Ex-Leader of Russian Opposition Party Removed from Poland-Bound Plane, Detained by Police in Russia

Andrei Pivovarov, the head of the now-dissolved Open Russia opposition movement, was removed from a Poland-bound plane at St. Petersburg's airport and taken into custody by Russian authorities before take-off Monday, the Associated Press reported.

Pivovarov announced last week that Open Russia was shutting down because Russian authorities deemed the group "undesirable." According to a 2015 Russian law, membership in an undesirable organization is a criminal offense.

"There is a plan to put any people with a different view under arrest, but such people already are the majority," Pivovarvo said from police custody in a letter that his lawyers posted on his Instagram account Tuesday.

He added that "there is no cause for joy, but I don't feel despondent."

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Andrei Pivovarovo Removed From Plane
Organizer Andrei Pivovarov adjusts his face mask reading "No to amendments, no to zeroing out" during a gathering of opposition supporters on Pushkinskaya Square to sign a petition to annul the results of July 1 national vote that approved reforms to the Russian constitution in downtown Moscow on July 15, 2020. Pivovarov was removed form a Poland-bound plane and placed in custody Monday for his involvement in Open Russia, a group deemed "undesirable" by Russian authorities. Dimitar DILKOFF/AFP via Getty Images

Pivovarov's lawyers said that the charges against Pivovarov for assisting an "undesirable" organization were filed after he declared its closure.

Open Russia was financed by tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who moved to London after spending 10 years in prison in Russia on charges widely seen as political revenge for challenging President Vladimir Putin's rule.

In March, police briefly detained about 200 participants of a forum of members of municipal councils that Open Russia helped organize.

Putin's most determined political foe, Alexei Navalny, was arrested in January upon his return from Germany, where he had spent five months recovering from a nerve agent poisoning that he blames on the Kremlin—accusations that Russian officials reject. He was handed a 2 1/2-year prison sentence in February for violating terms of a suspended sentence stemming from a 2014 embezzlement conviction that he denounced as politically driven.

With Navalny in prison, prosecutors have asked a Moscow court to designate his Foundation for Fighting Corruption and his network of regional offices as extremist groups. In a parallel move, a bill approved by the lower house of the Russian parliament bars members, donors and supporters of extremist groups from seeking public office—a measure that would keep Navalny's associates from running for parliament in September.

Also on Tuesday, police raided a country home of opposition politician Dmitry Gudkov, a former lawmaker who has aspired to run for parliament in September. At least two of his associates also had their homes searched.

The moves are part of a multi-pronged crackdown on the opposition that is widely seen as part of the authorities' efforts to prevent any opposition groups from mounting a challenge to the main Kremlin-backed United Russia party in September's parliamentary election. United Russia's popularity has waned amid the country's economic slowdown.

Andrei Pivovarov Pulled Off Plane
Andrei Pivovarov, the head of Open Russia movement that dissolved itself last week, is taken from his apartment building after being arrested in St. Petersburg, Russia, June 1, 2021. Russian authorities are ramping up their pressure on dissent ahead of the country's parliamentary election, arresting one opposition activist and raiding several others' homes. Pivovarov was pulled off a plane at St. Petersburg's airport and is to be taken to Krasnodar in southern Russia. Ruslan Terekhov/SOTA via AP