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Is Russia Investigating Navalny Under Extremism Law?

RUSSIA --Policemen detain Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny during a rally in support of investigative journalist Ivan Golunov, who was detained by police, accused of drug offense and later freed from house arrest, in Moscow, June 12, 2019.
Svetlana Petrenko

Svetlana Petrenko

Spokesperson, Russian Investigative Committee

“The information disseminated in the media, that the probe is being launched by the Main Investigative Directorate of the Investigative Committee of Russia in Moscow based on the statements by A. Navalny, does not correspond to reality.”


On December 1, two Russian state-owned news outlets, Interfax and TASS, reported that the law enforcement agencies in Moscow are investigating Alexey Navalny, a Russian opposition politician and leader of an anti-corruption foundation, for purported extremism.

Citing anonymous “informed sources,” the news agencies reported that law enforcement opened a probe on November 30 under the Article 280 of the Russian criminal code, a law prohibiting public calls to conduct extremist activities. The move followed an interview Navalny gave to Ekho Moskvy radio station last April 27. Other Russian media outlets also reported on the investigation, citing TASS and Interfax.

The Russian Federal Investigative Committee responded the same day with a denial that such an investigation had been launched.

“The information disseminated in the media, that the probe is being launched by the Main Investigative Directorate of the Investigative Committee of Russia in Moscow based on the statements by A. Navalny, does not correspond to reality,” said committee said in a statement posted on its website and signed by its spokesperson, Svetlana Petrenko.

That statement is misleading.

None of the media reports about the investigation named the Investigative Committee as the agency that had launched it. In fact, the reports did not identify any specific Russian law enforcement agency as running the alleged probe.

In addition, the list of crimes the Investigative Committee is authorized to pursue does not include the call to extremist activities under Article 280, according to the committee’s website.

Rather, Article 151 of the Russian Criminal Code gives the Federal Security Service (FSB) the authority to investigate crimes under Article 280. The FSB has not responded to the TASS and Interfax reports.

In his April 27 interview with Ekho Moskvy radio, an independent media outlet, Navalny answered questions regarding his proposed five-step COVID-19 emergency response plan for Russia. The interviewer said: “Word is that the authorities have been considering something similar, but now, after your proposal, the authorities would never do it.”

Navalny answered: “You know, if our authorities are such that, in order to not do anything that would please me, they would let 60 million people starve, such authorities should definitely be overthrown right now, probably even by violent means.”

Alexey Navalny is currently in Germany recovering after being treated at a specialized toxicology center for suspected poisoning. In August, he was airlifted comatose to Germany from a hospital in the Siberian city of Omsk after falling seriously ill aboard a plane flying to Moscow. German experts, along with others, including from the Organization for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, concluded that while in Siberia, Navalny was poisoned with the military grade chemical agent Novichok. Moscow has denied he was poisoned in Russia.

According to media reports, Western intelligence agencies suspect Russia’s FSB was involved in Navalny’s poisoning.

On December 1, Navalny wrote on Instagram that the President Vladimir Putin personally ordered the new extremism probe, in order to prevent Navalny from returning to Russia. Responding to accusations that he had betrayed Russia [BY WHAT – GOING TO GERMANY, ACCUSING PUTIN, BOTH?], Navalny wrote that his only betrayal was “not dying when poisoned on the orders of the Bunker Grandpa” – meaning Putin.'

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov neither confirmed nor denied the existence of an extremism probe targeting Navalny when asked about it during a December 1 press briefing. Instead, he commented on Navalny’s five-step-plan, saying that in making decisions, Putin does not take under consideration the opinions of “Navalny or any other opposition forces.”

Echo Moskvy editor-in-chief Alexey Venediktov said that he watched his radio station’s interview with Navalny and “of course, there is no extremism in it,” and “that is why for over six months nobody made any claims” against Navalny. Venediktov noted that others in Russia had been prosecuted for extremism “for much less.”

The latest investigation is an apparent attempt to “intimidate” Navalny and prevent him from returning to Russia, Venediktov wrote on Telegram on December 1.

Navalny and his Anti-Corruption Foundation are already the target of multiple investigations, including two criminal cases the Investigative Committee launched in 2019. In 2018, Navalny was barred from running in Russia’s presidential elections after a Moscow court convicted him of embezzlement, a charge Navalny denies. Putin won the presidency.

Apart from criminal cases, numerous lawsuits against Navalny and his anti-corruption group are awaiting court hearings, including complaints by the Kremlin media-arm Russia Today, billionaire and Putin ally Oleg Deripaska, and relatives of Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin.

Over the past decade of Putin’s rule, Navalny has been his most popular opponent and harshest critic. He has led nationwide protests against Putin and his political party, and his anti-corruption investigations have exposed top Russian officials and oligarchs close to Putin. fact-checked and proved as false or misleading numerous claims that Russian government officials and state-owned media have made in denying the state’s role in Navalny’s poisoning. In some cases, the claims contradict one another.

The version of Novichok used in poisoning Navalny is a Soviet-developed chemical weapon, targeting a victim’s nervous system. In 2018, the United Kingdom accused the Russian government of using Novichok to poison a former FSB spy and his daughter in the British city of Salisbury.