Russia has opened a criminal investigation into two exiled allies of jailed Kremlin critic Aleksei Navalny for raising funds for organizations deemed by the authorities as "extremist."
The Investigative Committee said in a statement on August 10 that the case was opened against Leonid Volkov and Ivan Zhdanov and other unnamed individuals.
According to the law enforcement agency, the charge stems from a video posted on the Internet in August in which Volkov and Zhdanov "announced the continuation of their illegal activities and organized fundraising."
The charges carry a maximum penalty of eight years in prison.
In early June, a Moscow court labeled Navalny’s political network “extremist,” a move his team has called a sign of a “truly new level” of lawlessness in the country. The ruling formally came into force a few days ago, making it illegal to donate to their groups.
Zhdanov is the former director of Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) and Volkov headed Navalny's regional network before its dissolution. Both are currently living abroad, accused of other crimes they say are part of a campaign to crush their activism.
"I've already lost count of the number of criminal cases that have been launched against me," Zhdanov wrote on Instagram on August 10.
Volkov also reacted sarcastically to the Investigative Committee's announcement, saying in a Facebook post: “Politics in Russia in 2021 is when you’re in a meeting, your phone starts to blow up from push notifications, questions and calls, you casually think: ‘Oh, probably a new criminal case,’ calmly continue the meeting, then check your messages and it is indeed a new criminal case.”
The moves against Navalny’s organizations and his allies came amid an opposition crackdown as the ruling United Russia party has been polling at historic lows ahead of parliament elections in September.
In February, a Moscow court ruled that Navalny had violated the terms of parole from an old embezzlement case that is widely considered as being politically motivated.
Navalny's 3 1/2-year suspended sentence from the case was converted to a prison term, though the court said he will serve 2 1/2 years in prison given time he had been held in detention.