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Navalny ally Leonid Volkov attacked near home in Lithuania

March 13, 2024

Prominent Russian opposition figure Leonid Volkov, an ally of the late Alexei Navalny, had his arm broken in an attack. Lithuania's intelligence service says it is highly likely that Russia is behind the attack.

Leonid Volkov seen at the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2022
Leonid Volkov was assaulted near his home in the Lithuanian capital, VilniusImage: STAR-MEDIA/IMAGO

Lithuanian police said they are devoting "huge resources" to investigate an attack in Vilnius on Leonid Volkov, a long-time aide to late Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, Police Commissioner Renatas Pozela said on Wednesday.

Volkov was attacked Tuesday outside his home in the Lithuanian capital. 

In a video on Telegram, Volkov said he was struck 15 times in the leg during the attack, and his arm was broken.

The incident sparked an uproar from the Lithuanian government. 

Russia's most prominent opposition figure Leonid Volkov attacked outside his home in Vilnius, Lithuana.
Volkov, in a video on Telegram, said he was struck 15 times in the leg during the attack, and his arm was brokenImage: Zhdanov/Telegram

After his discharge from the hospital on Wednesday, Volkov said, "We will work and we will not give up," describing the attack as a "characteristic bandit hello" from Putin's henchmen.

Volkov's wife, Anna Biryukova, earlier shared photos of her husband's injuries on social media, including a black eye, a red mark on his forehead and blood on his leg, which had soaked through his jeans.

Navalny spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh earlier also said that "someone broke a car window and sprayed tear gas in his eyes" before hitting him with a hammer.

Lithuanian officials suspect Russia behind attack 

A suspect has not been identified, however, Lithuania's state security department said the attack on Volkov was probably orchestrated by Russia.

The country's intelligence services said the assault on the activist living in Lithuania was "likely" an operation "organized and implemented by Russia, the purpose of which was to stop the implementation of Russian opposition projects."

Navalny's allies have accused Russia of killing the 47-year old opposition leader, who was serving a 19-year sentence on
extremism charges when he died in February in an Arctic penal colony.

Former Minister of Defense of Lithuania Rasa Jukneviciene, and now a member of the European Parliament, told DW that she "wouldn't be surprised if some Lithuanian citizens are involved in this story.

"In essence, it is an attack on Lithuania. It is very profitable for the Kremlin to incite hatred towards Russians and Belarusians here," she added. 

Laurynas Kasciunas, chairman of the Defense and Security Committee of the Lithuanian Parliament, told DW that Russian opposition activists living in Lithuania "must pay attention to their safety."

He advised that Russian opposition activists "constantly interact with Lithuanian government agencies, warn them about suspicious phenomena, and ask for advice."

"I'm afraid that, until recently, they did not always act this way," he said. 

Putin critic Volkov defiant after attack

Who is Leonid Volkov?

The 43-year-old is among Russia's most prominent opposition figures and was a close confidant of Navalny. He was one of the late leader's former chiefs of staff and chair of the Anti-Corruption Foundation until 2023.

Volkov left Russia in 2019 under pressure from the authorities. 

In 2021, Russia ordered a Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS)-wide arrest warrant for Volkov. Accusing him of " inciting minors to take to the streets." 

Last year, he and his team launched a project called "Navalny's Campaigning Machine," with the goal of convincing as many Russians as possible, either by phone or online, to turn against Putin ahead of the presidential election. 

In the past, Volkov has faced criminal prosecution by Russian authorities several times, including one jail sentence of 20 days that prevented him from attending Deutsche Welle's annual GMF conference. 

Volkov speaks to DW

ssa/sms (AFP, Reuters, AP)

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