Russia has issued an arrest warrant for Leonid Volkov, a close ally of Alexey Navalny who has called on Russians to hold fresh protests this weekend demanding the release of the Kremlin critic from jail.
Volkov oversees Navalny’s regional headquarters, and has angered the authorities by organising recent anti-Kremlin protests from his base in Lithuania.
He is urging Russians to demonstrate again on Sunday against President Vladimir Putin’s government and demand the release of Navalny, who was imprisoned last month.
Volkov has called for smaller-scale Valentine’s Day protests in the wake of mass arrests during previous rallies, saying people should gather near their homes and shine mobile phone torches and light candles in heart shapes, and post the images on social media.
Moscow’s Basmanny Court said investigators had requested Volkov’s arrest after he was charged with inciting children to take to the streets.
It said a warrant for his arrest had been issued across the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), a group of former Soviet republics, including Russia, but not Lithuania.
In Russia, calling on people under 18 to join demonstrations can carry a sentence of up to three years in jail.
The court said Volkov, who left Russia in 2019 after authorities opened a criminal case into suspected money laundering by Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, would be held in Russia for two months if and when he is detained or extradited.
Volkov wrote on his Telegram channel that he would continue working and ignore the arrest warrant.
In a separate development on Wednesday, Navalny’s wife, Yulia Navalnaya, flew to Germany from Russia on Wednesday, the Interfax news agency reported, citing a source.
Navalny himself was flown to Germany last year after an alleged nerve-agent poisoning he blames on the Kremlin. The Kremlin denies involvement in the August 2020 incident and says it has seen no evidence Navalny was poisoned.
The 44-year-old was arrested on January 17 as he returned to Russia from Berlin. He was then jailed on February 2 for almost three years over alleged parole violations of a suspended sentence linked to a 2014 embezzlement case, which he has said was politically motivated.
Navalny’s imprisonment has led to mass protests in Russia in recent weeks and attracted condemnation from the European Union and several Western nations, with calls for additional sanctions on Moscow.
The EU’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, on Tuesday said he would recommend sanctions during a meeting of EU ministers later this month. Borrell visited Russia last week for talks with foreign minister Sergey Lavrov.
Moscow has dismissed foreign criticism regarding the Navalny case as external interference, accusing the West of hysteria and double standards.
It has also branded the demonstrations in towns and cities across Russia as illegal because they have not received official approval to go ahead, and said such rallies risk spreading COVID-19.
More than 11,000 people have been arrested for taking part in the demonstrations, according to protest-monitoring group OVD-Info.