Russian Investigators See U.S. Funding Behind Putin Protests

  • Investigative Committee says opposition leader given $35,000
  • Pelevine says authorities `raising the pressure' on opposition

Russia’s Investigative Committee said an opposition leader being checked for her role in the aftermath of anti-Kremlin protests in 2012 received foreign funding to instigate a so-called “color” revolution through mass unrest in Moscow.

Natalia Pelevine received more than $35,000 from the U.S.-based National Endowment for Democracy in 2013 and 2014 to distribute to families of protesters convicted of attacking police during the Bolotnaya Square protest in the Russian capital, the committee said in a website statement Friday. During a search of Pelevine’s home on Thursday, police uncovered a pen with a hidden video camera that could be used to gather information illegally, the Investigative Committee said.

Seven people were jailed for what the authorities said was a mass riot at the Bolotnaya Square rally as the Kremlin moved to suppress the largest protest movement of Vladimir Putin’s rule. The demonstration took place a day before Putin’s inauguration as president for a third term in May 2012.

The opposition is coming under growing scrutiny as the ruling United Russia party gears up for parliamentary elections in September that may be its toughest test amid the country’s longest recession in two decades. Russians will go to the polls as they endure a second year of economic contraction after the collapse in oil prices. Incomes have dropped the most since Putin came to power in 2000 and the ruble lost more than half of its value against the dollar in the past two years.

Funny Gadget

“The authorities have been raising the pressure on us because we announced our plan to participate in the upcoming parliamentary elections,” Pelevine said by phone. “They’ve even opened separate criminal charges against me over a funny little gadget you can buy in any novelty store in the U.S.”

Pelevine, who’s planning to run for a seat in Russia’s lower house of parliament on the opposition Parnas coalition’s ticket, declined to say if she’d received money from the National Endowment for Democracy.

A January survey by the Levada polling company showed that only 45 percent of Russians believe the country is on the right track, the lowest in two years. Putin has maintained his personal popularity, with an approval rating of more than 80 percent since Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.

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