Team Navalny’s final days Russia’s justice system hasn’t yet banned the opposition movement, technically speaking, but just try telling that to activists on the ground
Alexey Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation achieved its greatest visibility ever earlier this year when the group released a documentary film describing a vast “palace” and winery empire reportedly controlled by Vladimir Putin. Just before the video was published on YouTube (where it now has more than 116 million views), Navalny himself hijacked the global narrative about Russia by returning to Moscow and becoming one of the world’s best-known political prisoners. Following a series of mass protests organized without official permits by Navalny’s political and anti-corruption groups, the Russian authorities initiated legal proceedings that will likely obliterate this opposition movement’s capacity for coordinated activism. Meduza summarizes how this process unfolded over the past week.
Legal proceedings are underway. On April 26, the Moscow City Court held a pretrial hearing in a lawsuit to designate Alexey Navalny’s political and anti-corruption organizations as illegal extremist groups. The charges were filed by the Moscow Prosecutor’s Office against Navalny’s nationwide campaign offices and the designated “foreign agents” the Anti-Corruption Foundation and the Citizens’ Rights Protection Foundation. The trial is closed to the public because some of the case materials are classified.
The trial’s secrecy doesn’t add up. Lawyers from “Team 29” (a legal group that often represents defendants accused of treason and other crimes in closed hearings) are defending Navalny’s organizations in the trial. The attorneys now have access to the case materials, but they say it’s unclear why the evidence has been classified. According to Ivan Pavlov, the head of Team 29, the classified documents comprise four 200-page volumes, but it’s all “informational and reference materials that chronicle the repressions against everything associated with Navalny and the Anti-Corruption Foundation.”
Officials have already shut down the campaign offices. Ahead of a ruling in the extremism case, the Moscow Prosecutor’s Office suspended the operations of Navalny’s campaign offices across the entire country. The suspension wasn’t made public until April 26 at the pretrial hearing. Navalny’s nationwide offices are now prohibited from staging rallies, sharing content online, participating in elections or referendums, and using bank accounts (except to pay fines, taxes, and other fees).
Navalny’s campaign offices say the suspension is illegal. By law, state prosecutors have the right in pretrial situations to suspend the activities of civic associations if they’re responsible for extremist activity. The decision released by the Moscow Prosecutor’s Office refers to Navalny’s campaign offices as a civic association, but campaign manager Leonid Volkov has pointed out that the offices actually belong to a formal legal entity (which is different in Russia from an unregistered civic movement). “This decision [by the prosecutors] simply invents a nonexistent organization,” Volkov declared on his Telegram channel on Monday.
The campaign has nevertheless closed down. Despite contesting the legality of the suspension order, Navalny’s campaign offices across Russia have closed up shop. On social media, teams in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg, Kaliningrad, and other cities have posted the message: “Unfortunately, we can no longer work in the old format. It’s dangerous for our staff and our supporters. Beginning today, no new information will appear on this page, which will be frozen.” Navalny’s activists also said they will “depersonalize” the campaign’s public presence to protect themselves further. Sergey Boyko (Navalny’s coordinator in Novosibirsk, not to be confused with the libertarian activist with the same name) declared on Monday that “it’s dumb to get into a fight you can’t win.” Leonid Volkov has also confirmed that the campaign offices have suspended all operations.
Navalny’s anti-corruption groups are in the same boat. On April 27, the Moscow City Court imposed unspecified limits on the activities of the Anti-Corruption Foundation and the Citizens’ Rights Protection Foundation. The judge granted a request from city prosecutors who argued that the foundations, together with Navalny’s campaign offices, are responsible for organizing “illegal mass public assemblies,” like the protests on April 21, 2021, when supporters rallied to demand proper medical treatment for Navalny in prison, leading to more than 2,000 arrests nationwide. Citing the extremism case’s secrecy, the Moscow City Court’s spokespeople declined to reveal the actual restrictions on the two foundations’ activities, but Team 29 head Ivan Pavlov says the court approved the same prohibitions already in place against Navalny’s campaign offices.
The Anti-Corruption Foundation vows to fight on, but it’s preparing for the worst. Ivan Zhdanov, the foundation’s director, says the new restrictions will have “no effect” on the group’s activities. Sources told the news outlet Daily Storm, however, that the foundation is already preparing for its likely designation as an illegal extremist group. The leaders of the anti-corruption group and Navalny’s campaign offices have reportedly decided to dissolve all partnership agreements with staff and directed employees to purge their social media accounts of any mention of or affiliation with Navalny’s organizations, in order to reduce the likelihood of criminal prosecution.
Translation by Kevin Rothrock