Russian Activist Given 2-Month Jail Sentence Days After Removal From Poland-Bound Plane

The head of the Open Russia movement was sentenced to two months in jail two days after he was pulled off a Warsaw, Poland-bound plane, the Associated Press reported.

Andrei Pivovarov was accused of supporting a local election candidate on behalf of an "undesirable" organization last year.

Open Russia was dissolved last week to protect its members from prosecution when Russian authorities deemed it and 30 other organizations as "undesirable" using a 2015 law that made memberships in such organizations a criminal offense.

An investigation is pending on Pivovarov while serving his two months. He fought the charges and said the case against him was opened two days after Open Russia was shut down.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Andrei Pivovarov At Court Session for Arrest
Andrei Pivovarov, the head of the Open Russia movement, was sentenced to two months in jail two days after he was pulled off a Warsaw, Poland-bound plane. Above, Pivovarov gestures standing behind the glass during a court session in Krasnodar, Russia, on June 2, 2021. Associated Press

On Wednesday, a court in Moscow is also set to consider investigators' request to lock up Dmitry Gudkov, a former Russian lawmaker who has aspired to run again for a parliament seat. Gudkov was detained Tuesday on financial charges that he and his supporters allege were trumped up.

President Vladimir Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, rejected suggestions of political motives for the investigations of Gudkov and Pivovarov, telling reporters that "the accusations filed by law enforcement agencies have no relation to politics."

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

Speaking to AP in a Zoom interview on Tuesday, Khodorkovsky said that the recent crackdown on dissent reflects the authorities' concern about the waning popularity of the main Kremlin-directed party, United Russia.

"The authorities don't feel that confident about the results they can get in September," Khodorkovsky told AP. "That's why the Kremlin is trying to steamroll all potential political opponents."

Putin spoke to United Russia candidates in September's vote via a video call Wednesday, hailing the party's role in helping the population and businesses amid the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.

Putin's most determined political foe, Alexei Navalny, was arrested in January upon his return from Germany, where he had spent five months recuperating from a nerve agent poisoning that he blames on the Kremlin—accusations that Russian officials dismiss. He was given 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 motivated.

A court in the town of Petushki, in the Vladimir region east of Moscow, on Wednesday rejected Navalny's appeal asking to halt the hourly night-time checks he has been subjected to in his penal colony.

Speaking to the court in a video link from prison, Navalny charged that the checks "effectively amount to torture" and argued that he has done nothing that would warrant the authorities' decision to designate him as a flight risk that has resulted in checks.

He went on a 24-day hunger strike in prison to protest the lack of medical treatment for severe back pain and numbness in his legs, ending it last month after getting the medical attention he demanded.

In remarks given to his lawyers and posted on his Instagram account Wednesday, Navalny denounced the criminal charges against Pivovarov and Gudkov as "a sham and a crime."

"This disgusting deceitful government is also quite cowardly, and it's going to gobble people up one by one to scare all others," he said, urging Russians not to be afraid of repression. "They live by our fear, don't feed them," he added.

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. At the same time, 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.

Khodorkovsky argued that the September 19 parliamentary election is important for Putin to cement his rule ahead of the 2024 Russian presidential election. The 68-year-old Putin, who has been in power for more than two decades, pushed through constitutional changes last year that would potentially allow him to hold onto power until 2036.

Russian Activist Andrei Pivovarov
Andrei Pivovarov, the head of the Open Russia movement, was sentenced to two months in jail two days after he was pulled off a Warsaw, Poland-bound plane. Above, 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, including a reset for President Vladimir Putin's constitutional term limit that allows him to run two more times and remain in power until 2036, in downtown Moscow on July 15, 2020. Dimitar Dilkoff/Getty Images