Russian officials detained a Russian-born American citizen on charges of supporting an extremist organization due to his involvement with an anti-Kremlin group founded by convicted opposition leader Alexei Navalny, the New York Times reported Friday afternoon, as tensions between Moscow and Washington continue to escalate well into the second year of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Law enforcement officials in Russia reportedly arrested three people in connection with the Anti-Corruption Foundation, which was launched in 2011 by Navalny, an outspoken Putin critic who was convicted on extremism charges last month.
One of those people was 37-year-old Ilya Startsev, who was detained on charges of donating to the organization, which Russia labels an extremist group, according to information from human rights group OVD-Info obtained by the Times.
If convicted on the charge, Startsev—who moved to the U.S. as a child and attended Northern Illinois University before moving back to Russia as an English teacher—faces a maximum sentence of eight years in prison, the Times reported.
Startsev is the latest U.S. citizen arrested in Russia, following Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, who was detained on espionage allegations, as well as former Marine Paul Whelan and WNBA star Brittney Griner, who was released from a remote penal colony in December after being arrested for marijuana possession and smuggling.
Navalny has been one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s most relentless critics, launching a short-lived presidential campaign in 2016 and heavily criticizing Russia’s military operations in Ukraine since it illegally annexed Crimea in 2014, while blasting Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year as “pointless.” He was arrested in 2021 after Russian officials claimed he violated the terms of his parole after he returned to Russia from Germany, where he had been receiving treatment after being poisoned, an act he claimed was carried out by Kremlin officials and which Moscow denies. Navalny was convicted in Russian court last month and sentenced to 19 years in prison—his latest sentence after being convicted and sentenced last year to a nine-year prison term on charges of fraud and contempt of court. The State Department and numerous international organizations have condemned the charges against Navalny.
Since his initial sentencing last year, Navalny has maintained a popular YouTube channel critical of the Kremlin, despite pleas from Moscow officials to remove the channel.
Putin Critic Alexei Navalny Sentenced To 19 Years In Prison (Forbes)