Putin foe Alexei Navalny braces for a new verdict as the Kremlin tightens its grip. To say that Alexei Navalny’s trial took place “behind closed doors” would be an understatement. It is being held in a prison with tight security.
Moscow is 240 kilometers (150 miles) east of Penal Colony No. 6. Navalny, the Kremlin’s most outspoken critic, is currently serving a nine-year sentence for parole violations, fraud, and contempt of court, allegations widely regarded as politically motivated.
His incarceration is likely to be extended.
In June, a chamber in the penal colony was transformed into an impromptu courtroom, and Navalny returned to the dock. He is currently charged with creating an extremist organization and funding extremist activities.
The Russian state prosecutors have requested that Navalny be sentenced to twenty years in a “special regime colony” Typically, these prisons are designated for Russia’s most dangerous criminals.
In a social media post before the verdict, which is expected on Friday, Navalny expressed his belief that he would receive “a lengthy [prison] sentence.”
We were among journalists granted fleeting access to the prison colony for the trial’s opening. In a “press room,” we could observe events on a video screen.
Navalny had lost a great deal of weight in prison. However, he was combative as he criticized the judge and his trial from behind bars.
On paper, a court in Moscow is considering the case. However, the decision to hold a remote trial in prison suggests that the Russian government wished to avoid the publicity that would inevitably accompany Navalny’s transit to the Russian capital.
The image only appeared on the screen for a short time. An hour and a half into the trial, the prosecutor demanded the press and public be excluded. Judge concurred. The video transmission was interrupted.
This has made it difficult to track the proceedings of this trial.
Two weeks ago, when Navalny made his final statement, there was no audio or video recording of his remarks. However, the text of his speech criticizing the Russian government and the Ukraine conflict was made public. His supporters, including exiled Russian actors and musicians, read it aloud and uploaded it online.
Even after this case concludes, there may be others that follow. According to Navalny, investigators have informed him to anticipate another trial on terrorism accusations.
Why are there so many cases?
Over the years, Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin has eliminated all potential presidential competitors, clearing the Russian political landscape of potential opponents. It will want to ensure that its most vocal critic does not appear on the Russian political stage.
Navalny has exposed wrongdoing at the center of Russian power for more than a decade. His online video investigations have been viewed tens of millions of times.
However, he can mobilize the populace, particularly young Russians, to take to the streets, which causes the authorities the most concern. Navalny has been the sole Russian opposition leader capable of coordinating nationwide anti-Putin demonstrations in recent years.
He had established a network of regional campaign offices in preparation for his 2018 presidential bid. However, he was not permitted to vote. Authorities have already deemed Navalny’s office network and Anti-Corruption Foundation “extremist” and shut them down.
In 2020, Navalny was poisoned in Siberia by a nerve agent, as confirmed by Western laboratories. He later claimed that the Kremlin attempted to murder him. The Russian government denies this.
His decision to return to Russia in 2021, after receiving urgent medical care in Germany, will be viewed by those in authority as a direct challenge to the Kremlin. He was taken into custody upon arrival at a Moscow airport.
“Navalny is a figure of symbolism. The Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center’s Andrei Kolesnikov believes the Kremlin fears him. “Even though, according to polls, the typical Russian cannot currently see Navalny. He is out of the information loop. However, the Kremlin does not care. It continues to perceive him as an enemy and a threat.
“The regime is capable of extreme cruelty. It conveys to the larger audience that we will not cease. The machine is operational and lacks a reverse mechanism. It indicates that they are willing to continue all possible prosecutions against all potential dissidents.
And not just against anti-war, pro-democracy figures like Navalny.
Igor Girkin (also known as Igor Strelkov), a Russian nationalist, was detained in Moscow on extremism charges last month.
Mr. Girkin not only supports Russia’s war in Ukraine; in 2014, the retired FSB security officer organized and commanded pro-Russia militias in the Donbas region of Ukraine and declared that he “pulled the trigger on this war.”
In absentia, he was convicted of his involvement in the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 by a court in The Hague last year.
In his more recent role as a nationalist blogger, he had become increasingly critical of the Russian government’s handling of the conflict, as well as of President Putin.
In a single post, he referred to the Kremlin chief as “a non-entity” and “a cowardly waste of space.”
“It is not enough to support the war,” says Andrei Kolesnikov. “You must execute it properly. You must do so while supporting Putin’s argument, ideas, and objectives. Putin cannot be criticized.
This regime is authoritarian and partially totalitarian. They are unable to control themselves. They must maintain total control. They must eliminate everything.
“Ultimately, they fear any form of resistance or alternative leadership.”