Russian anti-Putin protest leader Sergei Udaltsov faces up to 10 years behind bars after investigators brought charges of “organizing mass disorder” against him on Wednesday.
The charges come just over a week after state-run NTV channel aired what it said was secretly-filmed footage of Udaltsov meeting leading Georgian politician Givi Targamadze in the Belarusian capital Minsk to discuss plans to seize power in cities across Russia, including the Baltic exclave of Kaliningrad.
Left Front leader Udaltsov’s Moscow apartment and that of his elderly parents were searched early this morning, his lawyer said. Udaltsov wrote on Twitter that he was taken to the HQ of the powerful Investigative Committee after the search.
An Investigative Committee spokesman said on Wednesday that investigators had analyzed the grainy, low quality footage and found “no evidence the video materials had been doctored.”
“Udaltsov is being questioned right now,” his lawyer, Violetta Volkova, told RIA Novosti from Investigation Committee HQ. “I don’t rule out that he could be kept in custody.”
“But I believe there are no grounds at all on which to bring charges against him,” she added.
Udaltsov said last week the footage aired by NTV was fake. He also alleged that the documentary was the start of new “wave or repression” that would target the leaders of the now 10-month-old protest movement against the rule of President Vladimir Putin.
“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,” Udaltsov told RIA Novosti last week.
“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.
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.” He also said he had never met Udaltsov.
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.
Parliamentary security and anti-corruption committee head Irina Yarovaya said on Wednesday that more serious charges could be brought against Udaltsov in connection with the NTV documentary.
“The conversation which was heard and seen by the entire nation bears testament to a much more serious crime,” she told RIA Novosti.
Opposition figurehead Alexei Navalny is also facing up to 10 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.”
Putin has denied there is any 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.
A spokesperson for the channel could not be contacted by RIA Novosti as of Wednesday morning.