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Navalny Office Manager Claims Russian Security Officer Tried To Recruit Her

"If I had continued to be silent, then those people would think that they'd managed in some way to scare me or influence me," Olga Bulayeva told RFE/RL.

MOSCOW -- An employee of the Anticorruption Foundation run by Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny has alleged that a member of the Russian secret services attempted to recruit her and issued threats when she refused to cooperate.

In a video posted to Navalny's YouTube channel on January 28, Olga Bulayeva, an office manager at the organization since September 2017, said she was confronted by two uniformed guards inside the Moscow subway as she made her way to the platform on the evening of January 15.

The security guards asked for her documents and then led her to a separate room in the vestibule of the station, Bulayeva said. They then confiscated her cell phone and passed it to a man who entered the room after her. He introduced himself only as Dmitry, according to Bulayeva.

"He told me, 'We know that your mother is ill and that you find yourself in difficult life circumstances. We want to help you with your mother's treatment and improve your financial situation, in exchange for your cooperation,'" Bulayeva says in the video (below).

Her mother is receiving treatment for cancer, she explained.

When Bulayeva declined, she said she was told that the Anticorruption Foundation is a corrupt organization and that Bulayeva's colleagues don't have her best interests at heart. The man began threatening her and said unspecified measures would be taken if she revealed details of their conversation to anyone, Bulayeva said.

When Bulayeva informed her colleagues at the Anticorruption Foundation of the exchange, she was told by its lawyers that the threats carry no weight and advised her to go on the record about the incident.

"It's important to remember that they always try and frighten people in vulnerable positions," Bulayeva said. "And it's enough simply not to give up and to stay true to your principles."

The video, which has been watched more than 400,000 times, is more than a simple retelling of the incident by Bulayeva. It opens with a short introduction from Navalny, who comes on again after Bulayeva's appearance to criticize the "crooks and thieves" he alleges run the Russian government, and the measures they take to discredit the political opposition.

I want to distance myself from those people as far as possible, so that they understand clearly that they can't frighten me."

Neither the Federal Security Service (FSB) nor the Interior Ministry have yet commented publicly on the allegations made by Bulayeva.

In an interview with Kommersant, retired FSB General Aleksandr Mikhailov said that an opposition office manager like Bulayeva would be a very useful source for the Russian secret services.

"She knows who comes and goes, who whispers what to whom, who influences whom, and who dislikes whom. This is a very useful person," Mikhailov said.

In a telephone interview, Bulayeva said she thought for several days about whether to go public about the incident, as she is not used to the spotlight.

"I decided that it's better for me to publish a video or post on social media because I think that if I had continued to be silent, then those people would think that they'd managed in some way to scare me or influence me," she told RFE/RL. "But I want to distance myself from those people as far as possible, so that they understand clearly that they can't frighten me."

At the time of her questioning on January 15, Bulayeva added, she was concerned about funding for her mother's treatment and her job security. She said she suspects those who confronted her were well aware of her situation. But since the video went online, she said, she has received numerous offers of financial help from supporters.

Navalny's foundation has leveraged various social-media platforms in spreading the word about its anticorruption campaign, and its videos are viewed by millions of people. It has sparked nationwide scandals in recent years with detailed probes into the illicit finances of Russia's elite, most recently publishing investigations into Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov, National Guard head Viktor Zolotov, and various Duma deputies.

In March 2017, a video exposé about the lavish lifestyle of Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev catalyzed mass protests across Russia and led to a concerted Kremlin campaign to engage Russian youth, who have had a large presence at opposition marches organized by Navalny.

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    Matthew Luxmoore

    Matthew Luxmoore is a Moscow-based journalist covering Russia and the former Soviet Union. He has reported for The New York Times in Moscow and has written for The Guardian, Politico, The New Republic, and Foreign Policy. He’s a graduate of Harvard’s Davis Center and a recipient of New York University's Reporting Award and the Fulbright Alistair Cooke Journalism Award.