Russian court arrests top Navalny’s associate in absentia

MOSCOW — A court on Tuesday ordered the arrest of a top associate of imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, though the man lives outside the country out of the reach of authorities.

The Nagatinsky District Court said Ivan Zhdanov should be arrested on charges of failing to comply with an earlier court ruling — an offense that carries a prison term of up to two years.

Zhdanov, who lives abroad, dismissed the ruling to arrest him as a “pseudo judicial procedure” in a statement posted on his Instagram.

Zhdanov headed Navalny’s Foundation for Fighting Corruption, an organization that was outlawed as extremist along with other Navalny organizations by another Moscow court earlier this month. That ruling prevents people associated with Navalny’s organizations from seeking public office and carries lengthy prison terms for activists who have worked with the organizations and those who donated to them.

The court’s decision was part of a multi-pronged campaign by the authorities to silence dissent and bar Kremlin critics from running for parliament in September’s election.

Navalny, the most ardent political foe of Russian President Vladimir Putin, was arrested in January upon returning from Germany, where he spent five months recovering from a nerve agent poisoning that he blames on the Kremlin — an accusation that Russian officials reject. In February, Navalny was given a 2 1/2-year prison term for violating the terms of a suspended sentence from a 2014 embezzlement conviction that he dismissed as politically motivated.

Navalny’s Foundation for Fighting Corruption, started 10 years ago, has relentlessly targeted senior government officials with colorful and widely watched videos exposing their alleged corruption. One of its latest productions, which has received 117 million views on YouTube, claimed a lavish palace on the shores of the Black Sea was built for Putin through an elaborate corruption scheme. The Kremlin has denied any links to Putin.

Navalny also has relied on his offices across Russia to organize anti-Kremlin protests and implement his Smart Voting strategy — a project to support the candidates most likely to defeat those from the Kremlin’s dominant United Russia party in various elections.