Russian police raided the homes of Moscow politicians on Thursday as part of a crackdown targeting people suspected of having links with Ilya Ponomarev—an exiled Russian politician.
In an interview with Newsweek, Ponomarev denied knowing one person who was detained—politician and Moscow State University (MSU) professor Mikhail Lobanov—and accused the Kremlin of fabricating evidence to make a connection between the pair.
Searches were carried out in the homes of individuals across at least five regions, Russia’s state-run news agency RIA Novosti reported, citing a source in local law-enforcement agencies.
The raids targeted those suspected of having ties with Ponomarev, who was the only member of the Russian parliament to vote against Moscow’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.
Lobanov was detained, while former Moscow municipal deputy Galina Filchenko, a member of the pro-democratic party Yabloko and another party member, Nodari Khananashvili, were also targeted, according to local media reports.
In the interview with Newsweek, Ponomarev denied knowing Lobanov. “They just pick people whom they don’t like, and fabricate evidence to show that they are connected,” he said.
“Lobanov is a rare creature for current Russian politics, because he is very much left-wing, and he is the leader of the students labor union in Moscow,” Ponomarev said. “Obviously, that’s a real potential threat. They are not scared of liberals. They are scared of leftism, nationalists, because they understand that they have grassroots support that the liberals do not have. And that’s why they specifically target left-wing guys.”
It is not clear whether Filchenko or Khananashvili were detained. Yabloko is Moscow’s last liberal party. Its founder, Grigory Yavlinsky, told Newsweek in March that he wants a ceasefire in Putin’s war in Ukraine, describing it as a “dead end.”
Ponomarev, after being forced into exile, emigrated to Ukraine and now lives in Kyiv. He has since organized, alongside other officials, a movement that is described as a “new shadow government for Russia”—the Congress of People’s Deputies.
The opposition movement aims to “exercise the powers of the legislative branch after the final collapse of the regime of Vladimir Putin, who has usurped power.”
Ponomarev is labeled in Russia as a foreign agent and is included in the country’s list of terrorists and extremists, according to RIA Novosti.
A video published by Russian media shows the moment Russian security forces tore off the door to the apartment in Moscow where Lobanov and his wife Aleksandra Zapolskaya live. Telegram’s independent news channel SOTA also published a video which showed Lobanov being taken onto a minibus with tinted windows.
It is not the first time Lobanov, who was a candidate for the Communist Party in Russia’s 2021 parliamentary elections, has been targeted. In December 2022, he claimed to have been beaten during a raid, and subsequently detained for 15 days.
A statement was published on Lobanov’s VKontakte channel shortly after the raids denying links to Ponomarev. It is not clear who wrote the statement. A colleague of Lobanov, Alexander Zamyatin, told independent Russian news outlet The Insider that a lawyer has not been allowed access to see the detained professor.
“Some independent media are already writing that searches are being carried out at Mikhail’s place as Ilya Ponomarev’s ‘comrade-in-arms’. This is incorrect information: Mikhail does not know and does not have any contacts with Ponomarev, whose criminal case is used by the security forces to legalize searches,” the statement said.
It claimed that screenshots supposedly showing Lobanov’s correspondence with Ponomarev were circulated on Wednesday on pro-Kremlin social media channels.
“This is an absurd fake that every sane person can appreciate for himself,” the statement continued. “Mikhail is being persecuted for his political activities and open stance. He has nothing to do with Ilya Ponomarev and any of his projects.”
Ponomarev also told Newsweek the messages were fabricated.
Lobanov’s statement concluded: “The search at Mikhail and Alexandra’s was completed, Mikhail was taken away. According to preliminary information from a lawyer, at the Ramenki police department.”
The first wave of searches against individuals suspected of having ties to Ponomarev were in September 2022.
The Institute for the Study of War, a think tank based in Washington D.C., said on May 17 that Russian authorities are continuing to crack down on domestic anti-war dissent in an effort to strengthen domestic repression and prepare Russian society for a long-term war effort.
Newsweek has contacted Russia’s Foreign Ministry for comment.
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