Russia probes Putin protest leader over 'mass riot plot'
MOSCOW - Agence France-Press
Opposition leader Sergei Udaltsov (R) gestures as he is escorted from his apartment after being detained in Moscow, October 17, 2012. Reuters photoRussia on Wednesday opened a criminal probe into opposition protest leader Sergei Udaltsov, accusing him of plotting mass riots based on allegations aired in a television documentary.
The legal action came after a pro-Kremlin national channel earlier this month aired a documentary about Udaltsov featuring hidden camera footage that alleged he was planning to stage a violent uprising.
The shaven-headed activist, 35, known for his punchy rhetoric and radical politics, is one of the key organisers and speakers at mass rallies against President Vladimir Putin in central Moscow.
Udaltsov has dismissed the film aired October 5 as the "delirium of a lunatic".
On Wednesday afternoon Udaltsov made a victory sign as he was led to a van by special forces officers in black masks following a five-hour search of his family's Moscow apartment.
"This is lawlessness and provocation and I hope that society will not be silent," Udaltsov said, Interfax news agency reported.
Carrying a plastic bag and wearing his trademark black bomber jacket, the protest leader was taken for questioning to the Investigative Committee after several bags of evidence were taken from his home, his wife Anastasiya wrote on Twitter.
He could be charged and possibly be held in detention ahead of trial.
Udaltsov "could be arrested today," liberal politician and former cabinet minister Boris Nemtsov told Interfax.
He called the film "part of a special operation thought up at the very top to persecute Udaltsov and others with the aim of scaring the opposition and reducing the wave of protest." While the leader of the Left Front opposition movement is often detained for public order offences, these are the most serious charges that he has faced so far.
The probe was opened after a television film, "Anatomy of a Protest-2" claimed Udaltsov was planning to overthrow the government with the help of foreign consultants and Chechen militants.
The film called "Anatomy of a Protest II' showed "facts of preparing for mass riots in Moscow and other regions of Russia," the Investigative Committee said in a statement. It claimed Udaltsov was considering hiring Chechen militants to stage an uprising, and that he is bankrolled by former Bank of Moscow chief Andrei Borodin, currently in exile in Britain.
In the film, Udaltsov and his assistants purportedly meet Georgian lawmaker Givi Targamadze and plot a coup in Russia, although Udaltsov's face is not clearly visible in blurry footage.
Investigators said there were "no signs of video montage in the materials" provided by NTV.
The agency has in the past come under fire for being overly politicised in its probes.
While Udaltsov has frequently urged protestors to hold peaceful sit-ins, he has denied calls for violent action and said last week the film appeared to be aimed at "preparing public opinion for new arrests."
The radical leftist leader rose to prominence during the winter protests against Putin's 12-year political dominance, and has been one of the key speakers at opposition rallies.
Thirteen people are currently under arrest for alleged mass rioting during an opposition protest on May 6, with four more barred from leaving Moscow during the investigation.
Putin returned to the Kremlin for a third term in May against the backdrop of an unprecedented wave of protests against his rule.