Putin critic Alexei Navalny goes on trial facing 10-year sentence

Putin critic Alexei Navalny goes on trial facing 10-year sentence as world’s attention is diverted by looming war in Ukraine

  • Russian dissident Alexei Navalny today goes on trial for embezzlement charges
  • Navalny, 45, faces a sentence of up to 10 years in prison if he is found guilty
  • He is already serving a two-and-a-half year sentence on suspect fraud charges
  • His supporters have accused Putin of orchestrating the trial to take place as the world’s attention is focused on the situation in Ukraine
  • Navalny was poisoned, likely by Russian agents, in 2020 and barely survived 

Russian dissident Alexei Navalny today goes on trial for embezzlement charges in what critics of Putin believe is a hearing specially scheduled to coincide with the furore surrounding Ukraine.

Navalny, 45, faces a special hearing inside a prison in Pokrov near Moscow where he is currently serving a two-and-a-half year sentence on fraud charges widely thought to be unfounded.

If he is ultimately found guilty of embezzlement, Putin’s most prolific political opponent could be jailed until 2032.

Now supporters of Navalny are claiming the ‘open’ trial, which will see the dissident take the stand in prison, was deliberately organised at a time when most media attention is focused on the escalating tensions around Ukraine.

Maria Pevchikh, one of Navalny’s closest supporters and head of the investigative unit of the Anti-Corruption Foundation he created in 2011, also speculated on Twitter that a long-term sentence may give rise to another attempt on his life.

‘We should hope it’s just the trial they are disguising and distracting us from, not something worse. Which, again, is not that crazy to expect,’ Pevchikh wrote.

‘Putin did order to kill Navalny once and managed to get away with it. The line has been crossed. Nothing stops Putin from doing it again.’

The fraud case which first landed Navalny in prison began in December 2020, while the 45-year-old was recovering in Germany after narrowly surviving a nerve agent poisoning likely orchestrated by Russian agents.

Russian dissident Alexei Navalny today goes on trial for embezzlement charges in what critics of Putin believe is a specially scheduled hearing to coincide with the furore surrounding Ukraine (Navalny pictured Feb. 20, 2021)

Navalny, 45, faces a special hearing inside the Pokrov prison where he is currently serving a two-and-a-half year sentence on fraud charges widely thought to be unfounded (Navalny pictured Feb 2021)

‘We should hope it’s just the trial they are disguising and distracting us from, not something worse. Which, again, is not that crazy to expect,’ Navalny ally Maria Pevchikh wrote. ‘Putin did order to kill Navalny once and managed to get away with it. The line has been crossed. Nothing stops Putin from doing it again’ (Putin pictured Feb 7, 2022)

Maria Pevchikh, one of Navalny’s closest supporters and head of the Anti-Corruption Foundation he created in 2011, speculated on Twitter that a long-term sentence may give rise to another attempt on his life

Investigators accuse Navalny of stealing for personal use more than $4.7 million (£3.4 million) in donations to his political organisations. 

The charges carry a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison, but Navalny also faces an extra six months for contempt of court during one of his hearings last year.

Most commentators however believe Navalny is innocent of the charges and accuse Russian authorities of manufacturing a case to silence the dissident’s criticism of President Putin. 

In an extensive Twitter threat, Pevchikh said Putin could use the Ukraine crisis to distract the world’s media as he deals a major blow to Navalny, and in doing so, a major blow to the anti-Kremlin movement.

‘The key to saving Navalny’s life is constant uninterrupted attention. There isn’t a better moment for Putin to get rid of his main enemy than the moment when the world is looking elsewhere, at something he is doing with his other hand,’ she said.

The investigative journalist also described Navalny’s charges as ‘rubbish’ and declared ‘[Russian authorities] can’t even falsify charges because there’s nothing to pin them on. Navalny is innocent.’ 

Meanwhile, Navalny’s wife Yulia Navalnaya lashed out at Russian authorities yesterday on the eve of his trial after she learned she would not be able to attend.

‘Listen you, cowards and scoundrels! I demand that I am allowed to attend my husband’s trial,’ Yulia, 45, said on Instagram.

Family and journalists have been barred from the trial.  

Yulia said the new case is ‘so pathetic they are afraid to hold the trial in Moscow’.

‘My husband is an honest man. And they are keeping him in prison because he is not afraid of this government,’ Yulia added.

Yulia Navalnaya, the wife of the Russian jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny, attends an opposition rally in Moscow, Russia, 21 April 2021

Navalny’s wife Yulia Navalnaya lashed out at Russian authorities yesterday on the eve of his trial after she learned she would not be able to attend. ‘Listen you, cowards and scoundrels! I demand that I am allowed to attend my husband’s trial,’ Yulia, 45, said on Instagram. ‘My husband is an honest man. And they are keeping him in prison because he is not afraid of this government’ (Alexei and Yulia pictured September 2020)

Alexei and Yuliya have been married for more than 20 years and have two children together. 

Navalny’s poisoning and arrest sparked widespread condemnation abroad as well as sanctions from Western capitals. 

Russian authorities last June branded Navalny’s political organisations ‘extremist’, prompting his team to shut down the regional network that supported his political campaigns and corruption investigations. 

The Anti-Corruption Foundation, which was set up by Navalny in 2001 and whose investigations are overseen by Pevchikh, was officially liquidated by the Moscow City Court.

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