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Russia pushes back after Navalny’s Putin ‘palace’ probe

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Opposition leader Alexei Navalny is escorted out of a police station on January 18, 2021, in Khimki, outside Moscow, following the court ruling that ordered him jailed for 30 days. – Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny on Monday urged Russians to stage mass anti-government protests during a court hearing after his arrest on arrival in Moscow from Germany. (Photo by Alexander NEMENOV / AFP)

Russian prosecutors on Thursday warned supporters of Alexei Navalny against making calls for protests as his probe into President Vladimir Putin’s alleged “palace” has become the Kremlin critic’s most-watched YouTube report.

Navalny’s spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh said Thursday that the two-hour video report into an opulent Black Sea property allegedly owned by Putin had been viewed more than 40 million times since its release Tuesday.

The 44-year-old anti-corruption campaigner issued the report into what he said was “the world’s most expensive palace” days after his arrest on arrival in Moscow from Germany.

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The video accompanied a call for mass anti-Kremlin protests this weekend.

But in a statement on Thursday, Russian prosecutors warned against calls to take part in the “illegal mass protests”.

“Law enforcement agencies have been advised to take preventative measures and bring administrative action against violators if need be,” the Prosecutor General’s Office said.

Following the release of his latest report, Navalny supporters took to social media to voice support for him and post videos urging people to come out on to the streets on Saturday.

‘Illegal activities’
On Wednesday, communications watchdog Roskomnadzor warned social media platforms against promoting calls for demonstrations.

The watchdog said it had formally told TikTok and VKontakte — Russia’s equivalent of Facebook — to stop spreading “illegal information involving minors in illegal activities”.

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Navalny in recent years has released a series of investigations into the alleged wealth of Putin’s allies, but Tuesday’s report was the first time he has targeted the Kremlin chief in a lengthy expose.

His 2017 video into the alleged wealth of former prime minister Dmitry Medvedev by comparison has been viewed 38 million times and sparked mass protests on its release.

Navalny’s team has received 10 million rubles ($136,000) in donations from supporters since the report’s release, Yarmysh told AFP on Thursday.

The report alleges that the 17,691 square metre mansion sits on a property 39 times the size of Monaco and features a casino hall, along with a theatre and a hookah lounge complete with a pole-dancing stage.

The Kremlin has denied the mansion belongs to Putin and urged Russians not to send their money to “crooks.”

Navalny returned to Russia on Sunday from Germany where he had been recovering from exposure to the Soviet-designed nerve agent Novichok in an attack he blamed on Russian security services and Putin.

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