Russia Turns Trampled Grass Into Weapon Against Opponents
A state-owned organization responsible for maintaining Moscow's roads is seeking compensation from protest leaders for grass trampled during a recent unsanctioned protest, part of a multi-pronged assault on the opposition that included raids on Alexey Navalny's network of offices around the country Thursday.
The authorities raided at least 39 offices in Navalny's political network, seeking evidence for a money laundering investigation started last month against his Anti-Corruption Foundation, his ally Leonid Volkov wrote on Facebook. The searches came a day after the road agency Avtodor was in court seeking 12 million rubles ($183,000) from nine leaders of the recent protests in the capital to compensate for grass allegedly damaged during a July 27 protest.
The new assaults on the opposition come as the Kremlin scrambles to contain a wave of protests sparked by the refusal to allow independent politicians on the ballot for a local election. Other efforts, which included attempting to strip people of their parental rights for attending rallies, breaking up protests with riot police and arresting thousands, fueled popular anger, spurring the largest demonstrations since President Vladimir Putin returned to the presidency in 2012 after four years as prime minister.
"Even if they start to seize property, it will only mobilize the opposition more," Kirill Rogov, a Moscow-based political analyst, said of the new tactics. "They've attempted depriving parents of their rights and property claims. But the laws that they passed were not enough to prevent street protests. They're searching for new methods."
A Moscow court approved 94 search warrants on Tuesday for the raids, which also targeted staff members' houses, according to Volkov. They were retribution for the opposition's "smart voting" strategy that saw the ruling party suffer setbacks in the recent local elections around the country, he said.
The country-wide scale signals that the authorities are broadening their targets from the movement's leaders. Several key opposition leaders were jailed for periods over the summer, including Navalny and Ilya Yashin, a local politician who was kept off the ballot and arrested five times in the run up to Sunday's elections.
Navalny and Yashin are among the nine leaders named in a wave of suits seeking financial judgments. The Avtodor hearing, which will continue on Oct. 1, came one day after a Moscow judge ruled eight of the them owed a total of 1.2 million rubles to the city transportation agency for disrupting buses and before they face a similar claim from the subway authority Friday.
Evidence submitted by Avtodor included black-and-white photos of trampled grass and flowers, according to a video from the courtroom posted on Facebook by Yashin. He said the court was unlikely to consider video evidence that showed police trampling the grass.
The sometimes-absurd hearing included Yashin telling an Avtodor representative to seek funding from Deputy Mayor Pyotr Biryukov, who is responsible for the city beautification program and who was accused last week of amassing 5.5 billion rubles of real estate and cars by Navalny. Biryukov did not respond to Navalny's allegations.