Pro-Kremlin Russian media on Thursday claimed to have uncovered new evidence incriminating detained opponents of Vladimir Putin in planning riots with the help of a Georgian lawmaker.
Russia’s state-controlled Pervy Kanal (Channel One) flagship channel led its morning news broadcast with the allegations that activists had met the Georgian MP in Tbilisi to discuss the results of an anti-Vladimir Putin protest on May 6.
The activists named in the allegations - Konstantin Lebedev and Leonid Razvozzhayev - have both been detained on charges of plotting mass riots in a hugely controversial criminal case.
The TV channel alleged the pair met Georgian lawmaker Givi Targamazde in Georgia a week after the May 6 protest. The demo was marked by bloody clashes between police and protesters on the eve of Putin’s inauguration for a third Kremlin term.
The channel broadcast what it said were audio tapes of Lebedev, Razvozzhayev and another activist Yuri Aimaletdinov; and text excerpts of an alleged Skype conversation between Lebedev and Targamadze.
Similar allegations were also published by the Lifenews.ru website known for its good sources in the security forces.
The spokesman of Russia’s powerful Investigative Committee (SK), Vladimir Markin, insisted in a statement that the body was not the source of the media leaks.
But he confirmed that the tapes were part of the criminal case and said they showed that Targamadze had played a “concrete role in organising the riots” on May 6 and subsequent protests.
The Russian opposition has complained of an unprecedented crackdown - triggered by a smear documentary on pro-Kremlin TV - since Putin returned to the Kremlin.
The media reports alleged that the activists were representing far-left Russian opposition leader Sergei Udaltsov who has been charged, but not detained, in the probe.
Udaltsov angrily denied the reports as a “full propaganda attack” and said he was considering suing Markin for slander.
“I categorically deny any leadership from the outside, all the more aimed at carrying out riots,” Udaltsov told RIA Novosti.
He said the reports were aimed at discrediting the opposition ahead of another anti-Putin rally, planned for Saturday. That gathering will be a crucial test of whether the protest movement remains a force to be reckoned with.
International concern has focused on the case of Razvozzhayev who claims that security forces abducted him in Ukraine and took him back to Russia where he was tortured into confessing.
But although he has since retracted the confession, Markin said this did not matter as investigators already had enough evidence against him.