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Groups of masked security forces have broken down doors and teemed into buildings across Moscow in a sweep of places associated with Aleksei Navalny, days before another nationwide protest in support of the jailed Kremlin critic.
The sweep on January 27 included Navalny's apartment, where police detained his brother, Oleg, and a rented apartment where Navalny's wife, Yulia, has been living. It also included offices from his Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) and the Navalny Live studio, which produces videos and broadcasts revealing corruption at all levels of government, and, in particular, the Kremlin and those around President Vladimir Putin.
Some reports said Oleg Navalny was detained by police.
A couple of Navalny associates already in jail for organizing a January 23 protest across the country that showed officials a glimpse of the growing anger toward the Kremlin over graft and Navalny's incarceration were brought from detention centers to their homes to allow police to search the premises.
"Today the police came to the FBK office, the Navalny LIVE studio, to the home of Alexey and Yulia Navalny, as well as to @olsnov, @Kira_Yarmysh, @alburov and @DrAnastasy...These searches are illegal and serve one purpose - to intimidate us. But on January 31, all of Russia will take to the streets again," the Navalny Live team said in a tweet, referring to Navalny associates Oleg Stepanov, Kira Yarmysh, Georgy Alburov, and Anastasia Vasilyeva.
According to Arseny Vesnin, a journalist with Ekho Moskvy, police searched around 20 sites linked to Navalny and his team.
Russian media, citing a source in the security agencies, reported that the reason given for the raids was violations of coronavirus hygiene restrictions.
"There are lots of "heavies" [security officers] wearing masks. They started to break down the door. Oleg Navalny [Aleksei's brother] is in the apartment. We do not know why or on what basis they are conducting the search," Zhdanov said in a tweet.
Zhdanov also posted video taken at another location showing Yulia Navalnaya telling police to wait for her lawyer to arrive as they banged loudly at the door.
Navalnaya's lawyer, Veronika Polyakova, was allowed inside the apartment by police after standing outside the door for several hours.
Navalny was arrested on January 17 upon returning to Russia from Germany, where he had been recovering from a near-fatal poisoning by a military-grade nerve agent in August that he accuses Putin of ordering.
A court later extended his detention for 30 days to allow for a different court to decide in early February on converting the suspended 3 1/2 year sentence into jail time.
Navalny's FBK and other activists organized mass rallies across Russia on January 23, demanding the 44-year-old politician's immediate release.
Thousands were arrested during the unsanctioned rallies despite the fact that almost all of the demonstrators were peaceful.
The coordinator of Navalny's teams across the country, Leonid Volkov, wrote on Twitter on January 27 that the search of Navalny's apartment must be linked to the activists' plans to resume the protests on January 31.
Navalny's detention and the sometimes violent crackdown on the protesters has sparked outrage among many Western countries.
U.S. President Joe Biden told Russian leader Vladimir Putin in a January 26 phone call that Washington was concerned about Navalny's arrest, while EU foreign ministers on January 25 agreed to wait and see if Navalny is released before deciding to impose fresh sanctions on Russia.
The foreign ministers of the Group of Seven (G7) also criticized the jailing of Navalny and the detention of demonstrators demanding his release.
"We are...deeply concerned by the detention of thousands of peaceful protesters and journalists, and call upon Russia to adhere to its national and international obligations and release those detained arbitrarily for exercising their right of peaceful assembly," the group of some of the world's richest nations said in a statement.
Moscow rebuffed the global criticism saying that the situation around Navalny had complicated Moscow's ties with the European Union and accused the West of "gross interference" in Russia's domestic affairs.
"The actions linked to the so-called "poisoning" of Navalny has led to a spike in unfriendly actions that has thrown into question the possibility of building further cooperation with the European Union itself," the statement said.
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