Lithuania blames Putin for Vilnius hammer attack on Navalny aide

<span>Alexei Navalny’s team published pictures of the injuries sustained by Volkov, in a Telegram post.</span><span>Photograph: AP</span>
Alexei Navalny’s team published pictures of the injuries sustained by Volkov, in a Telegram post.Photograph: AP

Lithuania has blamed Moscow for the bloody hammer attack on a longtime aide to the late Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny outside his home in Vilnius.

Leonid Volkov, 43, was in hospital briefly after he was attacked with a hammer by an unknown assailant on Tuesday night in the Lithuanian capital.

“The man attacked me in the yard, hit me on the leg about 15 times. The leg somehow is OK. It hurts to walk … However, I broke my arm,” Volkov said in the Telegram post describing the attack. “They literally wanted to make a schnitzel out of me.”

Lithuania’s president, Gitanas Nausėda, said the attack on Navalny’s aide was clearly planned and tied in with other provocations against Lithuania. “I can only say one thing to [Vladimir] Putin: nobody is afraid of you here.”

The Lithuanian state security department said the attack was probably organised and executed by Moscow to stop the Russian opposition from influencing this weekend’s presidential election, while Lithuania’s police commissioner, Renatas Požėla, said police were devoting huge resources to investigating the assault.

He said: “This is a one-time event which we will successfully solve … Our people should not be afraid because of this.”

The attack on Volkov will probably worsen the already strained relations between Russia and Lithuania, a small EU country and Nato member of 2.8 million people, which borders Russia and Belarus and has become a base for Russian and Belarusian opposition figures.

After the assault, Volkov vowed to continue the struggle against Putin and urged Russians to turn up in big numbers for an election day protest.

“We will work and we will not give up,” said Volkov in a video clip posted on Telegram early on Wednesday, claiming the attack that left him with a broken arm was a “characteristic bandit hello” from Putin’s henchmen.

Images published by the Navalny team after the attack showed Volkov’s face and legs covered in blood, while another photograph showed a car with its window smashed.

Related: Navalny ally Leonid Volkov vows to continue fight against Putin after hammer attack in Vilnius

The attack came almost a month after the sudden death of Navalny in an Arctic prison, which Volkov and Navalny’s widow, Yulia Navalnaya, blamed directly on the Russian president.

Hours before the attack, Volkov had told the independent Russian news outlet Meduza he was worried for his safety after Navalny’s death. “The key risk now is that we will all be killed. Why, it’s a pretty obvious thing,” Meduza quoted him as saying.

The assault marks the first attack on Navalny’s allies since they left Russia more than three years ago. Volkov and other members of the Navalny team have lived in Lithuania since Russian authorities classified Navalny’s groups as “extremist” organisations in 2021. Most of Navalny’s closest allies are on Moscow’s wanted list and would face long prison sentences if they entered Russia.

“It is clear that after Navalny’s murder, those who have left Russia are the next target to be taken care of,” Ivan Zhdanov, another close Navalny ally, wrote on Telegram.

Zhdanov said groups close to the Kremlin could soon stage new attacks on Navalny’s aides abroad to gain favour with Putin.

He said: “It doesn’t even need to be a separate order from the Kremlin. Different groups of thugs close to Putin will try to show off in front of him.”

Also on Wednesday, Navalnaya called on the west not to recognise the presidential elections in Russia, in which Putin is certain to win a fifth term in office.

In a column for the Washington Post, she wrote: “I urge you to finally hear the voice of free Russia and take a principled stand against him, to not recognise the results of the falsified elections, to not recognise Putin as the legitimate president of Russia.

“The world must finally realise that Putin is not who he wants to appear to be. He is a usurper, a tyrant, a war criminal – and a murderer.”