KIROV, Russia (AP) - A Russian court decided Wednesday not to send opposition leader Alexei Navalny to prison, a move that could have sparked major protests and made a martyr out of the charismatic 37-year-old.
The Kremlin, however, lives in dread of Navalny becoming a real politician, for he proved his influence when he received almost a third of the votes in Moscow’s recent mayoral election. The court, therefore, suspended Navalny’s five-year prison sentence but upheld his conviction for theft, which prevents him from running in future elections.
Navalny’s flare for catchy slogans and rousing speeches made him a powerful voice in the demonstrations against President Vladimir Putin during the winter of 2011-2012. The protest movement has fizzled, however, and Navalny himself has indicated that it’s time to find new tactics.