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

Russian Leonid Volkov, chief of staff of Alexei Navalny's campaign for the 2018 presidential election, looks on at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France, on December 15, 2021.

Jean-François Badias/AFP


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Russian Leonid Volkov, chief of staff of Alexei Navalny's campaign for the 2018 presidential election, looks on at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France, on December 15, 2021.

Jean-François Badias/AFP

TALLINN, Estonia — People close to late opposition leader Alexei Navalny said late Tuesday that the politician's close ally and chief strategist was attacked near his home in Lithuania's capital.

Kira Yarmysh, Navalny's spokeswoman, said the attacker smashed the window of Leonid Volkov's car, sprayed tear gas into his eyes and began hitting him with a hammer. Volkov was later taken to hospital, according to Navalny's ally Ivan Zhdanov.

The attack in Vilnius occurred nearly a month after Navalny's unexplained death in a remote penal colony in the Arctic. President Vladimir Putin's harshest critic was serving a 19-year prison sentence there on extremism charges widely seen as politically motivated.

Navalny, an anti-corruption activist and Russia's most famous opposition politician, has been imprisoned since January 2021, when he returned to Moscow to face investigative arrest after recovering in Germany from nerve agent poisoning that he blamed on the Kremlin. His anti-corruption foundation and a network of regional offices were classified as “extremist organizations” by the Russian government in the same year.

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His death, reported by prison officials on February 16, sent shockwaves around the world, with opposition figures and Western leaders blaming the Kremlin, something officials in Moscow strongly rejected.

The politician's funeral in Moscow on March 1 attracted thousands of supporters, a rare show of defiance in Putin's Russia amid a relentless crackdown on dissent. Those ready to pay tribute to Navalny, 47, continued to flock to his grave in southeast Moscow for several days after the ceremony. Navalny's widow, Yulia, pledged to continue her late husband's work.

Volkov used to be 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 authorities.

Last year, Volkov and his team launched a project called “Navalny’s campaign machine,” with the aim of speaking to as many Russians as possible, either by phone or online, and turning them against Putin before the March 15-17 presidential election.

Shortly before his death, Navalny also urged his supporters to flock to the polls at noon on Sunday, the last day of voting, to express their dissatisfaction with the Kremlin. His allies have been actively promoting the strategy, dubbed “back against Putin,” in recent weeks.

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

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Lithuania's Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said on X, previously Twitter, that news of the attack on Volkov was “shocking” and stressed that “the perpetrators of the crime will have to give an answer for their crime.”

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