Lithuania grants political asylum to Kremlin critic

20th May 2016, Comments 0 comments

EU member Lithuania said Friday it had granted political asylum to Kremlin critic Irina Kalmykova, who fled Russia to avoid imprisonment over anti-government protests.

"She was granted international protection and refugee status because she faces danger in her homeland," Lithuania's Deputy Interior Minister Elvinas Jankevicius told AFP but declined to elaborate.

Human rights activists have repeatedly accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of seeking to stamp out all visible dissent. The small liberal opposition often must choose between exile or repression, they add.

Kalmykova said she was charged with violating public rallies regulations, facing up to five years in prison, and was worried that authorities may open another criminal case against her.

"So I tried to leave, with my 14-year-old son, first through Belarus, but it did not work, then we crossed on foot to Ukraine, in January, leaving all our belongings behind," she told AFP on Friday.

"From Ukraine we went on to Lithuania. They (Russia) have already sent a notice on me to Interpol," she added in a telephone interview.

A former businesswoman, Kalmykova is among over a dozen Russian citizens who have been granted asylum in the Baltic EU state in recent years.

A nation of three million, Lithuania is among the most hawkish NATO and EU members on Russia, and has called for tougher sanctions for Moscow's intervention in Ukraine.

Russia's weak and divided opposition has no real political power and is still reeling from the brazen assassination last year of one of the country's leading Kremlin critics, Boris Nemtsov.

Analysts say changes are highly unlikely after upcoming parliamentary elections in September, pointing to the divisions within the opposition and Kremlin's apparent readiness to tighten the screws even further.

© 2016 AFP

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