An ex-con bashed Navalny's Moscow campaign chief over the head with a pipe. Police think he hired his own attacker
Update: On September 22, police released Alexey Shcherbakov, the man suspected of attacking Nikolai Lyaskin, on his own recognizance.
On September 15, not far from Alexey Navalny’s Moscow headquarters, somebody jumped Nikolai Lyaskin, who runs Navalny’s campaign in Moscow. The attack took place on Gilyarovsky Street at about 7:10 p.m., when Lyaskin and another activist named Artem Prosyakov went out to fetch some newspapers from a car. The attacker approached them from behind and it Lyaskin in the head with a metal pipe wrapped in paper. Then he hit Lyaskin in the shoulder, tossed the pipe at Prosyakov, and ran away. Doctors later diagnosed Lyaskin with a concussion and a head injury.
Police opened an investigation, treating the attack as an act of “hooliganism.” Ivan Zhdanov, a lawyer for Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, demands that the case be transferred to federal investigators and treated as a felony attempt on the life of a public figure intended to halt his political activity. Zhdanov says the attack on Lysaskin is the “result of police inaction following previous attacks by these scum.” Lyaskin also believes that the attack on him was most likely related to Alexey Navalny’s presidential campaign.
On September 19, police detained a suspect in the attack: a 36-year-old St. Petersburg native with a criminal record for robbery and a history of psychiatric observation. Officials have not released his name, but photographs of the alleged suspect started circulating on social media almost immediately. One of the first outlets to share the suspect’s picture was the Telegram channel Kremlevskaya Prachka (Kremlin Laundress), which has just 600 subscribers. Before long, however, the television network NTV broadcast a video showing police interrogating the same man.
The man detained for attacking Lyaskin says Lyaskin paid him to attack him. On September 20, Moscow police told reporters that the detained suspect informed officers that he learned about Navalny’s presidential campaign online and came to Moscow from St. Petersburg, in order to earn a little money. Later, he says he met Lyaskin at the Moscow campaign office. During his interrogation, however, the suspect referred to the Moscow office as the headquarters of “Alexey Lyaskin,” not Alexey Navalny. The police officer questioning him then fed him the correct surname. According to police, Lyaskin allegedly offered the suspect 150,000 rubles ($2,590) — though the suspect initially said it was 220,000 rubles — to carry out attacks on two people, including Lyaskin himself. Navalny’s Moscow campaign chief supposedly paid the attacker an advance of 10,000 rubles ($170). Lyaskin, meanwhile, says these accusations resemble “a provocation by the security forces.” Alexey Navalny says he’s certain that the idea of blaming Lyaskin for the attack belongs to the Kremlin.
Lyaskin told Meduza that he recognized his attacker. He says the man did in fact come several times to Navalny’s Moscow headquarters, looking specifically for him. “He said that he had come on a business trip from St. Petersburg and wanted to help. I spoke to him for about 15 minutes at the office, in front of multiple witnesses, and it was immediately clear that he was there to stage a provocation. He had no idea what the campaign was about, what it was doing, or what it aimed to do. During our conversation, he even mentioned that he’d been in prison. As for me, I thought this was just another crazy guy. I get letters and phone calls from people like that sometimes,” Lyaskin said. The same man came back to the headquarters a few more times, for a film screening and a lecture, but Lyaskin says he never spoke to him again.
On the evening of September 20, Lyaskin was summoned to a local police station for questioning. “They said it was for investigative proceedings,” Lyaskin told Meduza. He and his lawyer came to the police station at 5 p.m., as requested, but the questioning didn’t get underway for another five hours. Lyaskin was released at 10:30 p.m., writing on Twitter that police wanted him back again the next day.
On September 21, Lyaskin spent the entire day at the police station. “They told me to come at 11 a.m., but we didn’t get started until 2 p.m., running until 8:30,” Lyaskin told Meduza. “There were a lot of questions and explanations from the suspect, and everything indicates that they’re trying to drag out this provocation even further, saying that I hired him to bash me in the head with a steel pipe. From there it just gets worse. There’s a lot of awful stuff. For example, [he says] he came to our office and as soon as I met him, in front of all our volunteers, I [supposedly] asked him to do this. Honestly, I can’t say with certainty that this was the man who attacked me, and that’s reflected in the casework.”
Lyaskin also noted that police tried to seize his mobile phone on the evening of September 21, but failed to do so, because he didn’t bring it with him to the station. Lyaskin says he believes the police coached the suspect into making the allegations against him. “They didn’t let me see him on the first day. This person has a few prior convictions. It seems he knows where things are headed, and he’s protecting the people behind this not out of love but to avoid an even longer prison sentence,” Lyaskin explained.