” Goodbye. Do not be sad. Everything will be alright… “ A few minutes after the verdict sentencing him to two years and eight months in prison, Alexeï Navalny turned to his wife. And, with a serious face, he tried to be reassuring. The sentence, handed down by a court in Moscow on Tuesday February 2 after a hearing of more than eight hours, is anything but a surprise.
→ ANALYSIS. Alexeï Navalny: the Russian judicial machine is set in motion
More offensive than ever, the opponent to the Kremlin of Vladimir Putin did little to defend himself to avoid punishment. On the contrary, he transformed the tribunal into a political forum. “They’re trying to intimidate us with show trials like this. It is not a demonstration of strength but of weakness ”, he launched, asking to speak before even speaking to the prosecutor.
An old affair
The court was in fact to revisit an old court case. In 2014, Alexeï Navalny was sentenced to suspended prison for a misappropriation to the detriment of the Russian subsidiary of Yves Rocher. The opponent was then also a business manager with his brother Oleg, at the head of a transport company providing service for the chain of stores of the French cosmetics group. The European Court of Human Rights then denounced this sentence, considering it “Arbitrary and patently unreasonable”.
Seven years later, the prosecution and the prison administration on Tuesday demanded the revocation of the reprieve because they accuse Alexeï Navalny of not having pointed out regularly, an obligation in the event of a reprieve, before and during his convalescence in Germany following his suspected poisoning in August 2020 in Siberia.
“I was in a coma! “
In court, speaking from his glass cage, Alexeï Navalny defended himself, explaining that he had done everything to point when he was in Moscow but that he could not do so once hospitalized in Berlin. “I was in a coma! “, he recalled. The representative of the prison administration replied by explaining that, after regaining consciousness, the opponent was seen traveling to Germany and giving interviews. “You wanted me to send you the videos of my physiotherapy sessions?” “, quipped Alexeï Navalny who quickly changed register. He went on the political offensive, even allowing himself to respond sharply to the judge and the prosecutor who accused him of turning the hearing into a meeting.
“I express my opinion, I have no other! “, he protested loudly. “Putin may portray himself as a great geopolitician, he will in fact go down in history as the Poisoner”, said Alexeï Navalny. He reiterated that the head of the Kremlin was the one who ordered the FSB, the security services, to kill him. Then to arrest him at the end of his incredible return to Moscow on January 17, five months after his discomfort in Siberia. “As soon as I cross the border, I am a prisoner. We know who is behind this decision and why. The reason is the hatred and fear of a person living in his bunker ”, he said, directly accusing Vladimir Putin.
Navalny’s lawyers have announced they will appeal
“We imprison one to scare millions”, continued Alexeï Navalny, under the eyes of his wife Yulia but also of some foreign journalists and diplomats. “The most important thing in this trial is to scare a huge number of people. But you cannot imprison the whole country! “, he hammered, while, in the vicinity of the court crisscrossed by the riot police, more than 350 people were arrested during the day. Right after the verdict, his supporters called on social media “To assemble immediately in the center of Moscow, Manege Square”. Immediately, an impressive police device sealed off this square in front of the Kremlin.
→ ANALYSIS. In Russia, supporters of Alexei Navalny challenge Vladimir Putin
Alexei Navalny’s lawyers have announced that they will appeal. But a new step has indeed already been taken in the hardening of the Kremlin against the one who, de facto, becomes its main opponent. Virulent speech against sentencing to prison: the distance arm wrestling between the anti-corruption lawyer and Vladimir Poutine takes on another dimension.
The sentence of two years and eight months in prison aims to keep Alexeï Navalny in detention until… the day before the presidential election in 2024. “On returning to Moscow, he knew he was taking a mortal risk”, explains Alexeï Venediktov, famous journalist with a critical tone. “At the top, some had protected him until then, more to manipulate him than to support his theses. But, today, it is the falcons who win… ”