Poland detains 2 suspects in attack on Alexei Navalny ally in Lithuania

  • Two men have been detained in Poland on suspicion of attacking Russian activist Leonid Volkov, an ally of the late opposition leader Alexei Navalny.
  • The attack on Volkov occurred on March 12 outside his home in Vilnius, Lithuania.
  • The suspects, Polish citizens known to police, allegedly traveled to Vilnius before the attack and returned to Warsaw afterward.

Two men have been detained in Poland on suspicion that they attacked Russian activist Leonid Volkov — an ally of the late opposition leader Alexei Navalny — on the orders of foreign intelligence services, officials said Friday.

Volkov was attacked on March 12 outside his home in the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius, where he lives in exile. The attacker smashed one of his car’s windows, sprayed tear gas into his eyes and hit him with a hammer, police said at the time.

Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda announced the arrests to reporters in Vilnius and thanked Poland for its work.

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“Two people have been detained in Poland on suspicion of beating Russian opposition leader Leonid Volkov. I thank the Republic of Poland for the excellent work it has done. I have discussed this with the Polish president and thanked them for their excellent cooperation,” Nausėda said.

Leonid Volkov, chief of staff for the 2018 presidential election of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, is seen at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France, on Dec. 15, 2021. Two men have been detained in Poland on suspicion that they attacked Volkov on the orders of foreign intelligence services, officials said on Friday. (AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias, File)

Both suspects are Polish citizens previously known to police in their homeland. They traveled to Vilnius before the attack on Volkov and returned to Warsaw afterward, according to Lithuania’s deputy police chief, Saulius Briginas.

He said they were detained on April 3 in an operation in which Lithuanian police participated.

Lithuania expects them to be handed over in May, chief prosecutor Justas Laucius told reporters. If convicted on charges of causing bodily harm, they face up to three years in prison.

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In Poland, Joanna Adamowicz, the spokesperson for a Warsaw court, said that the two men were put under arrest until May 13, on suspicion that “they had organized on the territory of the Lithuanian Republic an assault and caused damage to the health of Russian citizen L. W.,” while “being active in an organized group and carrying out the orders of the special services of an alien country.”

Volkov’s last name is spelled with a “w” in Polish.

The court in Warsaw’s Praga district has decided to hand them over to Lithuania for the purpose of a criminal investigation, on the condition that they would serve any potential punishment in Poland, Adamowicz said in an email to The Associated Press.

Their lawyers have lodged complaints and the files have been sent to the Appeals Court in Warsaw, she said. It was not immediately clear how long the appeals could take.

Poland’s Central Investigation Bureau of Police confirmed that its officers worked with Lithuanian police to arrest two people suspected of an attack on a Russian opposition activist in Lithuania in March.

The developments came a day after Poland announced the arrest of a Polish man suspected of being ready to spy on behalf of Russia’s military intelligence in an alleged plot to assassinate Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Volkov said on X, formerly Twitter, that he didn’t know the details of the arrest, but “saw how energetically and persistently the Lithuanian police have worked over the past month on this case” and was “very glad that this work has paid off.”

“As for the details, we will find them out soon. Can’t wait to find out!” Volkov wrote.

Volkov suffered a broken arm in the brutal attack and was hospitalized. He accused Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “henchmen” at the time of responsibility in the attack and vowed to keep up his opposition work.

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The attack took place nearly a month after Navalny’s unexplained death in a remote Arctic penal colony. He was Russia’s best-known opposition figure and Putin’s fiercest critic. Navalny had been imprisoned since January 2021 and was serving a 19-year sentence on charges of extremism widely seen as politically motivated.

Opposition figures and Western leaders laid the blame on the Kremlin for his death — something officials in Moscow vehemently rejected.

Navalny’s funeral in the Russian capital on March 1 drew thousands of supporters, a rare show of defiance in Putin’s Russia amid an unabating and ruthless crackdown on dissent. Navalny’s widow, Yulia, vowed to continue his work.

Volkov used to be in charge of Navalny’s regional offices and election campaigns. He ran for mayor of Moscow in 2013 and sought to challenge Putin in the 2018 presidential election. Volkov left Russia several years ago under pressure from the authorities.

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