Estonia also has been a favorite destination. Maxim Efimov, a human rights activist from the northern region of Karelia, won political asylum there in October. A year ago, as the protest movement was awakening, he posted an article critical of the Orthodox Church, which he said operated like a branch of the ruling United Russia party.
His apartment was raided, he said, his computer and documents confiscated. Investigated for extremism, he was warned that he could face two years in jail for offending religious beliefs.
“As there is no independent judiciary in Karelia,” he wrote on his blog, “it is likely that I will be found guilty.” He fled.
Two high-profile activists have repeatedly declared their intention to stay despite enormous risks.
Three cases have been brought against Alexei Navalny, an anti-corruption blogger: misappropriating more than $500,000 worth of government-owned timber while he was an unpaid consultant to a regional governor, a case dating to 2009 that had been dropped; defrauding a now-defunct political party of $3.25 million for advertising services that were never provided; and cheating a transportation company out of $1.79 million. He was formally charged Friday in the timber case, but no trial date has been set.
Sergei Udaltsov, leader of the Left Front, a group from the socialist end of the political spectrum, has been charged with plotting mass disorder, on the basis of a documentary made by a television company sympathetic to the Kremlin.
“If anyone expected me to flee,” Udaltsov said after he was charged in October, “they were mistaken. I will bear it all, and I hope those who support me will not be silent or give in.”
‘The country doesn’t need us’
Gazaryan, who in October was elected to a 45-member organizing committee of the national opposition, had been campaigning against construction of a large residential compound in a Krasnodar national forest, where the endangered long-needle Pitsunda pine was under protection.
He and fellow activists collected documents showing the sprawling complex belonged to the Krasnodar governor, Alexander Tkachev. Eventually, Gazaryan was accused of writing anti-Tkachev graffiti on a fence around the land, and he and another activist were convicted in June. Their three-year prison sentences were suspended, conditioned on limiting their public activities.
In August, he was walking near a fenced-off estate purportedly belonging to Putin when security guards tried to seize his phone. Gazaryan said he picked up a rock and warned them off. He was accused of threatening them, and two months later he was told to report to the police for interrogation.
“This meant prison for sure,” he said.
Gazaryan, a member of the Russian Academy of Sciences who studies bats that live in the Caucasus, decided to leave. He spent time in Ukraine and Georgia before he could get a visa to Estonia, where he had friends and has applied for asylum.
“I tried to resist,” he said, “but I have no idea how we can resist this state. All legal ways are exhausted, fair elections, lawful activism, honest courts. They don’t need intelligent, educated people as long as the economy is based on oil and gas. The country doesn’t need us. Of course, the situation will change someday, but it will take years.”
In June, Alexander Dolmatov, a 36-year-old engineer at a defense plant and a member of the Other Russia, a fringe opposition party, fled the country for the Netherlands. He had been detained at Bolotnaya on May 6 for disobeying a police officer. He was quickly released, but a few days later police searched his parents’ apartment, where he was registered as living. Arrest and prison, he told his friends, were certain.
A few days ago, he was denied asylum. He killed himself Thursday. How, and why, remained unclear Friday.