May 24, 2013
Russia moves to prosecute anti-Putin protest leader
Russian investigators opened criminal proceedings against a prominent leader of protests against President Vladimir Putin, saying a documentary on a pro-Kremlin TV channel showed evidence Sergei Udaltsov had plotted mass disorder.
Law enforcement officials raided Udaltsov's Moscow apartment around daybreak and said they were also searching the homes of two associates facing the same charges, which carry a prison sentence of up to 10 years.
The Kremlin appeared to be probing how far it could go in cracking down on the protest movement, according to opposition parliamentarian Dmitry Gudkov, who has led anti-Putin rallies with Udaltsov since late last year.
"They will be taking the temperature of society. The repressions will continue," Interfax quoted him as saying.
The criminal case focused on allegations aired in a documentary on NTV television that Udaltsov received money and orders from an ally of Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili to cause unrest in Russia.
"The main department of the Investigative Committee opened a criminal case against Sergei Udaltsov ... based on evidence of ... preparing mass disorder," the federal Investigative Committee said in a statement on its website.
Udaltsov said that he was being taken to the committee's headquarters for questioning following the search.
The statement said investigators were also looking at allegations that Udaltsov - a leftist known for his shaved head, leather jacket and frequent short-term jailings for disobeying police - had planned "terrorist acts" in Russia.
Udaltsov, one of the leaders of a series of opposition protests in Moscow over the past year that were the biggest since Putin came to power in 2000, has denied the allegations aired on NTV earlier this month.
Critics accuse the Kremlin of a politically motivated crackdown to stifle any public unrest.
The Investigative Committee, which answers only to the president, also issued a stark warning to protest leaders, who Putin has at times publicly ridiculed and accused of receiving Western support.