MOSCOW — Police officers raided the apartments and offices of opposition leader Alexei Navalny and of his allies Wednesday, increasing pressure on the Kremlin’s loudest critic before more protests planned this weekend in his support.
The raids signaled that authorities are gearing up for a new legal strike against Navalny’s team after demonstrations last weekend drew tens of thousands of Russians to the streets of more than 100 cities. At least some of Wednesday’s raids involved allegations that coronavirus restrictions had been violated at the rallies, Navalny’s allies said.
Navalny himself remains in jail after being arrested upon his return to Russia on Jan. 17, facing a court hearing next week on alleged parole violations that could result in a yearslong prison sentence.
He had spent the previous five months recovering in Germany from a poisoning that he described as an assassination attempt by the Russian state — and his return helped precipitate the biggest anti-Kremlin protests in years.
His supporters hope that public pressure will lead the Kremlin to release Navalny, but Wednesday’s raids suggested that it had no intention of doing so. Raids were conducted at Navalny’s apartment and that of his wife, his YouTube studio, his foundation’s office and the homes of at least four close associates.
The Kremlin denies having anything to do with Navalny’s poisoning.
On Wednesday, police officers came to the home of Navalny’s wife, Yulia Navalnaya, and forced their way into her apartment despite her insistence that they wait for her lawyer to arrive, according to video from the scene.
“They’ve broken my door and entered the apartment,” Navalnaya yelled down to journalists outside her Moscow high-rise. “They won’t let my lawyer in.”
Two other associates of Navalny — his spokesperson, Kira Yarmysh, and a member of his investigations team, Georgy Alburov — were taken from jail to be present at their apartments as they were searched, their supporters said.
The apartment of Anastasia Vasilieva, who leads a medical workers group allied with Navalny, was also searched. Her spokesperson posted a video of Vasilieva playing the piano while being confronted by a police officer.
The head of Navalny’s anti-corruption foundation, Ivan Zhdanov, posted surveillance camera footage to Twitter showing a stream of police officers crowding the corridor at the organization’s office. Police also searched the office of Navalny Live, his YouTube channel, and took the channel’s director, Lyubov Sobol, to her home to continue their search there, according to her lawyer, Vladimir Voronin.
It was not clear what the officers were looking for, though Zhdanov said the searches were connected to allegations of health code violations. Moscow health authorities said that phone location data showed that 19 people sick with COVID-19 had attended the unauthorized pro-Navalny rally in central Moscow last Saturday.
In all, more than 3,000 people were arrested Saturday amid one of the most striking displays of discontent that Putin has faced in 21 years in power. Navalny’s supporters plan another nationwide protest Sunday and have called on people in Moscow to gather in front of the headquarters of the domestic intelligence agency, the FSB.
The protests have rattled the Kremlin, with state television devoting extensive broadcast time to attacking Navalny in recent days, after years of ignoring him. But Dmitri Peskov, Putin’s spokesperson, insisted Wednesday that the president was unmoved.
“There are incomparably more of those who support Putin than those who don’t,” Peskov told reporters. “The majority, of course, makes more of an impression.”