Allies of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny have urged Britain to sanction powerful associates of Russian president Vladimir Putin, and announced a change in protest tactics following an often-brutal police crackdown on demonstrators.
Some 10,000 people were arrested at recent protests in support of Mr Navalny, who was jailed fo r almost three years on his return to Russia after recovering abroad from a near-fatal poisoning in Siberia.
Mr Navalny’s anti-corruption foundation (FBK) called on Britain to bar entry to and freeze assets owned by 35 Russian political and security officials, state media figures and wealthy businessmen including Chelsea football club owner Roman Abramovich.
“The West must sanction the decision-makers who have made it national policy to rig elections, steal from the budget and poison their enemies. It must also sanction the people who hold their money,” Vladimir Ashurkov, executive director of FBK, wrote to UK foreign secretary Dominic Raab.
He argued that UK financial and travel sanctions on the named Russians “would create a substantial cost for their actions and serve as a deterrent to other members of the political and business elite. It would be a powerful way to encourage change.”
The top eight “priority” targets include Mr Abramovich and former Arsenal shareholder Alisher Usmanov, who are described by FBK as “key enablers and beneficiaries of the Kremlin’s kleptocracy”. Both billionaires have denied any wrongdoing and acting on behalf of Mr Putin.
Mr Navalny’s team has made similar sanctions requests to the United States and the European Union in the wake of his imprisonment for allegedly breaking the terms of a 2014 suspended sentence while recovering in Germany from a nerve-agent attack that he blames on the Russian state.
Mr Ashurkov and another senior Navalny aide, Leonid Volkov, took part in a video call on Monday with EU, US, British and Ukrainian diplomats to discuss possible sanctions against Mr Putin’s allies.
Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said the FBK members were acting as Nato “agents of influence” against Moscow and accused western states of “continuing an absolutely illegitimate, illegal and aggressive attack on us”.
Russia expelled German, Polish and Swedish diplomats last week for allegedly taking part in the anti-Kremlin protests, prompting a tit-for-tat response from the EU states, which insist that their diplomats were only observing the rallies.
Mr Volkov urged people across Russia to meet outside their homes at 8pm on Sunday, shine their mobile phone torches for 15 minutes and post images of the glowing gatherings online.
“Did you think you were the only one in your whole big apartment block who is not indifferent to what’s happening in the country? You’ll see that’s not so,” said Mr Volkov. “No riot police, no fear. Maybe it will seem like these 15 minutes will change nothing – but in fact they will change everything.”