Alexey Navalny: Poisoned Putin critic faces jail on return to Russia
Alexey Navalny is flying back to Russia and straight into the hands of the authorities.
Not only does he face a slew of fresh criminal charges against him but he will also once again be at the mercy of Russia’s domestic spy agency, the Federal Security Service (FSB), which he says tried to poison him.
It is an extraordinarily brave and risk-filled undertaking. It is also true to form.
Arrest for Alexey Navalny is nothing new. Nor is carving out a life of activism between court appearances, house arrest and prolonged periods in detention.
He has repeatedly said he would return to Russia after his convalescence in Germany.
Had he not been poisoned by a novichok nerve agent, with treatment abroad the only way to keep him alive, he never would have left in the first place.
He is now on the Federal Wanted List and is implicated in a number of criminal and administrative cases which give law enforcement broad scope to keep him under prolonged investigation, most probably well beyond September’s parliamentary elections which the powers that be in the Kremlin do not want him around for.
Russia’s Federal Penitentiary Service has submitted a request to revoke a three-and-a-half-year suspended sentence which wrapped up in December and imprison him instead.
They say he “systematically and repeatedly violated” the terms of his probation both whilst he was in Germany and on a number of occasions before.
If the court agrees, he could serve three-and-a-half-years in jail, minus a few months already spent under house arrest.
On top of that, Russia’s investigative committee has opened a new criminal case accusing him of the supposed misallocation of crowd-sourced funds at his RBK anti-corruption foundation.
“If they really want to go after him, this would be the worst case scenario,” says his lawyer Vadim Kobzev.
“Three-and-a-half-years and then 10 years on top of that which is the maximum he can get for this new criminal case.”
He thinks a jail term of that length is unlikely. Recent cases against Mr Navalny have all resulted in suspended sentences, “but we’re all trying to read the tea leaves here,” Mr Kobzev says.
The authorities’ most likely course of action – at least in the medium term – will be extended periods under house arrest with restrictions placed on, for example, his use of the internet.
Mr Navalny off-line is far less of a threat to Mr Putin’s cronies than the anti-corruption investigations he posts to his YouTube channel. His team will endeavour to keep those going but it is not the same.
And suffice to say, despite the slew of investigations into Mr Navalny’s own alleged wrong-doing, authorities have still refused to open any kind of inquiry into how exactly the symbol of Russia’s democratic opposition ended up fighting for his life on a work trip to Siberia, with a deadly novichok nerve agent coursing through his veins.
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President Vladimir Putin’s glib comment that the FSB would have finished the job if they had really wanted him dead is no substitute.
Nor, as Mr Navalny so convincingly proved in a telephone call with one of the FSB officers tasked with cleaning up the evidence of his poisoning, is it true.
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