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Russian Analyst Flees Country, Fearing Persecution

Russian scientist and political analyst Andrei Piontkovsky wrote on Twitter, "The Investigative Committee and the prosecutor's office are fighting for the right to kill a 76-year-old man."
Russian scientist and political analyst Andrei Piontkovsky wrote on Twitter, "The Investigative Committee and the prosecutor's office are fighting for the right to kill a 76-year-old man."

A prominent Russian political analyst known for his critical stance toward the Kremlin has left Russia, fearing possible persecution due to a recent article he published that prosecutors say contains "signs" of extremism.

Andrei Piontkovsky, a relentless critic of President Vladimir Putin, fled Russia after federal lawmakers and elected officials in Russia's North Caucasus region of Chechnya asked the Prosecutor-General's Office to study his recent analysis of ties between the Kremlin and Chechnya's leadership, his lawyer, Mark Feigin, told the BBC's Russian service and Ekho Moskvy radio on February 19.

According to lawmakers in Russia's lower house of parliament, the State Duma, and Chechnya's regional parliament, Piontkovsky's article constitutes an incitement to separatism and extremism.

Prosecutors agreed, at least in part, with that assessment, according to a copy of a letter from the Prosecutor-General's Office posted on Instagram by Shamsail Saraliyev, a State Duma deputy from Chechnya, on February 18.

The letter, dated February 10, states that Piontkovsky's article, titled The Bomb That Is Ready To Explode and published last month on Ekho Moskvy's website, shows signs of calls to undermine Russia's territorial integrity and incitement of ethnic hatred.

The article speculates on possible problems in relations between pro-Putin Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov and Russia's federal structures that may "lead to bigger problems" in Russia.

The Russian business daily RBC quoted a Prosecutor-General's Office spokesperson as confirming that it had found elements of extremism in the article and that the case materials had been passed to the Investigative Committee -- Russia's analogue to the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation -- to decide whether to launch a criminal case.

Piontkovsky, a veteran of opposition politics in Russia, wrote on Twitter on February 19, "The Investigative Committee and the prosecutor's office are fighting for the right to kill a 76-year-old man."

He told RFE/RL in an e-mail later in the day that he was currently abroad for "long-term" medical treatment and referred all questions about the probe into his article to Feigin, who could not immediately be reached for comment.

Asked to clarify whether he left Russia in order to receive medical treatment or, as Feigin said earlier, due to fears of persecution, Piontkovsky wrote, "Our statements do not contradict each other."

'Enemy Of The People'

Piontkovsky's article followed a spate of recent public statements by Kadyrov, who has ruled restive Chechnya with an iron fist -- and Putin's blessing -- since 2007, denouncing opposition activists as traitors and "enemies of the people."

Kremlin opponents and international rights groups have urged Putin to take action in the matter, saying Kadyrov is fomenting an atmosphere of hatred that threatens the safety of government critics.

"With his savage statements and threats, Kadyrov is not only helping his boss, but also strengthening his isolation, pitting Putin not only against the security services and liberals who work within the [political] system, but against all of Russian society," Piontkovsky wrote.

Piontkovsky, a mathematician by training and a visiting fellow with the Washington-based Hudson Institute think tank, has faced legal problems over his writing before.

In 2007, he was tried in a Moscow court on extremism charges over two parts of his book Unloved Country, a collection of political essays strongly critical of Putin's government.

He was eventually cleared of the charges after experts found that the book was not extremist in nature as defined by Russian law.

Kremlin critics say the Russian authorities use antiextremism laws not only to rein in xenophobia and hate crimes but also to crack down on legitimate dissent.

With reporting by Merhat Sharipzhan, BBC's Russian service, Ekho Moskvy, and
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    Carl Schreck

    Carl Schreck is an award-winning investigative journalist who serves as RFE/RL's enterprise editor. He has covered Russia and the former Soviet Union for more than 20 years, including a decade in Moscow. He has led investigations into corruption, cronyism, and disinformation campaigns in Russia and Central Asia, as well as on poisoning attacks against Kremlin opponents and assassinations of Iranian exiles in the West. Schreck joined RFE/RL in 2014.

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

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