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'A Containment Policy': Russian University Dean Justifies Chemical-Weapons Use In Rebuke To Pro-Navalny Activist


During the protests on January 23 and 31, police detained thousands of people in cities across the country. In Irkutsk, at least 74 people were punished for administrative offenses such as attending an unsanctioned rally or disobeying police. (file photo)

Opposition politician Aleksei Navalny's regional office in the Siberian city of Irkutsk has published an audio recording of a disciplinary conversation between the dean of the biotechnology department of Irkutsk State Agricultural University and student activist Yevgenia Ivanchenko.

Ivanchenko had posted photographs on social media showing herself participating in protests last month over the jailing of Navalny, who was arrested upon his return to Russia from Germany on January 17. It was unclear when the conversation with the dean, Olga Ilina, took place.

In the recording, posted on February 18, a voice identified as belonging to Ilina seems to justify the use of chemical weapons against Navalny, who she asserts is "destabilizing" Russia.

"Chemical weapons are a government containment policy," Ilina says. "You know what kind of world we have -- it has been unipolar, bipolar, tripolar. We must protect ourselves as a state. We will develop any type of weaponry in order to resist. And people like Navalny are against. They are in favor of destabilizing the situation in Russia."

'Destabilizing' Kyiv, Minsk, Moscow...

Navalny fell violently ill in August while flying from the Siberian city of Tomsk to Moscow. After emergency medical intervention in Omsk, where the plane landed, he was medically evacuated to Germany, where he spent several weeks recovering.

German specialists have determined that he was poisoned with the nerve agent Novichok, and the Bellingcat open-source investigative group has linked the poisoning to a group of Federal Security Service (FSB) operatives. Navalny has alleged that the poisoning was ordered by President Vladimir Putin.

The Russian government has denied involvement despite the evidence, and the authorities have refused to open a criminal investigation into the incident.

When Ivanchenko objects that "the situation in Russia is already unstable," Ilina continues her line of thought.

"It is stable," she says. "But people like Navalny and his supporters are destabilizing it. And the state is correct not to allow anyone to destabilize it. Look what they did in Ukraine."

The dean then goes on to repeat unsubstantiated Kremlin allegations that the United States was behind the mass protests in Ukraine that drove Moscow-friendly President Viktor Yanukovych from power in 2014.

"And now what is happening in Belarus?" she concludes, apparently referring to persistent protests against authoritarian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka following an August election that extended his long rule but was seen by millions as rigged in his favor.

It is not known whether Ivanchenko was punished for her political activity.

The administration of the Irkutsk State Agricultural University refused RFE/RL's request for comment. A local news website in Irkutsk reported that it had been told Ilina "is on vacation."

Retribution Against Protesters

During the protests on January 23 and 31, police detained thousands of people in cities across the country. In Irkutsk, at least 74 people were punished for administrative offenses such as attending an unsanctioned rally or disregarding the instructions of a law enforcement officer.

Since the protests, participants in many cities have alleged that they have been targeted for retribution. Navalny activist Ruslan Ablyakimov was attacked by a group of unknown assailants in Daghestan on February 20 and badly beaten.

Authorities in Krasnodar on February 21 launched an administrative case against Navalny supporter Anastasia Panchenko for "propagandizing nontraditional sexual relations." She posted photographs apparently showing same-sex couples kissing during a February 14 protest in support of Navalny using the slogan "Love is stronger than fear."

An unknown person threw a Molotov cocktail into a car belonging to a Navalny activist in Novosibirsk on February 19.

Numerous companies whose managers participated in the demonstrations have reportedly been targeted for inspections by the Interior Ministry’s Economic Security Department.

Written by Robert Coalson based on reporting by the Siberia Desk of RFE/RL's Russian Service
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