Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has been sentenced to three and a half years in jail pending a 2014 sentence that he had been serving under the open regime. The court discounted the months he spent under house arrest, so he will spend two years and eight months in prison. Enough for his wife, Yulia Navalnaya, separated from her husband by a few meters and a bulletproof glass, burst into tears when she heard a court ruling that everyone expected. Don’t be sad, everything will be fine, Navalny whispered to his wife, who in the last week has been fined and arrested twice.
Vladimir Putin’s regime, which these days are being challenged in the streets by thousands of protesters as never since its return to the Kremlin in 2012, does not want to allow itself even a gesture of weakness. Obediently, Moscow’s Simonovsky District Court granted the request of the Federal Prison Service, which demanded that Navalny’s probation in the Yves Rocher corruption case be replaced by a real prison sentence.
Reporting the abuses and corruption of the Russian regime has resulted in Navalny partially losing his vision in one eye in an attack years ago. Last summer it almost cost him his life, after being intoxicated with novichok in an attack in which all international investigations point to the FSB (the Russian secret services) as the author. The dissident has been fined and arrested countless times. But now Russia will make him disappear from the map for almost two years, turning him into a silent presence in some remote prison in the country. The dissidence, which has no other clear leader, will have to reinvent itself in order not to lose the momentum of recent months, in which Navalny has gone so far with his denunciations to point to the sumptuous properties that Vladimir Putin supposedly treasures.
But Navalny is no longer invisible to the Kremlin, where his spokesman has finally deigned to pronounce his first and last name. It also exists in the mainstream media, which used to look the other way. His figure has entered the public debate, thanks to his powerful videos on YouTube and also to the chemical and legal brutality that has been deployed against him.It’s easy to lock me up. The main thing in this process is bullying a large number of people, this is how it works.
They are putting one person behind bars to scare millions, Navalny said in his closing statement. And he directed his attacks on President Puti. We know why this happens. For the hatred and fear of a man in a bunker. Because I offended him by surviving after they tried to kill me on his orders, referring to when they put toxic agent Novichok in his underwear. Although I try to go down in the history of geopolitics, we have Vladimir ‘the poisoner ‘of the underpants.
After being arrested as soon as he set foot on Russian soil on January 17, the express trial of Kafkaesque overtones has helped the Russians to learn a little about how the system works. The Russian prosecution has accused Navalny of failing to report his whereabouts while he was in a coma in Germany. And the Russian justice has considered that the reasoning is impeccable. The prison authorities assure that before the poisoning he also missed his appointments with them. But the 24-hour ultimatum was issued in December when Navalny was still recovering in Germany and could not arrive in Moscow on time.
Since he was evacuated from Omsk in August, Navalny has been hospitalized in Berlin and has not been able to show up for regular checks on his ‘suspended sentence’. Prison officials claimed they did not know the whereabouts of Navalny, a person Putin referred to on television during his hospitalization in Germany as the Berlin patient.
Navalny faces the harshest prison sentence he has had to date. The Putin regime thus hopes to silence not only its uneasy corruption investigations. Also, he boasts of electoral ‘engineering’, as when last year he orchestrated, region by region, a campaign to ask for the vote for the political force that could most damage the representation of the ruling United Russia party in each local or regional election. Navalny has lost his freedom, but a section of the Russians has lost patience. His prosecution has resurrected the mobilizations across the country of a dissent that has always been weak and preoccupied with its own problems. An extra-parliamentary opposition that has had difficulties presenting a serious political program, but that very little by little is creeping into the local representative bodies.
As happened in 2012 with the large demonstrations against Putin’s return to the Kremlin, the security forces are on the defensive against outbreaks of public discontent. Last weekend there were more than 5,000 detainees in protests across the country. More than 350 people were arrested this Tuesday next to the courts during the judicial hearing in the city of Moscow. The police launched their own ‘hunt’ in Manezhnaya Square, opposite the Kremlin Palace. Again the authorities ordered the closure of several metro stations in central Moscow. Red Square had been closed for hours before the ruling was known.