A Russian court declared organizations linked to jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny “extremist” on Wednesday, effectively barring his allies from voting and further straining US-Russia ties ahead of a widely watched summit.
The fate of Navalny and the crackdown on his movement are likely to be on the agenda when President Vladimir Putin and US President Joe Biden meet in Geneva next week.
The court decision was “especially worrisome,” according to the State Department, which has pushed Moscow to release Navalny. According to the Kremlin, the situation is entirely domestic and has nothing to do with Biden. It has depicted Navalny as a US-backed troublemaker, which Navalny denies.
The ruling, which is the latest chapter in a long-running crackdown on Putin’s most vocal domestic foe, is the final nail in the coffin for Navalny’s extensive political network, which he built up over many years in an attempt to threaten the veteran Russian leader’s grip on power.
The lawsuit against Navalny’s network was brought by the office of Moscow’s chief prosecutor, who accused Navalny and his associates of attempting to foment a revolution by destabilizing Russia’s socio-political situation through their activities.
On Wednesday, a spokesman for the Moscow prosecutor’s office told reporters that he was pleased with the ruling, which acknowledged that Navalny’s supporters had staged illegal street gatherings that resulted in widespread violence.
If activists continue their efforts, the authorities now have the legal authority to imprison them and freeze their bank accounts. Even before the ruling, Navalny’s friends had suspended the groups because of the case.
Putin passed laws last week prohibiting members of “extremist” organizations from seeking for government in the run-up to the judgement.
The new regulation, when combined with Wednesday’s verdict, effectively puts a stop to certain Navalny allies’ dreams of running for parliament.
They claim they will instead try to erode support for the pro-Kremlin ruling party through a smart or tactical voting approach, which Kremlin sources dismiss.