Alexei Navalny’s five-year prison sentence on fabricated charges removes Vladimir Putin’s last political opponent from the scene. Navalny was charged with stealing a small amount of money during the course of giving pro-bono legal advice to a regional government on the sale of timber.
Navalny, the charismatic anti-corruption blogger and activist, was one of the key organizers of anti-Putin demonstrations following the disputed parliamentary and presidential elections of December 2011 and March 2012. He had been a thorn in the side of the Putin machine by exposing its high-level corruption on his blog, which is followed by millions of Russians. He was indicted by Putin’s Investigative Committee – an extrajudicial body that works like the troikas of the Stalin era. Among those exposed by Navalny for the theft of billions were the very members of the Investigative Committee that indicted him. Navalny coined the term widely applied by the Russian people to Putin’s United Russia, as the “party of thieves and scoundrels.”
In a maneuver to secure the Moscow’s mayoral position in a Moscow that has soured on Putin, Putin’s loyalist mayor recently resigned in order to stand in a flash election in September. Navalny had declared his candidacy (and could have easily won a fair election), but his conviction in a provincial court will prohibit him from running for any elected office under Russian law. Putin has removed Navalny from formal politics.
Navalny said in his closing statement: “It’s to make it so someone on all the federal news channels can continually mention my name as this person who stole the Kirov region’s whole forest, this crook, as if that could somehow change what I am writing about those people who are actually crooks, those people who are stealing the government’s billions from us.” Navalny refused to flee Russia to escape the jail sentence which he knew was inevitable.
As is his practice, Putin innocently denies any involvement in the Navalny case. A Kremlin spokesman declared that Putin “does not interfere, can’t interfere, and in this case has no right to interfere.” The political nature of the Navalny prosecution, however, was conceded by Putin’s Investigative Committee, which declared that such a trivial case would not have been dealt with so quickly, except where “the person involved attracts attention to himself with all his might” and “mocks authority.”
Navalny will appeal the court ruling, but chances of success are slim if not zero. He joins a long list of individuals, who face prison terms or years of house arrest, for engaging in legal demonstrations. (One teen age girl remains under house arrest more than a year after her arrest for supposedly hurling a stone at heavily armed riot police).
Putin’s actions are those of a dictator, who substitutes repression for lost popular support. In his first two terms, he enjoyed high popularity ratings and could tolerate a moderately free press. His 2011 imperious declaration that he would return to the Presidency and the demonstrations that followed revealed that the Russian people simply want him gone. As a leader with failing public support, he can only remain in power by using force and repression that gets worse by the day.
The amount of political repression in Russia today is about equal to that in Myanmar under military rule. The United States and other countries ostracized Myanmar and imposed sanctions. Although Ambassador McFaul expressed his regrets after the Navalny ruling, the Obama administration, in its ludicrous hope for Russian “reset” concessions, avoids any statements that might upset Vova, or “Little Vladimir” as the Russians derisively call Putin.
Is it not time, for the Obama administration to speak up? What more is needed? I guess we should keep quiet. Any day now Vova will help out on Iran, Syria, North Korea, or even not rub our face in it with Snowden.
In the meantime, capital and its best people flee Russia. The goal of Russia’s best and brightest is to get themselves and their families out of repressive Russia before it is too late.
Navalny was one of the few with the courage and conviction to stay and face the consequences.
I was recently in Moscow, where I know many Muscovites. Whereas in earlier years, I could find Putin supporters, now I can find none. The refrain I encountered was: We want that guy gone.”
The problem with Putin’s KGB state is that there is no way for a corrupt leader and his henchman to “go.” The minute they leave office, their billions in stolen wealth are at risk, and they face potential prosecution as their successors hold them up as scapegoats. Vova intends to stay in office, like his Soviet predecessors, until they carry him out feet first.
The Russian people know this and leave.