Russian activist sentenced to 15 years for slew of anti-war acts

LONDON (Reuters) - A Russian military court sentenced an anti-war activist in the far eastern city of Khabarovsk to 15 years in prison on Friday for crimes including setting fire to a military commissariat and desecrating the graves of Russian soldiers killed in Ukraine.

In a statement, the court identified Angel Nikolayev as "an opponent of mobilisation" and provided a long list of his offences stretching back nearly two years.

On two separate occasions, Nikolayev spray-painted "symbols visually similar to Nazi symbols" on Russian flags draped over the graves of soldiers killed in Ukraine, the court said.

Zona Solidarnosti (Solidarity Zone), a Telegram channel that provides information about Russian anti-war activists, said Nikolayev had painted a crossed-out "Z" - the symbol of Moscow's war in Ukraine - on the flags.

His protest actions continued. Last spring, Nikolayev cut out the "Z" symbol on an advert poster at a local bus stop - an act of vandalism, the court said. He also tore off "Z" symbols pasted onto cars.

Later, last autumn, the court said Nikolayev set fire to a military recruitment centre in Khabarovsk using "two incendiary bottles with a flammable mixture" - a terrorist act. No one was harmed in the incident but the building sustained serious damage, according to the court.

The prosecutor had sought an 18-year sentence for Nikolayev. He pleaded guilty, according to Zona Solidarnosti, but did not express any regret.

Over 20,000 people have been detained in Russia for expressing anti-war views since the start of Moscow's full-scale invasion in February 2022, according to Russian rights group OVD-Info. That figure includes those arrested for non-violent offences, such as posting negative opinions about the Russian army online or giving interviews to journalists about the war.

(Reporting and writing by Lucy Papachristou; Editing by Gareth Jones)