Kirov governor under pressure

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Masked Russian police officers searched the office of a liberal regional governor who has connections with opponents of Vladimir Putin yesterday, in what Kremlin critics said was part of a campaign to put pressure on foes of the president.

The federal investigative committee said the office of Kirov governor Nikita Belykh was searched as part of an investigation into the alleged theft of 90 million roubles (about £1.9m).

A former moderate opposition party leader, Mr Belykh was appointed in 2009 by then-president Dmitry Medvedev in what was seen as an effort to appease liberals pushed to the margins during Mr Putin’s 2000-08 presidency and ally them with the Kremlin. Mr Putin returned to the presidency in May after four years as prime minister.

“The searches in Nikita’s office are a clear sign of the end of the ‘Medvedev thaw’,” Maria Gaidar, a former deputy to Mr Belykh, said on Twitter.

The investigative committee said police, FSB security forces and federal investigators were searching for documents related to the sale of a 25.5 per cent state share in a distillery at half its market value.