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Russian Anti-Government Activist Disappears, Only To Turn Up At Arctic Military Base

Dec 26, 2019
Originally published on December 26, 2019 5:21 pm
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Russian officials are cracking down on Alexei Navalny, the opposition leader and anti-corruption crusader. Today, security police raided his headquarters. Earlier this week, one of his top aides disappeared, only to turn up at a military base in the Arctic. NPR's Lucian Kim reports.

LUCIAN KIM, BYLINE: Alexei Navalny's anti-corruption foundation works out of a modern office building in Moscow. I went there for an interview this morning, and half an hour after I left, police sawed opened the door.

(SOUNDBITE OF SAWING)

KIM: Navalny's staff posted videos online before masked police in black uniforms and helmets confiscated computers and other equipment. I had been there to see Kira Yarmysh, Navalny's spokeswoman, to ask her about the abduction Monday night of one of her colleagues. His name is Ruslan Shavedinnov.

KIRA YARMYSH: (Speaking Russian).

KIM: She says Shavedinnov's mobile provider disabled his phone before the FSB, Russia's Federal Security Service, broke open his front door and took him away. Shavedinnov is 23. This summer, he participated in anti-government protests in Moscow that rattled President Vladimir Putin.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RUSLAN SHAVEDINNOV: (Speaking Russian).

KIM: He told the crowd he hated the ruling party, which has enabled Putin to stay in power for 20 years. He's been arrested several times before. Now, it turns out, he's been taken to a remote island in the Arctic to do his military service. He had been fighting in court to get a medical exemption from the draft. Spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh, who is in a relationship with Shavedinnov, says she fears for his safety.

YARMYSH: (Speaking Russian).

KIM: "The Russian army," she says, "is one of the most toxic and dangerous places." Two months ago, a soldier in Siberia shot and killed eight of his comrades. He later said he did it because of extreme hazing and harassment from other soldiers, a persistent problem in the Russian army.

The location of Shavedinnov's deployment also looks like a form of punishment. The island is not served by regular civilian flights, so friends, family or his lawyers won't be able to visit him.

Valentina Melnikova runs an organization that defends soldiers' rights.

VALENTINA MELNIKOVA: (Speaking Russian).

KIM: She says she can't remember draftees even being sent to the frigid island. Although technically, every Russian male between 18 and 28 must serve in the army, most get exemptions or just buy their way out. Putin's spokesman says Shavedinnov's induction was in strict accordance with the law. Navalny disputes that. Hours after his office was raided, he delivered his weekly show on YouTube.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ALEXEI NAVALNY: (Speaking Russian).

KIM: He said Shavedinnov is not a draft dodger and that there were no legal grounds to kidnap him to one of the most forbidding places in Russia.

Lucian Kim, NPR News, Moscow. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.