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Russian Parliament Passes Bill Barring Navalny Associates from Running in Elections

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny is seen on a screen via a video link during a hearing to consider his lawsuits against the penal colony over detention conditions there, at the Petushki district court in Petushki, Russia, May 26, 2021.

Russia's upper house of parliament, the Federation Council, has approved a bill that would ban supporters and members of organizations designated as "extremist" from being elected to any post -- a move making it virtually impossible for anyone connected to jailed opposition politician Alexey Navalny to gain public office.

Under the draft bill approved on June 2 by the chamber, leaders and founders of organizations declared extremist or terrorist by Russia's courts will be banned from running for elected posts for a period of five years.

Other members or employees of such organizations will face a three-year ban.

The legislation still requires President Vladimir Putin's signature, which is widely expected.

The measure appears to be a thinly veiled attempt at neutralizing Navalny's Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK), which the authorities are seeking to have declared an "extremist" group ahead of parliamentary elections in September.

The FBK has already been declared a "foreign agent," a punitive designation under a separate law.

The law appears to be retroactively applicable, since it only involves restricting a person's rights, legal analysts say.

Russian authorities have ramped up their pressure on dissent ahead of a the September elections, with opinion polls showing support for the ruling United Russia party around the lowest levels ever.

Navalny's regional headquarters have been instrumental in implementing a "smart voting" strategy designed to promote candidates who are most likely to defeat those from United Russia in various elections.

Navalny, Putin's most vocal critic, is currently serving a prison sentence on embezzlement charges that he says were trumped up because of his political activity.

The 44-year-old has been in custody since January, when he returned to Russia following weeks of medical treatment in Germany for a nerve-agent poisoning in August that he says was carried out by operatives of the Federal Security Service (FSB) at the behest of Putin. The Kremlin has denied any role in the poisoning.

Since his jailing, the Kremlin has stepped up its campaign against Navalny and his associates, many of whom have fled the country in fear of being arrested.