Russian Protest Leader Quizzed Over Coup Claims

Russian protest leader Sergei Udaltsov was questioned by investigators on Thursday in connection with allegations aired on federal TV that he had conspired to launch a violent revolution.

State-run NTV broadcast last week what it said was secretly-filmed footage of Left Front leader Udaltsov meeting Georgian politician Givi Targamadze to discuss plans to seize power in cities across Russia, including the Baltic exclave of Kaliningrad.

The grainy, low quality footage also showed the two men discussing an offer by Andrei Borodin, the self-exiled, ex-head of Bank of Moscow, to contribute $50 million to the protest movement. Borodin also allegedly pledged to obtain another $150 million from other Russian émigrés living in London.

“Udaltsov confirmed that he had met with Georgian nationals in summer 2012, one of whom he named as Georgy Vasilievich,” Russia’s chief investigator, Vladimir Markin, said. “He said he was exploring legal sources of funding for the Left Front movement.”

Udaltsov has said the footage aired by NTV on Friday evening is fake and he is seeking the advice of his lawyers. He also alleged that the documentary was the start of new “wave of repression” that would target the leaders of the now 10-month-old protest movement against the rule of President Vladimir Putin.

“I was entirely open with investigators because I have nothing to hide. I’m not sure why the Investigation Committee has focused on some Georgy Vasilievich,” Udaltsov told RIA Novosti on Thursday.

“I’ve met with dozens of people in recent months, including Georgians, Belarusians, and Ukrainians, as well as nationals of European countries. This is a normal thing for a political figure to do.”

“In some cases, we have sought funding for the Left Front from businessmen. But we have never discussed any kind of violent actions or received any instructions or funding of any kind from any foreign secret services,” he stressed.

Udaltsov also reiterated that he had never met with Targamadze.

Targamadze, the head of the Georgian parliament’s defense and security committee and a close ally of President Mikheil Saakashvili, also slammed the documentary in an interview with Russia’s Novaya Gazeta newspaper, calling it “propaganda.”

The NTV documentary said Targamadze had helped organize the “color revolutions” that swept opposition leaders into power in Georgia and Ukraine in the 2000s amid mass protests over election-rigging allegations.

A number of other opposition figures have also faced legal, financial and business problems since Putin returned to the Kremlin in May amid violent protests.

Opposition figurehead Alexei Navalny is facing up to ten years behind bars after prosecutors reopened in July a 2009 embezzlement allegation that had already been investigated twice without charges being brought. Navalny has called the charges “strange and absurd.”

But Putin has denied a crackdown on the leaders of unprecedented protests against his rule, saying everyone is obliged to “comply with the law.”

NTV made its name as a pioneering TV channel in the post-Soviet period, but was taken off the air in 2001 as part of Putin’s reining in of the country’s mass media. The channel was later reopened after being taken over by state energy giant Gazprom. It has broadcast a number of controversial documentaries this year, including one that alleged protesters at anti-Kremlin demonstrators had been paid “cookies and cash” to attend. An NTV documentary on anti-Putin punks Pussy Riot aired last month portrayed the group and their supporters as part of a “demonic,” foreign-backed plot aimed at inciting revolution in Russia.

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