Russian authorities have lifted a travel ban on a prominent opposition figure just hours after confirming that Boris Nemtsov had been barred from leaving the country for six months.
The extraordinary turn of events began when Nemtsov told Russian media earlier in the day that he had learned about the ban while attending a forum in Strasbourg, France.
Nemtsov said he had been barred over a pamphlet he coauthored last year that criticized Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and a Russian gas tycoon.
The ban was immediately criticized by European lawmakers in a resolution adopted in Strasbourg.
The Federal Bailiff Service, after initially denying the travel restriction against Nemtsov, confirmed it — and then announced it had lifted it.
In a statement, the agency said the decision had been “premature” and said a similar ban on Nemtsov’s fellow opposition figure, Vladimir Milov, was also lifted.
The travel restriction, posted on Nemtsov’s blog, stemmed from allegations in a pamphlet criticizing Putin which Nemtsov co-authored last year titled “Putin. Results. 10 Years.”
The pamphlet alleged that natural gas trader Gennady Timchenko used his connections to Putin to become one of Russia’s richest men.
Timchenko has denied the allegations and a Moscow judge ordered the authors to publish a correction.
But the correction that was printed in March was judged to be inadequate, as Nemtsov explained to RFE/RL’s Russian Service before the reversal.
“There was a trial regarding our report titled ‘Putin. Results,’” Nemtsov said. “We lost that trial and we published a retraction in the ‘Kommersant’ daily on March 26 this year. However, Mr. [Gennady] Timchenko was unhappy that the font was too small in that retraction, so he demanded that we should be kept inside the country for six months.”
Nemtsov, a first deputy prime minister in the 1990s under late President Boris Yeltsin, said earlier that the ban was politically motivated.
Nemtsov is a co-leader of the newly formed opposition People’s Freedom Party, known in Russian by the acronym Parnas, which the Justice Ministry refused to register last month.
The decision not to register Parnas likely means that the party, whose leadership claimed had 53 regional branches and 46,000 members, will not be able to run in elections to the State Duma in December.
In its resolution adopted on July 7, the European Parliament criticized Russian authorities for refusing to register Parnas.
In the resolution, the European Parliament “deplores the decision by the Russian authorities to reject the registration” of Parnas and calls on the Russian authorities to “guarantee free and fair elections and to withdraw all decisions and rules that oppose this principle.”
The lawmakers also reaffirm their “concerns regarding the difficulties faced by the political parties in registering for elections, which effectively constrain political competition in Russia, reduce the choice available to its electorate and show that there are still real obstacles to political pluralism in the country.”
Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Lukashevich called the resolution a “crude” interference in the country’s internal legislation.
with additional agency reporting