Lucian Kim

All that separates Alexei Navalny's office from the outside world is a long hallway and a door — which police have sawed open twice in the past year to search for imaginary bombs.

The Kremlin's most vocal critic runs his nationwide opposition network from a desk strewn with papers in a cramped corner office of his Anti-Corruption Foundation, housed in a nondescript Moscow business center.

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When heavily armed Russian troops began fanning out across Crimea in February 2014, one man stepped out of the shadows to lead the movement to break off from Ukraine and join Russia.

Sergei Aksyonov, then the head of a small pro-Kremlin party, was appointed the leader of Crimea and oversaw a referendum in favor of the split that few countries recognized. The lightning Russian takeover was a watershed moment, leading to a downward spiral in relations between Moscow and the West.

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More than two months after a mysterious radioactive cloud was detected over Europe, Russia's nuclear industry went public Friday in an attempt to dispel fears that one of its facilities had released a plume of ruthenium-106.

Russia's state nuclear corporation, ROSATOM, released the findings of a special commission, which concluded that the Mayak nuclear reprocessing plant, near the border with Kazakhstan, could not have been the source of ruthenium-106, a radioactive isotope.

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Gennady Gudkov, a retired KGB colonel, peered at me across his dark, vaulted office in an old Moscow manor house.

"I'm going to tell you something that I've never told anyone before," he said. "About 10 years ago, Russia had the opportunity to seriously influence election results in France."

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Being a member of Russia's democratic opposition has long meant coping with failure and irrelevance. In the carefully choreographed public life of Vladimir Putin's Russia, political campaigns lacking the Kremlin's blessing have usually failed.

But in early September, Russian democrats finally had something to celebrate: Almost 300 opposition candidates surprised everyone by winning majorities in 30 of Moscow's 125 local district councils.

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