By Alexander Shube
New York City, New York
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has been sentenced to at least two and a half years in prison on trumped up charges related to his prior 2014 arrest that resulted in a suspended sentence. His arrest comes after his return to Russia since being poisoned by a team of operatives ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Navalny’s arrest has stirred large protests in major Russian cities such as Moscow and St. Petersburg, where police detained over 11,000 protestors. Navalny supporters marches alongside anti-repression protestors to create the largest counter Kremlin demonstrations in over a decade. Local jails have filled to or past capacity, forcing many inmates to remain on buses for days while being denied access to basic necessities such as food and water.
The Kremlin’s false allegations against Navalny—its most effective critic and powerful opposition candidate to Putin’s electoral dominance—date back to 2013 when he was sentenced to over three years for embezzlement in a case that has been ruled on by the European Court of Human Rights as “politically motivated.” A Moscow court suspended Navalny’s sentence to quell potential blowback from Kremlin opposition. However, in August 2020, Navalny’s flight from Tomsk to Moscow had to be rerouted to Omsk after he collapsed in pain. It was later determined at an Omsk hospital he had been poisoned. After a dispute between German and Russian officials, he was transferred to a Berlin hospital where he would miraculously recover. A Bellingcat-CNN investigation found that Russian agents had been tracking Navalny for over three years. They further determined that one of these agents had poisoned Navalny with the lethal nerve agent Novichok.
Upon his arrival back to Moscow on January 17, Navalny was arrested at Sheremetyevo International Airport for allegedly violating the terms of his probation. In essence, Navalny was arrested for receiving life saving treatment outside of the country while in a coma. All of this has put extended international scrutiny and internal pressure on the Kremlin. Vladimir Putin continually denies that Russian agents had any association with Navalny’s poisoning, claiming that if the order were from within his government "they would've probably finished it."