Putin foe charged, Russian opposition fear KGB tactics
By Nastassia Astrasheuskaya and Steve Gutterman
MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian investigators charged street protest leader Alexei Navalny with theft on Tuesday and banned him from leaving the country, threatening a heavy jail term in what supporters say is a growing crackdown on dissent by President Vladimir Putin.
Navalny, an anti-corruption blogger who has organized demonstrations that have dented Putin's authority, dismissed the charge as absurd and other opposition leaders accused Putin of using KGB-style tactics to try to silence his critics.
Other moves which the opposition depict as a crackdown on dissent since Putin began a six-year term in May include a law increasing fines for protesters, closer controls of the Internet and tighter rules for foreign-funded campaign and lobby groups.
Russia's federal Investigative Committee said in a statement that Navalny, 36, had been charged over the theft of timber from a state firm while he was advising a regional governor in 2009, and he could face a 10-year sentence.
"I have been charged and ordered not to leave," Navalny said after emerging from the Investigative Committee headquarters, where he had been summoned for the presentation of what he had expected would be a less severe charge.
"This is really quite absurd and very strange because they have completely changed the essence of the accusation, compared to what it was before," Navalny, who had been questioned repeatedly since the case was opened in 2010, told reporters.
He made clear he would not be silenced. "I will continue to do what I have been doing, and in this sense nothing changes for me," said Navalny, a lawyer. "We believe that what is happening now is illegal. We will use the methods of legal defense at our disposal. What else can we do?"
Navalny is one of the few people seen as capable of emerging as a viable leader of the fractious opposition, although critics say he has nationalist tendencies. Continued...