D-Day for Kremlin Critic Navalny as Russian Court Considers Longer Jail Term

MOSCOW (Reuters) -
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, accused of flouting the terms of a suspended sentence for embezzlement, attends a court hearing in Moscow, Monday. (Press service of Moscow City Court/Handout via Reuters)

A Russian court on Tuesday weighed whether to jail Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny for up to three and a half years in a case that has sparked nationwide protests and talk of new Western sanctions.

Navalny, one of President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent critics, was arrested at the Russian border on Jan. 17 for alleged parole violations after returning from Germany where he had been recovering from nerve agent poisoning in Russia.

Navalny accuses Putin of ordering his murder, which the Kremlin denies. It has suggested that Navalny is a CIA asset, a charge he rejects, and has told the West to stay out of its domestic affairs.

A serious jail term for Navalny would become a point of tension with the West, like the case of oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, another Putin critic, who spent 10 years in prison after being arrested in 2003.

Navalny watched Tuesday’s hearing from inside a glass cage in the courtroom.

Moscow’s state prison authority accuses Navalny of parole violations relating to a suspended sentence he had been serving in an embezzlement case he calls trumped up. On Tuesday, it repeated its request for the court to convert that suspended sentence into a real jail term of up to three and a half years.

Navalny says he was unable to report to the prison service at the end of last year because he was recovering in Germany from being poisoned. The prison service said its complaints pre-dated his poisoning and that Navalny had in any case been well enough to meet journalists after being discharged from a Berlin hospital in September.

Navalny, who is already serving a 30-day detention sentence in connection with the same case, told the court that the whole country knew he had been poisoned and was in Germany at the end of last year.

“On what grounds are you saying you didn’t know where I was? You’re misleading the court,” he told the prison service official, who told Navalny he should have got in touch to formally inform the service of his circumstances.

Alexei Chesnakov, a political consultant close to the Kremlin, said on a social media messenger service:

“The question is not whether they will give him (a jail term) or not. They will. They will today. The question is how long for. And when they’ll add more.”