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Anti-Putin environmentalist says granted asylum in Estonia

A Russian environmentalist said Wednesday he has been granted asylum by Estonia, after fleeing his home country where he was wanted for accusing President Vladimir Putin of corruption.

“I am granted a three years’ residence permit in Estonia,” 39-year-old Suren Gazaryan told AFP.

Under its asylum procedure, Tallinn first grants a residence permit of three years. The permit then paves the way for an application for Estonian citizenship.

Contacted by AFP, the Estonian interior and foreign ministries would neither confirm nor deny the Gazaryan’s status, saying only that it was up to Gazaryan himself to disclose his status.

Gazaryan, a 38-year-old zoologist and an internationally recognised expert in bats of Russia’s North Caucasus, had been involved for years in protests with Krasnodar-based NGO Environmental Watch on North Caucasus, focusing on violations surrounding the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi.

He became a hero for Russia’s opposition movement after the group exposed illegal land seizures and luxurious villas along the Black Sea shore. One is believed to have been built for Putin.

Gazaryan said he has been “told that Russian authorities had put me on the federal list of wanted persons already in November 2012”.

In mid-December, he fled to Estonia — an EU Baltic state of 1.3 million which broke free from the crumbling Soviet Union in 1991.