News / Europe

Putin Foe Navalny Defiant as Trial Opens in Russia

Russian opposition leader and anti-graft blogger Alexei Navalny addressing media after court hearing, Kirov, April 17, 2013.
Russian opposition leader and anti-graft blogger Alexei Navalny addressing media after court hearing, Kirov, April 17, 2013.
TEXT SIZE - +
Reuters
— Protest leader Alexei Navalny accused Russian authorities of fabricating charges against him at the start of a trial on Wednesday that he says is intended to crush opposition to Vladimir Putin.
 
The anti-corruption blogger, 36, was calm and defiant during a 40-minute appearance in court in the provincial city of Kirov before Judge Sergei Blinov adjourned proceedings until April 24 to give the defense more time to prepare its case.
 
Navalny could face 10 years in jail if convicted of stealing 16 million roubles ($510,000) from a timber firm in Kirov that he was advising in 2009 while working for the liberal regional governor.
 
The most prominent opposition leader to be tried in post-Soviet Russia, Navalny has suggested Putin ordered the trial to sideline him as a potential presidential rival.
 
"The case is totally falsified, trumped up. I am completely innocent," he told reporters in court, reiterating his belief that he would be convicted regardless of the evidence.
 
Casually dressed in an open-necked shirt with no tie or jacket, Navalny chatted casually with reporters and thanked them for attending. His wife Yulia sat calmly in court behind him, flanked by opposition leader Boris Nemtsov.
 
Tall and clean-cut, Navalny has been a thorn in the side of the government since starting to campaign online against state corruption in 2007. He established himself as a powerful speaker at anti-Putin demonstrations that flared 16 months ago.
 
Hundreds of people rallied in support of Navalny in central Moscow on Wednesday evening, but the wave of protests against Putin's 13-year domination of Russia has ebbed. On the muddy streets of industrial Kirov, few showed sympathy with Navalny.
 
"He is probably guilty of something," said Anya, a young woman selling toy cars in the main square of Kirov, almost 900 km [550 miles] northeast of Moscow and dominated by grey Soviet-era buildings.
 
"His supporters would say this is political, of course, but I think there must be more to it since the case has gone this far," she said.
 
Grigory Pandzensky, a student, said: "It looks like he's guilty... It would be best if he went to jail."
 
Making an example

The Kremlin sees little risk in making an example of Navalny to discourage dissent because conservative voters in the provinces — Putin's traditional support base — are either indifferent or likely to welcome a jail sentence for Navalny.
 
A recent opinion poll indicated about 37 percent of Russians know who Navalny is, a sharp increase in the past two years, but only 14 percent would vote for him in a presidential election.
 
"People like him give me hope that I will live in a normal country someday," Tatyana Styopkina, 66, said at the rally in support of Navalny in Moscow's Pushkin Square on Wednesday.
 
"Everyone here knows very well that Navalny is not guilty of anything he is being accused of," veteran human rights activist Lyudmila Alexeyeva, 85, told the crowd, prompting cheers and applause. "He is being persecuted for fighting corruption."
 
Navalny is rarely seen on state television, the main source of news for the millions of Russians outside the big cities.
 
Since Putin's return to the Kremlin last May after four years as prime minister, two members of the dissident band Pussy Riot have been jailed, a prominent protest leader has been thrown out of parliament and another is under house arrest.
 
A dozen protesters also face sentences of up to 10 years over clashes with police at a rally on the eve of Putin's inauguration last May, and parliament has pushed through tough new penalties and fines for demonstrators who stray out of line.
 
A spokesman for Russia's Investigative Committee, which answers to Putin, said on Friday the case against Navalny had been speeded up because he had done "everything in his power to attract attention to himself'' and taunt the authorities.
 
Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov has denied the president uses the courts for political ends and says the Kremlin leader will not be following the trial.
 
Navalny's case has caused international concern and two Western diplomats were among those packed into the small Leninsky Court. They declined comment.
 
Former finance minister Alexei Kudrin, who still has the ear of the Kremlin, said the trial brought to mind the idea of "time travel" back to the Soviet era and warned that it "calls into question the basics of the market economy."
 
Navalny's supporters in Kirov said they would keep supporting him. In a show of defiance, they have made the password for their Internet account navalny2018, a reference to the year when the next presidential election is scheduled.

You May Like

Russia-Ukraine Crisis Could Trigger Cyber War

As tensions between Kyiv and Moscow escalate, so too has frequency of online attacks targeting government, news and financial sites More

Egyptian Court Jails 23 Pro-Morsi Supporters

Meanwhile, Egyptian officials say gunmen have killed two members of the country's security forces More

Pakistani Journalists Protest Shooting of Colleague

Hamid Mir, a host for private television channel Geo, was wounded after being shot three times Saturday, but is expected to survive More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politicsi
X
Michael Eckels
April 19, 2014
There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politics

There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Face of American Farmer is Changing

The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Donetsk Governor: Ukraine Military Assault 'Delicate But Necessary'

Around a dozen state buildings in eastern Ukraine remain in the hands of pro-Russian protesters who are demanding a referendum on self-rule. The governor of the whole Donetsk region is among those forced out by the protesters. He spoke to VOA's Henry Ridgwell from his temporary new office in Donetsk city.
Video

Video Drones May Soon Send Data From High Seas

Drones are usually associated with unmanned flying vehicles, but autonomous watercraft are also becoming useful tools for jobs ranging from scientific exploration to law enforcement to searching for a missing airliner in the Indian Ocean. VOA’s George Putic reports on sea-faring drones.
Video

Video New Earth-Size Planet Found

Not too big, not too small. Not too hot, not too cold. A newly discovered planet looks just right for life as we know it, according to an international group of astronomers. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Copts in Diaspora Worry About Future in Egypt

Around 10 percent of Egypt’s population belong to the Coptic faith, making them the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. But they have become targets of violence since the revolution three years ago. With elections scheduled for May and the struggle between the Egyptian military and Islamists continuing, many Copts abroad are deeply worried about the future of their ancient church. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky visited a Coptic church outside Washington DC.
Video

Video Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support

During the two months of deadly anti-government protests that have rocked the oil-rich nation of Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition of trying to initiate a coup. Though a small number of military officers have been arrested for allegedly plotting against the government, VOA’s Brian Padden reports the leadership of the armed forces continues to support the president, at least for now.
Video

Video More Millenials Unplug to Embrace Board Games

A big new trend in the U.S. toy industry has more consumers switching off their high-tech gadgets to play with classic toys, like board games. This is especially true among the so-called millenial generation - those born in the 1980's and 90's. Elizabeth Lee has more from an unusual café in Los Angeles, where the new trend is popular and business is booming.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
AppleAndroid