Russia opens trial of radical Putin foe Udaltsov
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Last Updated: Tuesday, February 18, 2014, 15:31
  
Moscow: A Moscow court on Tuesday opened the trial of radical opposition leader Sergei Udaltsov on charges of using the funding of a Georgian politician to try to destabilise President Vladimir Putin's rule.

The high-profile case stems from bloody protests in Moscow involving tens of thousands of demonstrators on the eve of Putin's swearing-in to a third presidential term in May 2012.

The unrest led to hundreds of arrests and a crackdown on leaders of the youth-driven anti-Putin movement that emerged in response to tainted December 2011 parliamentary elections won narrowly by the ruling party.

The 37-year-old Udaltsov and his co-defendant Leonid Razvozhayev both face up to 10 years in a high security penal colony on charges of fomenting mass unrest and "destabilising the sociopolitical situation in the Russian Federation".

"I expect nothing good from this case," Udaltsov's attorney Violetta Volkova told reporters outside Moscow City Court.

"Sergei is an absolutely peaceful politician," said the lawyer. "The current political regime is thus tightening the screws on its political opponents."

Udaltsov enjoys only a narrow following in the protest movement and espouses strongly nationalist views -- including admiration for Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin -- that play poorly in big cities such as Moscow where most of the opposition's support is based.

But Putin's critics believe his case reflects the Kremlin's broader use of both the courts and the predominantly government-owned media to quash dissenting views before they gain publicity or support.

The charges against Udaltsov and Razvozhayev were filed in 2012 after NTV television -- owned by state energy giant Gazprom -- aired a propaganda film that billed itself as an expose of the crimes committed against Russia by leaders of that winter's protests.

One of the grainy black-and-white clips allegedly showed Udaltsov meeting with a Georgian tycoon and one-time lawmaker named Givi Targamadze and discussing ways to subvert the Russian leadership.

Targamadze is an ally of former Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili -- a sworn foe of Putin who waged a brief 2008 war with Russia and is despised by Moscow's political establishment for seeking closer ties with the West.

State prosecutors accuse the two co-defendants of plotting attacks against Russian railroads and public buildings with Targamadze's financial help. Russia has issued an arrest warrant for Targamadze but Georgia has so far refused his extradition.

Udaltsov -- who has been under house arrest since February 2013 -- has never denied having met or received money from Targamadze but has dismissed the charges against him as a "fabrication".

"I do not feel any guilt," he told the Moscow opposition's Novaya Gazeta newspaper ahead of Tuesday's hearing.

"In my view, there is no proof that we did anything wrong or had any motive to organise unrest."

AFP

First Published: Tuesday, February 18, 2014, 15:31


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