Moscow court considers prison term for Kremlin critic Navalny

Clay Curtis
February 3, 2021

Police have arrested thousands at the protests and on Tuesday detained more people outside the Moscow courthouse, where a judge will decide if Navalny should be sent to prison for violating the terms of a three-and-a-half-year suspended sentence he was given in 2014.

"As for the Navalny case, no information has been provided to us to prove accusations against the Russian authorities", Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Tuesday.

The prominent Russian opposition leader is in court and is facing several years in prison for violating the terms of his probation, conditions set as part of a suspended sentence for a money laundering conviction that Navalny argues was politically motivated. The person admitted to the attempt to kill Mr. Navalny, explaining that agents broke into his hotel room and applied the Novichok to the inside of his underwear. Russian authorities deny the charge and claim, despite tests by several European labs, that they have no proof he was poisoned.

There was a massive security presence outside the building, after Navalny's team had urged supporters to gather for the hearing.

Police detained more protesters outside the courtroom on Tuesday, with OVD-Info, a group that monitors arrests and opposition protests, saying more than 300 people including journalists had been detained.

While the trigger for those protests was Navalny's arrest, some protesters say they have also taken to the streets to vent their frustration over declining living standards.

Putin said Moscow would have finished the job if it had wanted Navalny dead.

Police departments in Moscow and in St Petersburg are reportedly overloaded due to the record number of detainees after the rallies. The Russian court handed Navalny a 3.5 year suspended sentence with a 5-year probation period.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Tuesday that Russian Federation is ready for dialogue about Navalny, but sternly warned that it wouldn't take Western criticism into account. "You have stolen people's future and you are now trying to scare them".

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After his arrest, Navalny's team released a two-hour YouTube video about an opulent Black Sea residence allegedly built for Putin. The video has been viewed over 100 million times, fueling discontent as ordinary Russians struggle with an economic downturn, the coronavirus pandemic and widespread corruption during Putin's years in office.

Pro-Kremlin media have since been allowed to tour the palace and a childhood friend and former judo sparring partner of Putin, the oligarch Arkady Rotenberg, over the weekend appeared in a report claiming he owned the building and meant to turn it into an apartment hotel.

As part of efforts to squelch the protests, the authorities have targeted Navalny's associates and activists across the country.

UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab described the ruling as "perverse", and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he was deeply concerned by it.

The jailing of Navalny and the crackdown on protests have stoked global outrage, with Western officials calling for his release and condemning the arrests of demonstrators.

"We hope that such nonsense as linking the prospects of Russia-EU relations with the resident of a detention centre will not happen", Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters. Who gave United States the right to judge if it was wrongful or not?

The case is presenting one of the most serious challenges to the Kremlin in years and has led to calls for new Western sanctions against President Vladimir Putin's government.

Jim Heintz in Moscow and Jill Lawless in London contributed.

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