That Alexei Navalny, potentially Putin’s most dangerous critic in Russia (outside any figures within the regime, if they even exist, about whom we know nothing) chose to return to Russia after the attempt to poison him last year was a remarkable display of courage. He faced almost certain arrest and imprisonment, and that is what he has received.
Now the ratchet has turned again.
The New York Times:
A Russian court sentenced Aleksei A. Navalny to nine years in a high-security prison on Tuesday, imposing a new punishment on the imprisoned opposition leader at a time when the war in Ukraine has made him even more of a liability for President Vladimir V. Putin.
Prosecutors had claimed that Mr. Navalny, a relentless critic and frequent target of Mr. Putin, and Mr. Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation — which the Russian authorities banned as extremist last year — had embezzled donations from supporters…
Mr. Navalny has been the subject of a long-running campaign of harassment and intimidation by the Russian authorities, and the fraud case was widely seen as a move by the Kremlin to keep him behind bars beyond the expiration in 2023 of his current two-and-a-half-year prison term, ostensibly for violating the terms of his parole. . . .
It was also a way to increase Mr. Navalny’s personal hardship and isolation, with the new sentence clearing the way for him to be moved to a more remote, higher-security prison, making it more difficult for his lawyers and family to visit him.
It is thus also a device to restrict Navalny’s ability to communicate with the outside world. “Personal hardship” is also something of an understatement, as conditions in such prisons are brutal, health care is appalling, and, for instance, TB is endemic.
Michael Isikoff, writing for Yahoo! News:
A top aide to Alexei Navalny said Tuesday he is “very concerned” that the jailed Russian opposition leader will be assassinated after being sentenced in a Russian courtroom to nine more years in a maximum-security prison.
“There is nothing that could stop Russian security services from assassinating a person anywhere in the world, let alone in a Russian prison, which is a brutal place,” said Vladimir Ashurkov, the executive director of Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation. . . .
Ashurkov spoke from London, where he now lives in exile, just hours after Navalny was forced to stand in court for hours as a judge detailed his conviction on charges of contempt of court and allegedly embezzling funds from the Anti-Corruption Foundation he founded. The organization has dedicated itself to exposing the corruption of various Russian oligarchs, political leaders and Putin himself.
Ashurkov, who runs the foundation, noted that Navalny was convicted of embezzling the funds despite the fact that “no bank records show he took anything from there, not even a salary.” The charges were first brought after Navalny returned from Germany, where he was being treated for being poisoned, and came after the foundation revealed details of a giant, billion-dollar palace allegedly built for Putin on the Black Sea.
Navalny’s sentence came just days after he spoke out in court against Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, calling it “crazy” and saying it would lead to the “disintegration of the country.”
It’s appalling to have to say it, but with Putin returning to older, Stalinist techniques, there’s also the danger that Navalny might be badly injured or worse, in a concocted “fight with another prisoner.”
The more that Navalny is kept in the public eye the better. The West, obviously, has little or no leverage over Putin at the moment, but Navalny still has a following, particularly in Moscow and St. Petersburg, but elsewhere in Russia too, and Putin does not need further disturbances at home.
The New York Times:
“The best support for me and other political prisoners is not sympathy and kind words, but actions,” said a comment attributed to Mr. Navalny on his Twitter account. “Any activity against the deceitful and thievish Putin’s regime. Any opposition to these war criminals.”
He also referenced a popular phrase about serving time in prison from the TV show “The Wire”: “‘You only do two days. That’s the day you go in and the day you come out.’ I even had a T-shirt with this slogan, but the prison authorities confiscated it, considering the print extremist.”