Sergei Udaltsov has been at the forefront of Russia’s opposition movement since before it gained popularity in December 2011. He is well-known in Russia both for his zealous advocacy for democratic reform, and for his unparalleled propensity toward getting arrested. In November 2011, Amnesty International reported that he had been arrested approximately 37 times. Since then, in light of the post-election protest movement that has taken Moscow by storm in the past year, the number of arrests has likely increased dramatically.

Udaltsov and his political background

According to Russia Profile, Udaltsov was born in 1977 in Moscow and has been heavily involved in politics for the past 15 years. In 1998, he founded the Vanguard of Red Youth. At the time, he was a member of the Working Russia movement as well.

In 1999, after graduating from the Moscow State Academy of Water Transport, where he studied law, Udaltsov ran for a spot in the State Duma, parliament’s lower house. He was registered as a candidate for the Stalin Block – for the USSR party, but was unsuccessful as his party failed to pass the threshold for Duma representation. In 2005 he ran again for a spot in parliament, this time as a Communist Party candidate.

Udaltsov began work on creating the Left Front movement in the mid-2000s. Although it wasn’t officially launched until 2008, the Left Front asserted itself as a political force when it joined the opposition coalition Other Russia in 2006. It has remained a member ever since.

In 2007 Udaltsov co-founded a collective of social, housing, ecological, and political movements. In 2008, he launched the Left Front movement. The Left Front was described by Russia Profile as “a loose confederation of radical leftist groups… The Left Front unites a number of ultra-leftist organizations, whose views would be considered extremist in Western Europe and in the United States.” The report claimed that the Left Front’s 2008 inaugural congress was attended by Russia’s Communist Party, as well as a number of communist and anarchist fringe groups.

Since the December 2011 Duma elections, which were heavily criticized on the basis of widespread fraud allegations, Udaltsov has played a central role in leading the opposition protests that have burst out in Moscow and other Russian cities.

Udaltsov has advocated for a strengthening of Russia’s opposition forces through the creation of a leftist coalition, reasoning that these parties and movements could gather more votes collectively than any one of them could gather individually in a given election. He told RIA Novosti earlier this year, “The Left Front and I personally have been calling for all leftist organizations, parties and movements to unite into a new leftist mega-party: modern, with fresh faces included in the leadership. But, of course, our veterans and experienced politicians will also be present. There will be a place for everyone.”

Anatomy of Protest: “simply slander”

On October 5, NTV - a television channel owned by Russia’s state-run gas giant Gazprom - aired the documentary «Anatomy of a Protest-2». Like the first installment, which aired in March, the documentary sought to discredit the opposition by focusing on the less desirable elements of its leaders and actions. Its first installment alleged that the opposition drew people into its actions by paying them, sometimes in cash, and sometimes in cookies.

This second installment claimed that opposition members are using funds from abroad to finance preparations for a coup d’état. Specifically, the film featured a conversation between Udaltsov and Givi Targamadze, head of the Georgian Parliamentary Committee on Defense and Security. The latter is alleged to have played an important role in organizing the color revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine, which brought opposition activists into power in the midst of mass protests. The meeting was portrayed as a coup-planning session centering on a discussion of funds.

Udaltsov refused to watch the documentary, but told RIA Novosti that its allegations were, “simply slander.” He went on, “I categorically deny receiving money sponsored from abroad, not to mention preparing any violent acts.”

He later added, “I’ve met with dozens of people in recent months, including Georgians, Belarusians, and Ukrainians, as well as nationals of European countries. This is a normal thing for a political figure to do… In some cases we have sought funding for the Left Front from businessmen. But we have never discussed any kind of violent actions or received any instructions or funding of any kind from any foreign agent services.”

Shortly after the documentary aired, State Duma Speaker Sergei Zheleznyak called on the Investigative Committee, the Office of the Prosecutor General, the Interior Ministry, and the Federal Security Service (FSB) requesting an investigation into the film’s allegations.

On the basis of the film’s claims, Investigative Committee launched criminal proceedings against Udaltsov and several others on October 17. Claiming that there was no reason to believe the video footage had been montaged, the federal investigators charged Udaltsov with planning mass riots, an offense that carries a sentence of 4 to 10 years in prison.  However, the Investigative Committee has announced that it is considering evidence of more grave crimes, such as preparations for terrorist activities.

Investigators have remained mostly silent on the names of the others suspected of involvement in the case, with the exception of Konstantin Lebedev, Udaltsov's personal assistant, and Leonid Razvozzhayev, aide to lawmaker and outspoken oppositionist Lev Ponomarev.

Violetta Volkova, Udaltsov’s attorney, declared, “I believe there are no grounds at all on which to bring charges against [Udaltsov].”