Russian 'rendition': Kremlin grabs opposition figure from Ukraine streets
Analysts worry that Leonid Razvozzhayev's alleged kidnapping from a Kiev street and subsequent imprisoning is start of a full-scale, no-holds-barred crackdown by Putin's Kremlin.
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Razvozzhayev, an aide to opposition parliamentarian Ilya Ponomaryov, was wanted by Russia's powerful Investigative Committee for questioning in connection with a developing case against his friend, left-wing street agitator Sergei Udaltsov, who is charged with trying to overthrow Mr. Putin using funds provided by the former Soviet republic of Georgia and exiled anti-Kremlin tycoons in London.Skip to next paragraph
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The allegations against Mr. Udaltsov were made in a "documentary" film broadcast early this month on the state-run NTV network, which included accusations that he was plotting to seize the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad, organize terrorist actions in Moscow, and commit other revolutionary disorders.
The secretly-filmed tapes that supposedly show Udaltsov conspiring with Georgian emissary Givi Targamadze also appear to show Razvozzhayev as a participant. The Investigative Committee ordered him arrested last week, but he had already fled to Ukraine.
"This is completely outrageous," says Mr. Ponomaryov, who has been stripped of his Duma voice and vote by the pro-Kremlin majority and could be facing the same fate as his parliamentary colleague, Gennady Gudkov, who was expelled from the Duma last month for refusing to break off his ties with the protest movement.
"Razvozzhayev is a good man, he worked for me, and he worked as an organizer of the Left Front," which is Udaltsov's leftist coalition, he says. "I fear we are all facing similar criminal proceedings, with possible long jail terms. We're ready for that."
"But I begin to worry where it will end? Are they going to return to the traditions of the 1930s, when the Stalinist secret police invented vast, phony conspiracies and went on a killing spree of political dissidents?"
In Ukraine, which faces parliamentary elections next Sunday that Mr. Yanukovych's Party of Regions seems set to win, experts say Razvozzhayev's seizure is a sign that Russian secret services can do anything they want on the streets of Kiev.
"I doubt that such an operation could take place without the secret agreement of Ukrainian leaders," says Olexander Sushko, an analyst with the independent Institute for Euro-Atlantic Integration in Kiev.
"It's particularly significant that this happened just before the elections, and on the day Yanukovych was visiting Russia to talk with Putin. The official line is that Razvozzhayev surrendered voluntarily, but everybody knows he was hijacked on the street.... It has the look of a classic gangster operation, and nothing in common with a civilized extradition process, no matter how you view it," Mr. Sushko adds.
Udaltsov is under house arrest, but one of his top aides, Konstantin Lebedev, was arrested last week and is currently in prison. The capture and purported confession of Razvozzhayev suggests that Udaltsov's arrest may now be imminent.
"Sergei Udaltsov is finding himself besieged right now," says Ms. Lipman. "His friends and close associates are in custody, and they are all facing very harsh potential jail terms," of up to 10 years.
"I'm a liberal, I don't share Udaltsov's left-wing philosophy. But I can see what they're doing to him, and it's clearly aimed at intimidating everyone who tries to protest.... It's also clear that if the economy turns down, and there should be social pain, the authorities do not want an effective and courageous street organizer like Udaltsov on the loose. It's all very sinister," she adds.