Alexei Navalny Sentenced To Prison As Protests Take Place In Russia


(Photo By: AP)

Safa Hameed

On February 3rd, Russian opposition leader, Alexei Navalny, was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison for allegedly violating probation terms, resulting in the largest protests that Russia has ever seen in contemporary history as protestors cited grievances such as Mr. Navalny’s “unfair and unjust” prosecution and what they believe is a corrupt Kremlin.

Last August, Mr. Navalny had been poisoned by a Soviet-era nerve agent, known as Novichok, while on a train in Siberia. Mr. Navalny quickly suffered the consequences of the poison and had to be airlifted to Germany where he spent a considerable number of his days in a coma before waking up in a rehabilitation center in Berlin. According to Mr. Navalny, the poisoning was carried out by the Kremlin on orders of President Vladimir Putin; other, officials and third party, including one done on behalf of CNN and Bellingat, found that the elite Russian federal security agency and successor to the Soviet-era KGB, FSB, carried out the attack on orders from President Putin; the Russian government and President Putin denied all allegations.

After spending five months in Germany recovering from his poisoning, Navalny went back to Russia on January 17, despite the Russian governments warning that we would be arrested on sight. He went back amid the threats because, according to him, his work wasn’t done. He went on to say in a powerful statement: “Everyone is asking me if I’m scared. I am not afraid. I feel completely fine walking towards the border control. I know that I will leave and go home because I’m right and all the criminal cases against me are fabricated.” His flight was originally scheduled to land at Sheremetyevo but was changed last minute because, according to the pilots, emergency equipment was blocking the runway. Navalny begs to differ, saying this was just another plot of the Russian government to deter his growing support as hundreds of supporters were originally lying in wait for Navalny at Sheremetyevo.

He was arrested, initially, on claims from the Russian government that he violated his probation terms from a fraud case in 2014 that Navalny contests and says was politically motivated. In 2014, Navalny and his brother, Oleg, were convicted of embezzling close to $500,000 from two different Russian firms. They were both sentenced to the same three-and-a-half year-long sentence, but Alexei’s sentence was suspended and he was put on probation. Navalny claims it was politically motivated because at that time he was on the ticket to become Mayor of Moscow, but people who have a criminal record in Russia can’t become elected officials. Other third party’s claimed that the 2014 trial was unfair and unjust, including the European Court of Human Rights.

The charges were pressed on the basis that he failed to show up to scheduled meetings as detailed in his probation as well as failing to notify authorities of his location as noted in his probation. Navalny fired back claiming, that half the time he was in a coma and the other half recovering. Navalny’s lawyers said that a notice about his conditions was filed in December and that he sent them proof from the rehabilitation center that he was staying at. He also further cited that they knew where he was by saying that “Putin gave the order”, so how could they not know. He played off of a comment Putin made months earlier where he said that he personally saw to it that Navalny would be allowed to be airlifted and treated in Germany.

The case came to a close and the outcome was one that many had predicted; he was sentenced to 2 and 1/2 years in jail. Originally, the sentence had been three-and-a-half, but it had been shaved down to two-and-a-half on the premise that he already spent a year on probation. Tensions continued to grow as Navanly closed the hearing with a striking speech, stating: “The reason for this is the hatred and fear of one person who is hiding in the bunker. I’ve offended him so deeply by the fact that I’ve survived (…) He can pretend he is this big politician, the world leader, but now my main offense to him is that he will go down in history as Putin the Poisoner. There was Alexander the Liberator and Yaroslav the Wise, and there will be Vladimir the Poisoner of Underpants.”

His arrest and court case have sent off unprecedented waves of protests, especially among Russia’s younger population. The protests took place in two waves; the first happened right as he was arrested on January 23rd, and the second took place during his court case on February 2nd. 

Tens of thousands showed up to the protests and, according to the BBC, some 40,000 were in attendance on January 23rd while February 2nd recorded a smaller number. These numbers were surprising considering the fact that Russia hasn’t heard of such discontent on a public level from its people in a long time. 

The Russian government released multiple warnings on news channels, social media, and websites against participating in protests and that there would be consequences. Legally, Russians have to submit a claim to a government office in order to have a protest ten days before it takes place. Much of the protests were not given approval and were thus unauthorized, giving the green for Russian police to arrest or detain any protestors they want. Protestors claim that this too was politically motivated and, while the Russian government cites safety and practicality because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

So far, OVD-Info, which is an organization that keeps tracks of protest, has said that there have been 5,400 detained, over 1,000 arrests, and at least 51 protestors beaten. Russian media has claimed that the police were polite and that if there was any violence it was warranted on the behalf of police as they responded to “aggressive” protestors. 

Protestors have claimed that media coverage and the internet was being disrupted and covering the protests correctly. Footage and coverage of these protests were primarily uploaded to the social media platform TikTok, as protestors tried to utilize the platform to spread awareness over their cause. 

In the meantime, many have asked the question: does Navalny pose a threat to Putin? The short answer to that is: No, no he doesn’t. With a stronghold over the government and the media, Putin boasts of a 64% approval rating according to the Levada Centre Poll. With that being said, Putin is no stranger to opposition, but if there is ever going to a precipice of change for the Putin Regime, it’s going to be Navalny and his supporters at the forefront. This becomes clear as Putin continues to undermine and try to discredit Navalny and his supporters while Navalny tries to continue to spread his message of corruption amongst the Russian Government. Just last week, he released a one-hour long documentary depicting what he believes to be some of the profound corruption he and his team have found, including using millions from Russian Federal money to build a (to say the least) palace situated on the Black Sea.

What’s clear is neither party is giving up yet, as the Russian Government added new charges against Navalny that could serve to lengthen his jail time. The Russian Government is filing these charges on the basis that Navalny has gone out of his way to defame a Russian war veteran. It is likely the trial will proceed sometime in the next couple of weeks and that only more protests will follow.