Q&A: Russian opposition plot allegations

A controversial Russian TV documentary seen by many as a bid to discredit the opposition has generated criminal charges against one of its best-known leaders.

Anatomy Of A Protest 2 was shown on 5 October by NTV, a channel owned by Russia's Gazprom gas monopoly and regarded as being close to the Kremlin.

Anatomy Of A Protest 2?

An earlier film, Anatomy Of A Protest, was shown on 15 March. Its top line was that the opposition had bribed people with money and food to attend demonstrations over the winter, when the country saw its biggest mass protests in a generation.

The film argued that anti-corruption blogger Alexei Navalny, regarded as the driving force behind election protests in December 2011, lacked genuine popular support.

Opposition supporters dismissed the film as a piece of crude black propaganda. Valery Fadeyev, a political scientist interviewed for the documentary, said his quotes had been used out of context. "I gave NTV commentary for an analytical programme, not for propaganda," he said.

The allegations in the sequel are more serious...

On the basis of allegations made in Anatomy Of A Protest 2, Russia's federal Investigative Committee (SK) launched a criminal investigation.

It charged another leading opposition figure, Sergei Udaltsov, with conspiring to cause mass disorder. Two other opposition activists, Leonid Razvozzhayev and Konstantin Lebedev, were also charged and placed in custody. The charges carry a prison sentence of up to 10 years.

So what is the thrust of the new film?

Using what is said to be footage secretly filmed in a private room, the film alleges that Mr Udaltsov and others discussed orchestrating a popular revolt in Russia with Georgian politician Givi Targamadze. It alleges that opposition activists were seeking foreign funding for their activities. Georgia, which had its own popular revolt known as the Rose Revolution in 2003, severed diplomatic ties with Russia in 2008 after the two countries fought a brief war.

Mr Udaltsov has described the film's allegations as lies. He says he told detectives he had held a great many meetings but had not taken money or orders from any foreign secret service.

Mr Targamadze has said he did not meet Mr Udaltsov. Interviewed by Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, the Georgian MP said he did not want to comment on the film, which he described as "propaganda".

What about the "secret recording" shown in the film?

In his interview for Novaya Gazeta, Mr Targamadze said he had watched only a few fragments of the film and it was possible that he did appear in some of the footage, "taken from somewhere".

While the grainy video appears to show the Georgian politician, the identity of the others in the room is harder to establish with certainty. Russian bloggers who studied the film say one fragment of the "secret" footage was used twice with different voice-overs and subtitles.

So where did the footage come from?

Alexei Malkov, a reporter who worked on the film, testified at Konstantin Lebedev's hearing that the video had been given to NTV staff "on the street by a stranger of Georgian nationality".

SK representative Vladimir Markin said it had been established that Sergei Udaltsov's voice in the recording was genuine and that the meeting had taken place in a room in the Belarusian capital Minsk.

The SK has said it found no evidence that the footage was doctored and it also asserts that Mr Udaltsov told them during an interrogation that he had met Georgian citizens during the summer to discuss getting funding for his Left Front coalition.

Do these prosecutions form part of a pattern?

Since Vladimir Putin was re-elected president in March, the legal machinery of the Russian state has been used against prominent opposition figures.

Three members of the punk protest group Pussy Riot made headlines worldwide in August when they were jailed for two years for causing public disorder by staging an anti-Putin protest in a Moscow cathedral.

In July, Mr Navalny was charged with embezzlement, in a case he described as "strange and absurd".

While there is no ostensible connection between these two cases and that of Sergei Udaltsov, it is a fact that the most visible figures in the winter protest movement are now either under a legal cloud or in prison.

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