Alexey Navalny in Court Facing 3-Year Jail Term as Vladimir Putin Battles Dissent

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  • Bloomberg Quicktake: Now published this video item, entitled “Alexey Navalny in Court Facing 3-Year Jail Term as Vladimir Putin Battles Dissent” – below is their description.

    A Moscow court is deciding whether to jail Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny for as long as 3 1/2 years, as President Vladimir Putin seeks to crush resurgent protests against his rule.

    The district court is to rule Tuesday on demands by penal authorities and prosecutors that Navalny, 44, serve the term in prison instead of the suspended sentence he received for a 2014 fraud conviction, for alleged violations of his probation. Security outside the building was heavy, with riot police detaining more than 200 protesters around the court as Navalny’s supporters gathered outside, according to monitoring group OVD-Info.

    The activist was detained in mid-January as he returned from Germany, where he recovered from a near-fatal attack involving a nerve agent applied to his underwear that he and Western governments blamed on Putin’s security services. The Kremlin denies responsibility. A prison term could isolate Navalny but risks escalating the confrontation between the authorities and opposition protesters.

    “Someone didn’t want me to return to Russia a free man. We know who,” Navalny said in a defiant statement to the court, calling Putin “Vladimir the poisoner of underpants.” His comments drew objections from the prosecutor and a warning from the judge that “this isn’t a demonstration here.”

    Over the last two weekends, police detained thousands at rallies in support of Navalny in dozens of cities nationwide, some of the largest anti-Kremlin protests in years.

    The U.S. and the European Union have called on Russia to release Navalny and Western diplomats attended Tuesday’s hearing. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken called his detention “profoundly disturbing” in an interview Sunday with MSNBC’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports.” The EU’s top foreign policy official, Josep Borrell, has said he’ll raise the case when he visits Moscow for talks this week with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

    Western pressure on the Kremlin has so far been limited mainly to rhetoric, and the ruble has slipped only modestly against the dollar in recent weeks. “This case shouldn’t lead to a rise in risks of large-scale, harsh sanctions on the Russian market,” said Sofya Donets, chief economist at Renaissance Capital. In neighboring Belarus, for example, Western governments responded to a violent crackdown on protesters with sanctions targeted on individuals, not the country as a whole, she added.

    Navalny received the suspended sentence in a fraud trial involving the Russian branch of French cosmetics company Yves Rocher that also led to a 3 1/2 year jail term for his younger brother, Oleg. Both men denied wrongdoing, and the European Court of Human Rights has called the case politically motivated.

    Defense attorneys cited that ruling and argued that Navalny was recuperating in Germany last year and couldn’t check in with probation authorities. The prison service contended that he had breached the terms of the sentence before going to Germany and asked for a 3 1/2 year prison term.

    “The main point of this trial isn’t how it turns out for me — putting me in jail isn’t hard — the main reason this is happening is to intimidate a huge number of people,” Navalny told the court from the glass defendant’s cage.

    In a separate case, Navalny also faces possible new fraud charges that could carry an additional 10-year punishment.

    Putin, 68, has been in power since 2000, the longest rule since Soviet dictator Josef Stalin. In July, he pushed through constitutional changes that would allow him to stay as president until 2036. Last year his support fell to a record low amid the Covid-19 downturn, and the continuing slide in incomes is weighing on the Russian leader’s popularity, pollsters say.

    Navalny raised the focus on officials’ opulent lifestyles in a video released after his arrest that got more than 100 million views and alleged that Putin owns a giant $1.3 billion Black Sea palace. Putin dismissed the claim and a billionaire ally, Arkady Rotenberg, said last week that he is the beneficial owner of the residence.

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