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KGB vs. KGB: Putin's crackdown extends to old comrades

Arrests and intimidation of political opponents of Russian President Vladimir Putin have been on the upswing recently, extending even to a former KGB comrade of the Russian leader.

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Yesterday, Gudkov announced that he will be selling the company at a huge loss, wrecking his retirement plans. "I took the path of Khodorkovsky, and now I am really afraid," he told the Moscow daily Izvestia, referring to the fate of oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who defied Putin and subsequently was arrested, his business empire destroyed by selective legal actions. Mr. Khodorkovsky, prosecuted in two trials that most independent experts believe were politically motivated, has spent the past nine years in a Siberian penal colony.

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'A dress rehearsal for what may be coming'

Activists say the crackdown began early this month with passage by the pro-Kremlin Duma majority of a new law that imposes tough penalties on anyone who takes part in a non-sanctioned political gathering and steep fines for organizers if any infractions occur during a permitted one.

Then on June 11, police raided the homes of eight protest leaders, seizing cash, computers and vast quantities of "political literature."

Since then, more than a dozen people have been arrested and charged with involvement in "disorders" that allegedly took place during a mass protest rally on May 6, the eve of Vladimir Putin's inauguration for an unprecedented third term as Russian president.

Other odd occurrences include the flight abroad of investigative journalist Sergei Sokolov, deputy editor of the opposition weekly Novaya Gazeta, after his life was allegedly threatened by the powerful head of the Kremlin's Investigative Committee and Putin protege Alexander Bastrykhin. Mr. Bastrykhin first denied making the threat, but later visited Novaya Gazeta's offices to apologize. "I didn't have the right to explode but I exploded," the pro-government daily Izvestia quoted Bastrykhin as saying.

This week anti-corruption blogger Alexei Navalny, one of the best-known protest leaders, accused the security services of hacking into his cellphone, e-mail and Twitter accounts, using his own computer and iPad that were seized in the earlier raid on his home.

But most worrisome is the creation of a 200-person investigative task force, comprising security officers drawn from all over Russia, to look into the alleged disorders at the May 6 rally.


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