Politics

Putin Critic Accuses ‘Henchmen’ of Beating Him up in European Capital

VILNIUS, Lithuania (AP) – Leonid Volkov, the late Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s close associate and top strategist, accused Wednesday Russian President Vladimir Putin´s “henchmen” of being behind a brutal attack that left him hospitalized in Lithuania´s capital and vowed to “not give up.”

Police said an assailant attacked Volkov on Tuesday as he arrived in a car at his Vilnius home, where he lives in exile. The attacker smashed one of his car´s windows, sprayed tear gas into his eyes and hit him with a hammer, police said.

Volkov suffered a broken arm “and for now he cannot walk because of the severe bruising from the hammer blows,” according to Navalny´s The Anti-Corruption Foundation.

He was hospitalized, but later released, and vowed Wednesday to keep up his work.

Picture taken on March 13, 2024 shows a policeman fixing a barrier tape at the scene where Leonid Volkov, a close ally of late Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, was attacked outside his home in Vilnius, Lithuania, on the evening of Tuesday, March 12, 2024. (Photo by PETRAS MALUKAS / AFP) (Photo by PETRAS MALUKAS/AFP via Getty Images)

Picture taken on March 13, 2024 shows a police car standing at the scene where Leonid Volkov, a close ally of late Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, was attacked outside his home in Vilnius, Lithuania, on the evening of Tuesday, March 12, 2024. (Photo by PETRAS MALUKAS / AFP) (Photo by PETRAS MALUKAS/AFP via Getty Images)

Picture taken on March 13, 2024 shows a policeman with a sniffer dog working at the scene where Leonid Volkov, a close ally of late Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, was attacked outside his home in Vilnius, Lithuania, on the evening of Tuesday, March 12, 2024. (Photo by PETRAS MALUKAS / AFP) (Photo by PETRAS MALUKAS/AFP via Getty Images)

“We will work, we will not give up,” 43-year-old Volkov said in a short video posted on Telegram on Wednesday, speaking with his arm bandaged and in a sling. “It was a characteristic bandit greeting from Putin´s henchmen.” This seemed to be a reference to both Putin´s thuggish style and his stint as a deputy mayor of St. Petersburg in the 1990s when it was considered one of the most criminal cities in Russia.

Police have launched a criminal investigation.

Gabrielius Landsbergis, Lithuania´s foreign minister, called the attack “shocking.” He wrote on X, formerly Twitter: “Relevant authorities are at work. Perpetrators will have to answer for their crime.”

The attack took place nearly a month after Navalny´s unexplained death in a remote Arctic penal colony. He was Russia´s best-known opposition figure and Putin´s fiercest critic. Navalny had been jailed since January 2021 and was serving a 19-year prison term there on the charges of extremism widely seen as politically motivated.

Opposition figures and Western leaders laid the blame on the Kremlin for his death – something officials in Moscow vehemently rejected.

Chief of Staff of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, Leonid Volkov, attends the Copenhagen Democracy Summit at The Royal Danish Playhouse (Skuespilhuset) in Copenhagen, on June 10, 2022. The fifth edition of the summit takes place from June 9-10, 2022. (Photo by Philip Davali / Ritzau Scanpix / AFP) / Denmark OUT (Photo by PHILIP DAVALI/Ritzau Scanpix/AFP via Getty Images)

His funeral in the Russian capital on March 1 drew thousands of supporters, a rare show of defiance in Putin´s Russia amid an unabating and ruthless crackdown on dissent, as Navalny´s widow Yulia vowed to continue her late husband´s work.

Volkov used to be in charge of 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 under pressure from the authorities.

Last year, Volkov and his team launched a project called “Navalny´s Campaigning Machine,” aiming to contact as many Russians as possible, either by phone or online, seeking to turn them against Putin ahead of the March 15-17 presidential election.

Not long before his death, Navalny urged supporters to flock to the polls at noon on the final day of voting to demonstrate their discontent with the Kremlin. His allies have been actively promoting the strategy, dubbed “Noon Against Putin,” in recent weeks.

Russian independent news outlet Meduza said it had interviewed Volkov several hours before the attack and asked him about “The key risk is that we will all be killed,” Meduza quoted Volkov as saying.



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