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Another scandal hits Russia’s opposition

The Bell

Despite the ongoing war in Ukraine influential figures in Russia's opposition continue to squabble among themselves. The latest public spat was between jailed politician Alexei Navalny and former oil magnate Mikhail Khodorkovsky. The fight broke out after Khodorkovsky hired a man blamed for persecuting one of Navalny’s allies.

  • Liliya Chanysheva ran Navalny’s Ufa headquarters from 2017 to 2021, investigating corruption in the region. In Nov. 2021 she was arrested and charged with creating an “extremist” organization. The case is ongoing and she faces up to 18 years in jail if found guilty. Navalny claims that her arrest was ordered “at the very highest level” with the alleged involvement of the governor of Bashkortostan (the region where Ufa is located). The “ideological basis” of the arrest, Navalny claimed, was developed by PR agent Rostislav Murzagulov.
  • Murzagulov worked in the regional government until Dec. 2021. Then he left Russia. Now he is a presenter for a news show on Khodorkovsky’s YouTube channel. Khodorkovsky said he is “willing to lend a hand to anyone who has not committed war crimes” and “who is ready to fight the [Russian] regime,” so he hired Murzagulov to “take advantage of his skills.”
  • In 2021, Murzagulov signed a guarantee for Chanysheva to be released on bail. He said that he did this because “what they did to Liliya was utter trash.” However, at the same time, Murzagulov opposed Chanysheva’s activities and claimed she “talked rubbish.”
  • Last week, Russian journalist Alexei Venediktov, who previously published a controversial letter in defense of Russian oligarchs signed by another colleague of Navalny’s, released a photo of Murzagulov’s guarantee. The text stated that Chanysheva agreed to have the signatory serve as her guarantor. However, Fedor Telin, previously one of Navalny’s lawyers, claimed that, when the document was drawn up, Chanysheva was already under arrest and could not have influenced the process of finding a guarantor.

Why the world should care

This isn’t the first time Khodorkovsky has come under fire for his choice of colleagues. In 2015, for example, he hired Timur Valeyev, a former top manager at the Moskva 24 TV channel closely tied to City Hall, to support opposition candidates in elections. Maria Baronova, a former employee of the RT propaganda channel, was involved in the human rights section of Khodorkovsky’s Open Russia organization from 2014 and later took charge of its Moscow division.


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