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Alexei Navalny

Russia's Justice Ministry is seeking the closure of a foundation that is the bulwark of opposition politician Aleksei Navalny's presidential election campaign.

Lawyer Ivan Zhdanov said on January 15 that the ministry filed a lawsuit with Moscow's Meshchansky District Court seeking to shutter the Fifth Season of the Year Foundation, and court spokeswoman Yulia Bocharova said a hearing will be held on January 22.

Navalny, an anticorruption crusarer and vocal opponent of President Vladimir Putin, has campaigned for the March 18 election for over a year despite warnings -- confirmed by a formal decision in December -- that he would be barred from the ballot due to a criminal conviction he says was fabricated.

Navalny's campaign chief, Leonid Volkov, said in November that the Fifth Season of the Year Foundation is the legal entity that officially employs workers of Navalny’s campaign offices across Russia, receives financial contributions from supporters, and concludes lease agreements and other deals on behalf of Navalny's campaign.

Putin, who has been president or prime minister since 1999, is seeking a new six-year term in the election. Kremlin critics contend that most of the other candidates are window-dressing in an election he is certain to win in Russia's tightly controlled political environment.

Putin's campaign launched a website on January 15.

Its homepage featured a photo of a smiling Putin, the slogan "A strong president - a strong Russia," and a button that viewers can click to volunteer for the campaign.

Based on reporting by Interfax and Novaya Gazeta
Crimean activist Volodymyr Balukh (file photo)

A prosecutor in Ukraine's Russia-controlled Crimea region has asked a court to sentence pro-Kyiv activist Volodymyr Balukh to five years and one month in prison in a high-profile retrial on a weapons and explosives possession charge.

In his final statement in court on January 15, Balukh reiterated that he was innocent and that the case against him would "never make me love my so-called new motherland" -- a reference to Russia.

He suggested that the accusations against him were politically motivated and part of what Kyiv and rights groups say is a campaign of pressure on Crimeans who opposed Russia's takeover of the Black Sea peninsula.

"The tears of the mothers of those who today are fighting for their right to be free will [haunt] those who are persecuting people in Crimea," Balukh said. "But no matter what, victory will be ours. Glory to Ukraine!"

After the prosecutor and Balukh spoke, the judge adjourned the trial and said the verdict would be pronounced on January 16.

In August, the Rozdolne District Court convicted Balukh and sentenced him to three years and seven months in prison. But an appeals court cancelled the ruling, sent the case for additional investigation, and transferred Balukh to house arrest.

One Of Dozens

Balukh is one of dozens of Crimeans whom Russia has prosecuted in what rights groups say has been a persistent campaign to silence dissent since Moscow seized control over the Ukrainian region in March 2014.

He was arrested in December 2016, after the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) said explosives and 90 bullets were found in the attic of his home.

The search was conducted shortly after Balukh planted a Ukrainian flag in his yard and affixed a sign to his house that read Heavenly Hundred Street, 18.

The Heavenly Hundred is a term Ukrainians use for the dozens of people killed when security forces sought to disperse protesters in Kyiv whose demonstrations drove Russia-friendly President Viktor Yanukovych from power in February 2014.

After Yanukovych's ouster, Russia seized Crimea by sending in troops and staging a referendum dismissed as illegal by Ukraine, the United States, and a total of 100 countries.

The Russian takeover badly damaged Moscow's relations with Kyiv and the West and resulted in the imposition of sanctions by the European Union, the United States, and several other countries.

Rights groups say Crimea residents who opposed Russia's takeover have faced discrimination and abuse at the hands of the Moscow-imposed authorities.

In March 2017, the European Parliament called on Moscow to free more than 30 Ukrainian citizens who were in prison or other conditions of restricted freedom in Russia, Crimea, and parts of eastern Ukraine that are controlled by Russia-backed separatists.

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