Russian opposition figure Lyubov Sobol announced Monday she was ending her bid for a seat in Russia’s parliament following a court ruling last week that branded organizations linked to Alexei Navalny “extremist” and unable to run for office. Navalny, who is currently serving two and a half years in jail on embezzlement charges, is a leading opposition figure and critic of the United Russia Party led by Vladimir Putin. Sobol, who is a lawyer at Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, felt compelled to end her campaign for office after the ruling as officials began opening criminal cases against allies of Navalny, ultimately jeopardizing the safety of her staff and campaign volunteers.
As reported by Reuters News Agency, Sobol wrote on Facebook, “My popularity angers the authorities,” adding that, “This is why United Russia and Putin approved a law that bars me from running in elections.” As a leading advocate for Navalny, Sobol has served as the producer for his YouTube channel and rallied in the streets since his controversial arrest earlier this year. Already under house arrest for months following an alleged breach of COVID-19 regulations during a rally, Sobol has continued to maintain her strong opposition stance against the United Russia Party.
Corruption is most certainly embedded in the structure of the current Russian regime as any legitimate opposition to the United Russia Party is silenced or faces punishment. Earlier this month, President Putin established a law that prevented any members or leaders of organizations that were declared as extremists from running for office in the lower house of the parliament, formerly known as the State Duma. Allies of Alexei Navalny have rightfully denounced this move as a tactic being used to suppress opposition voices ahead of the upcoming September parliamentary elections. Sobol stopping her campaign for a seat in the parliament ultimately confirms that any resistance to the ruling party faces a serious threat of criminal persecution, jail, or potentially targeted violence towards them.
Controversy over Alexei Navalny has been brewing for quite some time. Navalny, the strongest activist against Putin, was arrested after returning to Russia from Germany in January after recovering from being poisoned. According to USA Today, U.S. intelligence agencies confirmed that Russia’s Federal Security Service used Novichok, a nerve agent developed by the Soviet Union, to poison Navalny while he was traveling over Siberia. Putin has denied involvement in the poisoning despite investigative journalists backing up Navalny’s allegations with reports, according to BBC news. After his miraculous recovery, Navalny returned to Russia only to be imprisoned for violating probation while he traveled abroad. He then proceeded to take part in a hunger strike that nearly killed him again before ending it per the recommendation of his doctors. President Putin has since closed dozens of offices affiliated with Navalny while Russian courts have simultaneously labeled him and his allies as “extremists,” prohibiting them from running in any election moving forward.
The court order barring any of Navalny’s allies from public office comes days ahead of the U.S.-Russia summit, where the subject is most likely going to be on the agenda. The Biden administration has urged Russia to release Navalny while the State Department has called it “particularly disturbing” according to Reuters. President Putin has repeatedly overlooked this concern, claiming the matter is solely a domestic priority and the U.S. has no business in their internal political affairs. However, Putin has been in power since 1999 and opposition forces are eager to see a change in Russian leadership. This latest ruling is a final strike against Navalny and his allies such as Sobol, who have spent years building up the momentum to challenge Putin’s reign of power in Russia.
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