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Russia: Opposition Journalist Granted Asylum In Ukraine

A Russian NTV report shows Aleksandr Kosvintsev in the offices of "Vechernie vesti" in Kyiv (RFE/RL) Ukrainian officials say they have granted asylum to a Russian journalist who alleges harassment in his home country after he took up a leadership role with a political opposition group.

Aleksandr Kosvintsev was editor in chief of the newspaper "Russian Reporter," in Russia's Kemerovo Oblast, and also headed the Kemerovo branch of Garry Kasparov's United Civic Front opposition organization.

The Ukrainian state migration service in Lviv Oblast announced this week that Kosvintsev had been granted asylum in late December, roughly a year after he left his homeland.

In an interview with RFE/RL's Russian Service, Kosvintsev, who now lives in Kyiv, said a campaign of harassment and threatening phone calls began after he took over the local United Civic Front branch in August 2005.

"I received a very serious warning from people working in the law-enforcement agencies, telling me to be careful, not to travel alone, that I was going to be beaten up by some people dressed as police -- or that they would plant drugs [in my pocket]," Kosvintsev said.

Kosvintsev added that he thinks his "political activity was as important a factor" as his journalistic work to his alleged harrassers.

Before he joined the United Civic Front, Kosvintsev said the authorities often weighed in on his journalism work, suing him several times over his articles. After he began heading the local branch of Kasparov's group, his phone was tapped, he was removed from the passenger lists of scheduled plane flights, and he received visits from the police.

Kosvintsev also said that Kemerovo Governor Aman Tuleyev personally requested in a letter that the regional prosecutor investigate him and "take appropriate measures."

"These measures were expressed through various provocations, telephone taps, constant chasing, police visits, and so on," Kosvintsev told RFE/RL. "This, in fact, proved the fact that their interest towards me was politically motivated."

The English-language daily "The Moscow Times" quoted a spokesman for the Kemerovo prosecutor's office as saying that prosecutors received Tuleyev's request two years ago but took no action because there were insufficient grounds to open an investigation.

A New Voice In Kyiv

Kosvintsev, who is now editor in chief of the Ukrainian daily "Vechernie vesti," said that newspaper's coverage of his homeland and the policies of Russian President Vladimir Putin has "significantly changed," becoming more aggressive during his tenure.

"As a journalist, I aim to tell the Ukrainians what Putin's regime represents," Kosvintsev said. "We publish a lot of facts that one cannot find in other Ukrainian papers."

Kosvintsev has accused Russian authorities of trying to block his asylum request by saying it would violate bilateral agreements.

Russia appears to have made no formal reaction to Ukraine's decision to grant Kosvintsev asylum. The case comes amid heightened tensions between Moscow and Kyiv over Ukraine's efforts to join NATO and generally distance itself from Russia's sphere of influence.

(RFE/RL's Russian and Ukrainian services contributed to this report.)

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