Russian investigators searched the apartments of several opposition leaders today and called them in for questioning, raising tensions on the eve of a large protest against President Vladimir Putin.
Mr Putin has taken a harder line against the opposition since returning to the presidency in May,
seemingly no longer willing to tolerate the peaceful protests that drew tens of thousands of people onto the streets of Moscow ahead of the March election that handed him a third term.
The top Twitter hash tag in Russia today was “Welcome to the Year ’37”, a reference to the height of the purges under Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.
Some opposition activists predict the crackdown will fuel anger and bring out more people for tomorrow’s protest.
Others worry that it will frighten away the middle-class and young white-collar professionals whose new political activism has posed the first serious challenge to Mr Putin since he came to power in 2000.
A spokesman for the investigators, Vladimir Markin, confirmed that the apartments searched included those of Alexei Navalny, Sergei Udaltsov, Ilya Yashin and also of television personality Ksenia Sobchak, whose father was Mr Putin’s mentor.
Mr Udaltsov tweeted that investigators had rifled through his entire apartment and taken away computers and sacks of papers.
Mr Markin said that investigators, working with city police, also planned to search the apartment of veteran opposition leader Boris Nemtsov.
The spokesman said all of the opposition leaders subject to searches had been summoned for questioning tomorrow, a national holiday, making it difficult if not impossible for them to attend the protest that begins at noon.
Mr Markin said in all they planned more than 10 searches today. Mr Navalny and Mr Udaltsov tweeted that their parents’ apartments were searched, and Mr Navalny’s spokeswoman said searches were also under way at his in-laws’ apartment and in his office.
Investigators said the searches and interrogations were related to the last big opposition demonstration on May 6, the day before Mr Putin’s inauguration, which turned violent after police restricted access to the square where the rally was to be held.
Bottles and pieces of asphalt were hurled at police, who struck back by beating protesters with truncheons and detaining more than 400.