Over the course of a week, Aleksandr Turovsky became a cause celebre among Kremlin opponents after he was severely beaten by police who raided opposition leader Aleksei Navalny’s presidential campaign headquarters in Moscow.
Turovsky, 25, was manning the office early in the morning on July 6 when police burst in under the pretext of investigating alleged lease violations involving the building where Navalny rented space -- one of a dozen raids on his campaign headquarters in cities nationwide that day.
He was subsequently beaten by police -- allegedly after resisting an officer and failing to show his passport. According to a police report, police used a Soviet-developed martial-arts technique known as Sambo against him.
Turovsky was hospitalized with a concussion and heavily bruised face. His supporters say police officers taunted him at the Moscow hospital, kept him from sleeping, and pressured doctors to release him early so he could face misdemeanor charges in court.
The activist appeared well on his way to becoming a powerful symbol of the ruthlessness with which Russian authorities -- alongside vigilante Kremlin-loyal groups -- are targeting Navalny and his supporters as he attempts to run for Russia’s presidency next year.
But the story took an unexpected turn this week when Turovsky took to Facebook to accuse Navalny of exploiting him and others as “foot soldiers” and then throwing them “under the bus.”
“From the moment of the attack on the headquarters, dozens, hundreds of simple folks, volunteers, have helped me.... But I haven’t seen any help from Navalny. I haven’t heard a single word of support or involvement in the fate of a person who participated in his campaign literally at the risk of his own life,” Turovsky wrote in a July 13 Facebook post.
Turovsky’s criticism, which Navalny and his associates called unfounded, has jolted the opposition leader’s campaign for the March 2018 election, which is expected to hand President Vladimir Putin another six-year term.
Navalny’s broad base of volunteers like Turovsky and other supporters has become arguably Russia’s most significant grassroots movement in a political landscape tightly controlled by the Kremlin.
They formed the backbone of two nationwide anticorruption protests this year that led to hundreds of detentions and rattled authorities by attracting a substantial youth turnout -- a digital-savvy demographic that Navalny has courted with his deft and prolific online activism.
But Navalny has also faced blowback for his street-politics tactics among those in Russia’s fractious liberal opposition, including accusations echoing criticism lobbed at him by Kremlin supporters: namely that he is using idealistic young activists as political cannon fodder.
Turovsky’s allegation of Navalny’s indifference was met with surprise and confusion by the opposition politician and his key associates, who at first suggested the volunteer may not have written the post. Turovsky later confirmed to Russian media outlets that he was indeed the author.
“On a scale of one to 10 in terms of surprise, with 10 being the highest level of surprise, this would be an eight or a nine,” Ivan Zhdanov, a top lawyer for Navalny, told RFE/RL in a telephone interview.
Zhdanov noted that Navalny’s organization had assigned three lawyers to Turovsky’s case and supported the injured volunteer in other ways as well.
“It’s even more sad because it seems to me we need to draw attention to a completely different problem: the problem of law-enforcement authorities,” Zhdanov said.
Turovsky, who was fined 500 rubles ($8.50) by a Moscow court on July 7 after it ruled that he resisted a police officer, did not respond to a request for comment via Facebook.
But he posted a follow-up video to his original post in which he again said that he had written the text himself and that he had not been pressured to do so.
‘Our Comrade And Colleague’
Navalny himself addressed the issue on his website, Facebook page, and YouTube channel. In a July 13 video, he said that his organization had provided as much assistance as it could to Turovsky.
Navalny added that he called the volunteer as soon as the opposition leader was released from a Moscow detention center on July 7 after serving 25 days under administrative arrest in connection with nationwide protests he spearheaded on June 12.
“We still believe this post was written under some kind of pressure order under some extraordinary circumstances that we would like to clarify,” Navalny said in a video on his YouTube channel.
He repeated his invitation to Turovsky to come into Navalny’s office to talks.
“We consider you our comrade and colleague,” Navalny said.
Navalny’s campaign has come under both official pressure from law-enforcement authorities and from vigilante groups that have carried out attacks against him and his activists.
In May, he underwent eye surgery in Spain after an assailant tossed a green antiseptic known as “zelyonka” in his eye.
Such pressure continued on July 14, when police conducted searches of Navalny’s campaign office in the Siberian city of Kemerovo and the office in the far eastern city of Khabarovsk was vandalized.
Russian election officials last month said Navalny would not be allowed to run in next year's presidential election, citing a criminal conviction that he calls a politically motivated bid to keep him off the ballot.