Late Russian opposition leader Navalny's key strategist attacked in Lithuania: NPR

Russia's Leonid Volkov, head of the 2018 presidential election for Alexei Navalny's campaign, visits the European Parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France, on December 15, 2021.

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Russia's Leonid Volkov, head of the 2018 presidential election for Alexei Navalny's campaign, visits the European Parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France, on December 15, 2021.

Jean-Francois Badias/AP

TALLINN, Estonia — Allies of late opposition leader Alexei Navalny said late Tuesday that the politician's close ally and top strategist was attacked near his home in the Lithuanian capital.

Kira Yarmish, Navalny's spokeswoman, said the assailant smashed the windshield of Leonid Volkov's car, sprayed him with tear gas in his eyes and began beating him with a hammer. According to Navalny's partner Ivan Zhdano, Volkov was later taken to hospital.

The attack in Vilnius came nearly a month after Navalny's unexplained death in a remote Arctic penal colony. A fierce critic of President Vladimir Putin, he served a 19-year sentence there on terrorism charges widely seen as politically motivated.

Navalny, an anti-corruption campaigner and Russia's top opposition politician, has been jailed since January 2021 when he returned to Moscow to face some arrest after recovering in Germany from nerve agent poisoning blamed on the Kremlin. His anti-corruption foundation and network of regional offices were designated “extremist organizations” by the Russian government the same year.

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His death, announced by prison officials on February 16, sent shockwaves around the world, with opposition figures and Western leaders placing blame on the Kremlin – a charge officials in Moscow strongly denied.

The politician's funeral in Moscow on March 1 drew thousands of supporters, a rare show of protest amid an unrelenting and ruthless crackdown on dissent in Putin's Russia. Tributes to 47-year-old Navalny streamed to his grave in southeast Moscow after the ceremony. Navalny's widow, Yulia, has vowed to continue her late husband's work.

Volkov was 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 Propaganda Machine,” which aims to talk to as many Russians as possible by phone or online and turn them against Putin ahead of the March 15-17 presidential election.

Shortly before his death, Navalny had urged supporters to turn out at noon on Sunday, the final day of voting, to demonstrate their displeasure with the Kremlin. His allies have been aggressively promoting the so-called “noon against Putin” strategy in recent weeks.

Russian independent news agency Medusa said it interviewed Volkov several hours before the attack and asked him about the dangers to Navalny's team. “The main danger is that we will all be killed,” Medusa said Volkov said.

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Lithuania's Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis X, earlier on Twitter, called the news of the attack on Volkov “shocking” and insisted that the “criminals must answer for their crime”.

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