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Putin warns of growing terror risks as Kremlin arrests opposition leader

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At the same time, critics add, the Kremlin is moving to place all kinds of security challenges, including street protests, under the heading of extremism, on par with terrorism. Today prosecutors confirmed that they would be charging veteran left-wing street activist Sergei Udaltsov with "organizing a mass disorder" – which carries a potential 10-year prison sentence – citing as evidence accusations made in an inflammatory "documentary" broadcast by the state-run NTV network.

The Kremlin's powerful Investigative Committee has indicated it may soon lay charges against 17 other activists for alleged "mass disorders" that took place during a mostly-peaceful opposition rally in Moscow on May 6, the day before Putin's inauguration for a third term as Russia's president. Some of them also face potential 10-year sentences.

"Putin's aim is to create the impression that all opponents represent the same danger," says Nikolai Petrov, an expert with the Carnegie Center in Moscow.

"There are various kinds of extremism, and they represent differing sorts of threats. But anything that disrupts the outward calm, and seems to undermine Putin's position, is apparently going to be handled by the same methods. In some ways, it looks like he regards street protesters as a bigger threat than terrorists," he adds.

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