Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday accused the West of using jailed opposition figure Alexei Navalny to try to “contain” Russia.
“Our opponents or our potential opponents… have always relied on — and used — ambitious, power-hungry people,” Putin said in an interview with Russian media conducted on Wednesday but only broadcast on Sunday by public channel Rossiya 24.
Putin suggested that the wave of protests recently held across Russia in the wake of Navalny’s arrest and imprisonment had also been fed from abroad, against the backdrop of the widespread “exhaustion, frustration and dissatisfaction” arising from the coronavirus pandemic.
He said that Russia’s “numerous successes” on a military level, but also in its management of the Covid-19 crisis and the development of the Sputnik V vaccine, were “starting to irritate” Moscow’s opponents.
“The stronger we become, the stronger this containment policy,” Putin said.
Navalny, a persistent thorn in Putin’s side, was arrested on his return from Germany, where he had been recovering from a poisoning he claims was carried out by the Kremlin and the Russian security services, FSB.
The 44-year-old anti-corruption campaigner was subsequently jailed for nearly three years, sparking nationwide protests that saw more than 10,000 people detained and led to allegations of police abuse.
The merciless crackdown has been sharply criticised by Europe and the United States.
And the EU is considering imposing sanctions on Russia, putting even more strain on the bloc’s already fractious relations with Moscow.
Putin Business Ally Vows to Pursue Libel Claim Against Navalny
A company run by Russian businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin, purportedly close to President Vladimir Putin, on Wednesday said he was pursuing a libel settlement against opposition leader Alexei Navalny.
Prigozhin’s Concord catering company said in a statement it was seeking 840,000 euros ($900,000) in damages as it looks to “defend its honor, dignity and commercial reputation.
“The total claims amount to 77 million rubles (more than 840,000 euros),” Concord stated in response to a request for information from the Interfax news agency.
Prigozhin, 59, is demanding damages following an August legal settlement against Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation after it accused his catering firm of supplying sub-standard food to schools and not meeting sanitary standards.
Concord also provides catering services to the Kremlin, earning Prigozhin the nickname of “Putin’s Chef.”
A Moscow court in October ordered Navalny, currently in Germany where he was taken for treatment following an alleged poisoning in August while on an investigation in Siberia, to pay damages.
A thorn in the flesh of Putin and his government, Navalny has promised to return to his homeland.
Tuesday saw Russian authorities open a criminal probe into Navalny, alleging he used more than 356 million rubles ($4.8 million) of donations to his organizations for personal purposes including holidays abroad.
The Investigative Committee, which probes major crimes, said in a statement that the money was part of more than 588 million rubles Navalny had raised “exclusively” for his nonprofit organizations, including the Anti-Corruption Fund.
The charge carries a penalty of up to 10 years in prison.