Belarusian held in Poland suspected of ordering hammer attack on Navalny ally

<span>Leonid Volkov was treated in hospital after he was attacked outside his house in Vilnius in March.</span><span>Photograph: Gerhard Mey/Reuters</span>
Leonid Volkov was treated in hospital after he was attacked outside his house in Vilnius in March.Photograph: Gerhard Mey/Reuters

A Belarusian national has been detained in Poland on suspicion of ordering the attack on a top Russian opposition leader, Leonid Volkov, on Moscow’s behalf, the Polish prime minister, Donald Tusk, has announced.

Volkov, a close aide of the late opposition leader Alexei Navalny, was briefly admitted to hospital last month after he was ambushed and attacked outside his house in Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania. The assailant smashed open Volkov’s car window and repeatedly struck him with a hammer, breaking Volkov’s left arm and damaging his left leg before fleeing the scene.

“A Belarusian working for the Russians who ordered two Poles to assassinate Navalny’s associate – detained,” Tusk wrote on the social media platform X.

Earlier in the day, the Lithuanian authorities said two Polish citizens had also been detained in Poland on suspicion of carrying out the attack on Volkov.

“Two people have been detained in Poland on suspicion of beating Russian opposition leader Leonid Volkov,” the Lithuanian president, Gitanas Nausėda, told reporters.

Nausėda said: “I thank the Republic of Poland for the excellent work it has done. I have discussed this with the Polish president and thanked them for their excellent cooperation.”

Lithuanian prosecutors said the two suspects were Polish citizens and had been charged with intentionally harming Volkov for his political beliefs. The prosecutors said the suspects would be handed over to Lithuania in May.

Nausėda has previously blamed Russia for the attack. Lithuanian counterintelligence said at the time that it was the work of Russian special services.

In a post on X, Volkov thanked the Lithuanian and Polish law enforcement agencies.

“It is of enormous importance to investigate and to expose all the chain of command, from Putin to the guy with the hammer,” he said.

Volkov is one of Russia’s most prominent opposition figures and was a close confidant of Navalny, working as the late leader’s chief of staff and as chair of his Anti-Corruption Foundation until 2023.

The assault marked the first attack on Navalny’s allies since they left Russia more than three years ago. It occurred nearly a month after Navalny’s unexplained death in a remote Arctic penal colony.

Volkov and other members of the Navalny team have lived in Lithuania since Russian authorities classified Navalny’s groups as extremist organisations in 2021.

Navalny’s widow, Yulia Navalnaya, in an interview with Time magazine this week said the attack on Volkov prompted her to hire a bodyguard.

Moscow appears to be stepping up its clandestine operations in Europe. On Thursday, Germany announced that it had detained two German-Russian nationals on suspicion of plotting sabotage attacks, including on US military facilities, in what officials called a serious effort to undermine military support for Ukraine.

On the same day, Poland said it had arrested Polish citizens on allegations that they aided a plot by Russian intelligence services to assassinate the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy.