin refuses even to speak Mr. Navalny’s name while the police and prosecutors harry his political organization with arrests and, this month, a move to ban it outright. Mr. Navalny is serving a prison sentence of more than two years for a parole violation of a conviction he says was politically motivated.

But even in prison he managed to confound Mr. Putin with a quandary: either concede to his demands for medical treatment by his personal doctors or risk creating a martyr.

slickly produced videos exposing corruption at the highest ranks. He routinely refers to Mr. Putin’s United Russia party as a gang of “crooks and thieves.”

Mr. Navalny has also continued to set the agenda for the political opposition ahead of parliamentary elections scheduled for the fall. His organization turned out tens of thousands of street protesters on Wednesday, stealing some of the limelight from Mr. Putin’s annual state of the nation address.

treat health problems that possibly stemmed from his poisoning with a chemical weapon last year.

Novichok, a rare nerve agent only manufactured in Russia and the Soviet Union before it broke up, had been placed in his underwear in a hotel room last August. At the time, he was organizing his political group for local elections. The Kremlin denied any role in the poisoning.

Mr. Navalny was medically evacuated to Germany in a coma, recovered and returned to Russia in January, where he was arrested at the airport.

In prison, he reported back pain and numbness in his legs and arms. Earlier this month, tests showed signs of possible kidney failure that could lead to a lethal irregularity in Mr. Navalny’s heartbeat, his doctors said.

Prison authorities never allowed access for Mr. Navalny’s personal doctor. They did move him from his cell, first to a prison hospital then a civilian hospital, and this week allowed specialists to examine him.

“Doctors whom I fully trust made a statement that we have achieved enough for me to stop my fast,” Mr. Navalny said in a statement posted on his Instagram account on Friday. He said doctors had also advised him that if he continued the hunger strike, “there will be nobody left to treat.”

Mr. Navalny said he also broke his fast because some supporters had announced hunger strikes in solidarity with him, and he did not want to risk their health.

statement Thursday outlining the health care prison authorities had allowed after his transfer to a civilian hospital, including examinations by independent neurologists. The doctors said they had also received access to his test results, partially fulfilling the demands of the hunger strike.

state of the nation speech a hopeful message of economic growth as the country emerged from the coronavirus pandemic. By the end of the day, police had detained nearly 1,500 demonstrators nationwide.

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