Russian authorities on Friday launched a criminal investigation into an ally of Kremlin enemy Alexei Navalny after she tried the threshold of a man who Navalny said was involved in his poisoning.
Investigators accused Lyubov Sobol of violating “by force or threatening to use it” after she rang the doorbell of the alleged agent from the Federal Security Service (FSB), the country’s largest security agency.
The charges carry a maximum of two years’ imprisonment.
Sobol was initially taken in for questioning as a witness in the probe, but later on Friday, Navalny ally Ivan Zhdanov said she was suspected in the case.
“Lyubov Sobol is now officially suspected in criminal cases, her status has changed,” Zhanov wrote on Twitter, adding that she was taken into police custody for 48 hours.
Sobol’s lawyer Vladimir Voronin confirmed this information to AFP without giving further details.
Russia’s investigative committee – which is investigating major crimes – said in a statement on Friday that Sobol and several others repeatedly tried to enter “an elderly woman’s apartment” in eastern Moscow, adding that they were wearing uniforms from the country’s consumer watchdog.
The statement said Sobol tricked a delivery courier into letting her into the apartment building and then forced her into the woman’s apartment when she opened the door.
Shortly after 07:00 (0400 GMT) on Friday, the 33-year-old opposition activist posted a video on Twitter from inside her apartment before entering communication.
In the video, her seven-year-old daughter can be heard crying when someone knocks on the front door and demands that it be opened.
A separate CCTV image released by Navalny’s allies shows masked men in black uniforms – one wearing a crowbar – inside Sobol’s apartment building in Moscow.
Investigators confiscated Sobol’s technical devices as well as his daughter’s cell phone, her staff said.
On Monday, Navalny said he had tricked an alleged chemical weapons expert with the FSB named Konstantin Kudryavtsev into admitting that the domestic intelligence service had tried to kill him this summer by placing poison in his underwear.
Later Monday, Sobol went to the Moscow apartment where Kudryavtsev is believed to live. She was arrested by police at the scene and questioned for hours.
Sobol’s lawyer said the probe had been launched following a complaint from Kudryavtsev’s mother-in-law.
Western governments say Navalny, 44, was poisoned by Soviet-era Novichok nerve agent in a case that has further curtailed Moscow’s relations with leading European countries and triggered reciprocal sanctions.
The FSB says that Navalny’s conversation with Kudryavtsev was “false” but has not denied that he works for the agency.
The Kremlin has acknowledged that security agents have tailed Navalny but denied any attempt to poison him.
Russian authorities have not opened a criminal investigation into the opposition leader’s poisoning.
Navalny said the “hysterical reaction” of the Russian authorities only proved their guilt.
“You ring a killer’s doorbell – they break down your door and take you in for questioning,” he wrote on his blog.
Sobol, a trained lawyer, has announced plans to run in next year’s parliamentary elections.
She came to prominence in the summer of 2019 when she and other opposition politicians were banned from participating in the Moscow City Council.
The banned candidates led demonstrations in the Russian capital over their exclusion from the polls, and Sobol also staged a month-long hunger strike in protest.
Critics from the Kremlin have accused the authorities of cracking down on new heights in recent months.
But Navalny, who is undergoing physical therapy in Germany, said late Thursday that he was as optimistic as ever.
“I am absolutely convinced that we will win,” he said during a YouTube broadcast hosted by Sobol.
“And even if life puts a little pressure on us, we will come out even stronger.”