Top strategist of late Russian opposition leader Navalny attacked in Lithuanian capital

TALLINN, Estonia (AP) — Relatives of the late opposition leader Alexei Navalny said Tuesday evening that the politician's close ally and top strategist was attacked near his home in the Lithuanian capital.

Kira Yarmysh, who had been Navalny's spokeswoman, said the attacker smashed a window of Leonid Volkov's car, sprayed tear gas in his eyes and began hitting him with a hammer. Volkov was then taken to hospital, according to Navalny's ally Ivan Zhdanov.


The attack took place in Vilnius almost a month after Navalny's unexplained death in a remote Arctic penal colony. President Vladimir Putin's fiercest critic was serving a 19-year prison sentence there for extremism widely seen as politically motivated.


Russian Leonid Volkov, 2018 presidential election chief of staff for Alexei Navalny's campaign, looks on at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France, December 15, 2021. Associates of the late head of the opposition Alexei Navalny reported Tuesday evening that the politician's close ally and high-level strategist was attacked near his home in Lithuania. Navalny's spokeswoman, Kira Yarmysh, said the attacker broke a window of Leonid Volkov's car, sprayed tear gas in his eyes and began hitting him with a hammer.

Navalny, Russia's best-known anti-corruption activist and opposition politician, had been imprisoned since January 2021, when he returned to Moscow to face certain arrest after recovering in Germany from a poisoning to nerve agents that he blamed on the Kremlin. Its Anti-Corruption Foundation and a network of regional offices were designated “extremist organizations” by the Russian government that same year.

His death, reported by prison officials on February 16, sent shockwaves around the world, with opposition figures and Western leaders placing blame on the Kremlin – something Moscow officials vehemently rejected .

The politician's funeral in Moscow on March 1 drew thousands of supporters, a rare show of defiance in Putin's Russia amid a relentless and ruthless crackdown on dissent. Those ready to pay their respects to Navalny, 47, continued to flock to his grave in southeast Moscow for days after the ceremony. Navalny's widow, Yulia, has promised to continue her late husband's work.

Volkov was previously responsible for Navalny's regional offices and election campaigns – Navalny ran for mayor of Moscow in 2013 and sought to challenge Putin in the 2018 presidential election. Volkov left Russia several years ago years under pressure from the authorities.

Last year, Volkov and his team launched a project called “Navalny's Campaign Machine,” with the aim of speaking to as many Russians as possible, by phone or online, and turning them against Putin before the presidential election from March 15 to 17.

Shortly before his death, Navalny also urged his supporters to go to the polls at noon on Sunday, the last day of voting, to demonstrate their discontent with the Kremlin. His allies have actively promoted the strategy, dubbed “Noon against Putin,” in recent weeks.


Independent Russian media outlet Meduza said it interviewed Volkov several hours before the attack and asked him about the risks to Navalny's team. “The main risk is that we will all be killed,” Meduza quoted Volkov as saying.

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said on X, formerly Twitter, that the news of the attack on Volkov was “shocking” and stressed that “the perpetrators will have to answer for their crime.”


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