Putin seeks crackdown on those who push children to protest

MOSCOW (AP) — Russia’s President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday urged police to track down people who encourage children to join in unsanctioned demonstrations, a move that follows a wave of protests against the jailing of opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

Speaking to top officials of the Interior Ministry, which oversees the police, Putin said they should more actively monitor social platforms and track down those who “draw the underaged into unlawful actions.”

“It’s a violation of the law to draw the children into illegal and unsanctioned street actions, and it’s necessary to respond accordingly,” Putin said.

Last month, Russian authorities charged Leonid Volkov, a chief strategist for Navalny, with encouraging minors to take part in unauthorized rallies, which could land him in jail for up to three years.

Volkov, who has lived abroad since 2019, has rejected the charges. The government of Lithuania, where he now lives, has bluntly rejected the Russian court’s demand for his arrest.

Navalny, who is Russian President Vladimir Putin’s most determined political foe, was arrested on Jan. 17 upon returning from Germany, where he spent five months recovering from a nerve-agent poisoning that he blames on the Kremlin. Russian authorities have rejected the accusation.

Last month, he was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison for violating the terms of his probation while convalescing in Germany — charges he dismissed as a Kremlin vendetta.

Protests against his arrest drew tens of thousands of people across Russia, and authorities responded with a massive crackdown.

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