World News

Kremlin using intimidation to discourage Navalny's return, says ally

MOSCOW (Reuters) - The Kremlin is trying to intimidate opposition politician Alexei Navalny to discourage him from returning to Russia to campaign once he recovers from his poisoning, one of his close allies said.

FILE PHOTO: Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny delivers a speech during a rally to demand the release of jailed protesters, who were detained during opposition demonstrations for fair elections, in Moscow, Russia September 29, 2019

As the 44-year-old has convalesced in Germany where he was flown for medical care after falling ill in Siberia in August, Navalny’s team says Russian bailiffs have frozen his bank accounts and the title to his flat.

The Kremlin has since accused Navalny of working with the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, prompting the pro-government Federal News Agency to report that Navalny could be guilty of treason.

“We see all kinds of intimidation by them: ‘let’s arrest his apartment ... let’s open cases into state treason’,” Leonid Volkov, a senior member of Navalny’s team, told Reuters.

“It’s clear these are all just fakes designed to intimidate.”

Navalny says he will return to Russia, and the Kremlin has said he is free to do so. It has rejected Navalny’s allegation that President Vladimir Putin was behind his poisoning with a novichok nerve agent.

“Until Aug. 20 we couldn’t imagine that in modern Russia Putin could give an order to poison Navalny with novichok... this is a new reality that we have to learn to live with,” Volkov said.

Navalny has complained for years that he is barred from state media and systematically targeted with lawsuits and bogus criminal investigations aimed at stifling his activities.

He remains the subject of a criminal investigation into slander of a World War Two veteran who cheered constitutional reforms being promoted by Putin. Last week, Yevgeny Prigozhin, a Kremlin-linked businessman, announced new plans to sue Navalny for libel.

Volkov said Navalny had no doubts about returning.

“Obviously they don’t want him to return. And that is precisely why he will.”

Writing by Tom Balmforth