Russian Court Postpones Start of Navalny Extremism Case

This handout picture provided by the Babushkinsky district court on February 12, 2021, shows Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, charged with defaming a World War II veteran, standing inside a glass cell during a court hearing in Moscow. (Photo by Handout / Moscow’s Babushkinsky district court press service / AFP) 

 

A Russian court on Monday postponed the first hearing in the “extremism” case against the political network of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, part of a campaign to outlaw the opposition to President Vladimir Putin.

As the hearing got underway behind closed doors, the prosecution submitted additional documents and the proceedings were postponed until June 9, according to lawyers representing Navalny’s network.

The case is part of a sweeping crackdown on Putin’s most prominent critic and his supporters after Navalny barely survived a poisoning with the Novichok nerve agent last summer.

As part of the effort — which comes a few months before parliamentary elections –, the lower house is set on Tuesday to begin debating a bill banning members of “extremist” organizations from being elected lawmakers.

Navalny’s network is being represented by lawyers of Team 29, a Saint Petersburg-based group that specialises in freedom of speech and treason cases.

The lawyers said it was not clear why Monday’s hearing was held behind closed doors.

The Kommersant business daily on Monday cited a source saying the secrecy was because some of the case files contained personal information of police involved in dispersing opposition protests.

But key Navalny ally Ivan Zhdanov said on Twitter that the case materials were kept secret so that “nobody could see the absurdity of what was happening”.

 ‘Opposition will be crushed’

Prosecutors in April requested that Navalny’s regional network and his Anti-Corruption Foundation be designated “extremist” organizations, accusing them of plotting to stage a Western-backed uprising in Russia.

Such a court ruling would put Navalny and his supporters and financial backers on par with members of the Islamic State group and Al-Qaeda and threaten them with long prison sentences.

“The opposition will be crushed,” Abbas Gallyamov, an independent political analyst and former Kremlin speechwriter, told AFP, warning that the official ban on dissent would eventually backfire.

“By destroying the opposition, they are destroying their own legitimacy,” Gallyamov said, referring to Russian authorities.

Navalny emerged as a top leader of Russia’s opposition movement a decade ago, leading huge anti-Kremlin rallies sparked by claims of electoral fraud in 2011.

Established in 2011, the Anti-Corruption Foundation has published numerous investigations into the lavish lifestyles of Russia’s elite.

Even though Navalny was not allowed to run against Putin in a presidential election in 2018, authorities had for years tolerated his political movement, which relies on donations from supporters.

But analysts say the Kremlin is willing to take no chances ahead of parliamentary elections in September as public fatigue is growing with Putin’s two-decade rule and the coronavirus pandemic exacerbates economic woes.

‘Sliding into darkness’

“Our country is sliding into darkness,” Navalny said in a recent post on his Instagram account, which is being run by aides while he serves two-and-a-half years in a penal colony.

“But those who are pushing the country backwards are historically doomed.”

Ahead of Monday’s court hearing, Russia’s financial monitoring service Rosfinmonitoring added Navalny’s political network to its database of terrorist and extremist organisations.

Navalny’s network had disbanded ahead of the listing to shield its members and supporters from possible prosecution.

Russian lawmakers also proposed legislation that would apply retroactively and ban Navalny’s allies from running in parliamentary elections for several years.

The legislation can affect not only senior members and activists of Navalny’s political network but tens of thousands of Russians who supported its work with donations.

Navalny was arrested in January upon returning from Germany after recovering from a poisoning attack he says was orchestrated by the Kremlin. The Kremlin denies the allegation.

He is serving two-and-a-half years on embezzlement charges in a penal colony about 100 kilometres (62 miles) east of Moscow.

-AFP

Navalny Political Network Disbands Ahead Of ‘Extremism’ Ruling

Activists from Amnesty International demonstrate outside the Russian embassy in Berlin, on April 24, 2021, calling for the release of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.
Odd ANDERSEN / AFP

 

A key aide to jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny said Thursday his organisation was disbanding its national network ahead of a court ruling expected to declare it an extremist organisation.

The announcement came as Navalny made his first video appearance in court since ending a hunger strike last week, appearing gaunt in a prison uniform and with a buzz haircut.

During the hearing, which is part of an appeal by Navalny against a defamation sentence imposed in February for insulting a World War II veteran, the opposition figure said he had lost more weight but had started eating again.

“I was taken to a bathhouse yesterday… there was a mirror there, I looked at myself — I am just a horrible skeleton,” Navalny told the court, according to an audio recording released by the independent Dozhd television channel.

Another court was holding a hearing Thursday into a request from prosecutors that Navalny’s regional network and his Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) be recognised as extremist, equating the organisations with the Islamic State group and Al-Qaeda.

If the request is met, their activities would be banned, putting members and supporters at risk of lengthy jail time.

The head of the regional networks said Thursday it had already been decided to shutter the network.

“We are officially disbanding Navalny’s network,” Leonid Volkov said in a video posted on social media.

He said some of the offices would continue their activities as independent organisations.

Earlier this week, prosecutors ordered the network to suspend its activities ahead of the ruling and a court-imposed sweeping bans on FBK.

FBK was launched in 2011 and routinely releases investigations into alleged corruption by officials at all levels of government, often accompanied by YouTube videos.

The regional network was founded during Navalny’s presidential campaign in 2018, although the opposition figure was barred from running.

It later supported his graft investigations as well as the Smart Voting strategy, which directs voters to cast their ballots for candidates best placed to defeat Kremlin-linked opponents.

Navalny was arrested in January after returning to Russia from Germany, where he had spent months recovering from a poisoning attack that he says was orchestrated by President Vladimir Putin.

He is serving a two-and a-half-year sentence in a penal colony outside Moscow for violating parole terms on old fraud charges he and his allies say are politically motivated.

The opposition figure refused food for three weeks, demanding adequate medical treatment in prison for severe back pain and numbness in his limbs.

Last week he ended the 24-day hunger strike after he was examined at a civilian hospital.

-AFP

Russia Orders Navalny Group To Suspend Activities

Photo Credit: Moscow Times

 

Russian prosecutors on Monday suspended the activities of Alexei Navalny’s regional offices, in a move his team said would essentially shut down the jailed opposition figure’s movement.

The move comes after Navalny, President Vladimir Putin’s most outspoken critic, ended a hunger strike last week that he had launched to demand proper medical treatment in prison.

A court in Moscow on Monday began proceedings into designating Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) and its regional offices “extremist” after prosecutors requested they be added to a list run by Russia’s Anti-Terrorism Committee.

“The activities of Navalny’s offices and FBK were immediately suspended,” FBK’s director Ivan Zhdanov wrote on Twitter, attaching screenshots of a prosecutor’s decision.

The Moscow City Court confirmed that the activities of the group’s regional network were suspended, but clarified that prosecutors had the power to make the decision and said a final decision designating the group as extremist was due.

Navalny’s office in Moscow said in a statement the group will already “no longer be able to work” as usual.

“It would be too dangerous for our employees and for our supporters,” it said.

The team promised to continue fighting corruption, the ruling United Russia party and President Vladimir Putin “in a personal capacity”.

“It will not be easy to fight, but we will win absolutely, because there are many of us and we are strong.”

Germany condemned the order, with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert saying that “using the instruments of fighting terror against politically undesirable opinions is in no way compatible with the principles of the rule of law”.

Prosecutors on Friday said they had requested the extremism label for FBK and its regional offices because they are actively “creating conditions for the destabilisation of the social and socio-political situation.”

– Upcoming elections –

It also accused them of working to alter “the foundations of the constitutional order”.

There are currently 33 organisations on Russia’s extremism list, including the Islamic State group and Al-Qaeda.

The groups are banned from operating in Russia and participating in their activities can result in lengthy prison terms.

FBK’s members had already faced routine police searches and arrests for their activism, with the pressure ballooning since Navalny returned to Russia in January from Germany where he had been recovering from a poisoning attack.

The 44-year-old was arrested on his return and is now serving two-and-a-half years in a penal colony for violating parole terms on old fraud charges he says are politically motivated.

Most of his top allies have since been placed under house arrest or left the country, with several announcing publicly their were quitting FBK after prosecutors requested the extremism tag.

Earlier this month, a Russian court jailed FBK cameraman Pavel Zelensky for two years on charges of inciting extremism online. It cited two tweets saying that he hated Putin, among other officials, adding they did not deserve to be alive.

FBK routinely releases investigations into alleged graft by officials at all levels of government that are accompanied by YouTube videos that often go viral.

The group published its most notable probe after Navalny was arrested, accusing Putin of being gifted a luxurious property on the Black Sea coast.

The report helped spur mass anti-government protests over the winter, supported by FBK’s nationwide network of regional offices.

Those offices also help organise Navalny’s Smart Voting elections strategy, which calls for voters to cast their ballots for the candidate most likely to defeat Kremlin-linked opponents.

Navalny had staked out September’s parliamentary poll as his next target.

Nearly 200 Protesters Detained During Pro-Navalny Rallies

Participants attend a rally in support of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny in Vladivostok on April 21, 2021. Navalny’s team called for the demonstrations in more than 100 cities, after the opposition figure’s doctors said his health was failing following three weeks on hunger strike.
Pavel KOROLYOV / AFP

 

Nearly 200 protesters were detained at anti-Kremlin rallies across Russia on Wednesday, a monitor said, as protesters demanded the release of jailed opposition figure Alexei Navalny, who has been on hunger strike for three weeks.

Protests in Moscow and Saint Petersburg are set to take place from 7 pm (1600 GMT) and crowds earlier in the day took to the streets in the Far East, the Urals and Siberia, chanting slogans critical of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Navalny’s aides posted videos on Twitter that showed protesters crowding central squares in large cities, shouting slogans including “Putin is a killer” and “Down with the Tsar!”

Protesters accused the authorities of abusing human rights and said Navalny had been thrown in prison in revenge for speaking up.

“He was trying to speak about the lawlessness that the government is perpetrating,” Vadim Sobolev, a rail worker, told AFP in the Pacific port city of Vladivostok.

Members of Navalny’s anti-corruption foundation, which prosecutors are seeking to designate an “extremist” organisation, said the rallies could be Russia’s last protests for years to come.

The demonstrations took place across the country, including in Siberia’s Novosibirsk, Irkutsk and Tomsk.

OVD Info, which tracks detentions at opposition rallies, said that at least 198 people had been held across the country including 27 people in Kemerovo and 11 people in Irkutsk, both in Siberia.

 

Photo Credit: Moscow Times

 

Moscow’s main Manezhnaya Square near the Kremlin was cordoned off, with dozens of police vans and cars in the city centre, an AFP correspondent reported.

Earlier Wednesday, two Navalny aides, Lyubov Sobol and Kira Yarmysh, were detained by police in the Russian capital.

Navalny barely survived a poisoning attack with the Novichok nerve agent last year he blames on the Kremlin, a claim Putin has dismissed. He returned to Russia in January after months recovering in Germany and was jailed on arrival.

Navalny was sentenced to two-and-a-half years on old fraud charges his supporters say were politically motivated and has been serving time in a penal colony about 100 kilometres (60 miles) east of Moscow.

He launched a hunger strike to demand proper medical treatment in prison on March 31, and his doctors said this weekend that he could die at “any minute”.

-AFP

Sickly Navalny Transferred To Prison Hospital Following Western Pressure

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny stands inside a glass cell during a court hearing at the Babushkinsky district court in Moscow on February 20, 2021. .
Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV / AFP

 

Russia’s penitentiary service on Monday said it was transferring ailing Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny to prison hospital, as the EU warned it would hold Moscow “responsible” for the state of his health.

The United States on Sunday threatened Russia with “consequences” if President Vladimir Putin’s major domestic opponent — who is on hunger strike — dies in jail after Navalny’s private doctors warned at the weekend he could pass away at “any minute”.

Russia’s prison authorities — which have barred Navalny’s own medical team from visiting him — said its doctors had decided to move him to a medical facility on the premises of another penal colony outside Moscow.

But the authorities insisted the jailed anti-corruption campaigner’s condition was “satisfactory”, and said he was taking vitamin supplements as part of medical treatment.

Fears over Navalny’s fate have added more fuel to soaring tensions between Moscow and the West over a buildup of Russian troops along the border with Ukraine and a spiraling diplomatic row with EU member state the Czech Republic.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the bloc held the Russian authorities “responsible for the health situation of Mr. Navalny” as foreign ministers from its 27 nations held virtual talks.

Borrell called his condition “very worrisome” and repeated demands that Moscow allows Navalny’s chosen team of doctors to inspect him.

Lithuania’s Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis pushed further, saying the bloc should prepare “a humanitarian mission” to fly him out of Russia for treatment.

“If the international community does not respond, the regime’s opposition leader will be sent silently to his death,” Landsbergis said.

Navalny, 44, was arrested in Russia in January after returning from a near-fatal nerve agent poisoning he says was carried out by Moscow — accusations denied by Putin’s administration.

Sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison for embezzlement, he began a hunger strike on March 31 demanding medical treatment for back pain and numbness to his hands and legs.

The EU in October sanctioned six Russian officials over the Novichok nerve agent attempt and in February sanctioned another four individuals over Navalny’s arrest and sentencing.

France’s Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Sunday those sanctions could be expanded.

Navalny’s supporters have called for a major protest across Russia on Wednesday to demand his release, hours after a state-of-the-nation address by Putin.

 

This handout picture provided by the Babushkinsky district court on February 12, 2021, shows Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, charged with defamation 
Handout / Moscow’s Babushkinsky district court press service / AFP

 

 ‘Red lines’

The fraught ties with Russia were set to dominate the agenda as EU foreign ministers hold their regular monthly meetings.

The top diplomats were also holding talks with Kiev’s foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba over the major military buildup by Russia along Ukraine’s borders and surge in clashes with Russian-backed separatists.

Borrell described the situation on Ukraine’s frontiers as “very dangerous” and called on Moscow to withdraw its troops.

Kiev has been battling Moscow-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine since 2014 and fighting intensified early this year, effectively shredding a ceasefire agreed last July.

Faced with the largest deployment of Russian troops on Ukraine’s borders since 2014, President Volodymyr Zelensky has requested more help from the West.

Lithuania’s Landsbergis insisted the bloc should show it is willing to impose sanctions if Moscow covers any more “red lines”.

European diplomats say that Poland is pushing for a green light to prepare a new round of sanctions targeting officials in the annexed Crimea peninsula over rights abuses.

EU foreign ministers are also set to be briefed on spiralling tensions between the Czech Republic and Russia.

Moscow on Sunday ordered out 20 Czech diplomats, a day after Prague announced it was expelling 18 Russian diplomats identified as secret agents of the SVR and GRU security services.

Czech authorities accused them of involvement in a deadly 2014 explosion on its soil at a military ammunition warehouse that killed two people.

Czech police said they were seeking two Russians in connection with the explosion and that the pair carried passports used by suspects in the poisoning of former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal in Britain in 2018.

-AFP

Navalny Team Sets April 21 For Russia Street Protests

This handout picture provided by the Babushkinsky district court on February 12, 2021, shows Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, charged with defaming a World War II veteran, standing inside a glass cell during a court hearing in Moscow. (Photo by Handout / Moscow’s Babushkinsky district court press service / AFP)

 

Aides to ailing Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, who is on hunger strike in prison, called on Russians on Sunday to take to the streets on Wednesday to help save his life.

“It’s to time to act. We are talking not just about Navalny’s freedom but his life,” Leonid Volkov said on Facebook as he urged Russians to turn out Wednesday evening, hours after President Vladimir Putin is to deliver his state of the nation address.

He said Wednesday’s rally could become a decisive battle against “absolute evil” or Russia’s last opposition rally for years to come.

“Call on all your acquaintances and take to central squares,” wrote Volkov, who heads Navalny’s regional offices, adding that Wednesday’s street protests should become massive.

“Don’t think that nothing depends on us.”

READ ALSO: Chelsea End Man City’s Quadruple Quest To Reach FA Cup Final

The announcement was released after Navalny’s doctors said on Saturday that the opposition politician’s health had rapidly deteriorated and he could go into cardiac arrest “any minute.”

“Our patient can die any minute,” one of Navalny’s doctors, cardiologist Yaroslav Ashikhmin said on Facebook on Saturday, pointing to his high potassium levels and saying Navalny should be moved to intensive care.

On March 31, Putin’s most prominent opponent went on hunger strike to demand proper medical treatment for back pain and numbness in his legs and hands.

File photo: Protesters march in support of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny in downtown Moscow on January 23, 2021. Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV / AFP

 

Navalny, 44, was imprisoned in February and is serving two-and-a-half years on old embezzlement charges in a penal colony in the town of Pokrov around 100 kilometres (60 miles) east of Moscow.

On Saturday, US President Joe Biden added his voice to a growing international chorus of protest at the treatment of the activist, describing his situation as “totally unfair”.

Navalny barely survived a poisoning with the Novichok nerve agent in August which he has blamed on the Kremlin. His doctors say his hunger strike might have exacerbated his condition.

Having blood potassium levels higher than 6.0 mmol (millimole) per litre usually requires immediate treatment. Navalny’s were at 7.1, the doctors said.

On Friday, Russian prosecutors asked a court to label Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation and the network of his regional offices as “extremist” organisations in a move that would outlaw them in Russia and could result in jail time for their members.

AFP

Russia Sentences Navalny Ally Over Threat To Alleged Agent

Opposition figure Lyubov Sobol walks away from a court building after being handed a one year community service suspended sentence over charges for trespassing and violence
Dimitar DILKOFF / AFP

 

A Russian court on Thursday sentenced an ally of jailed opposition politician Alexei Navalny to one year of community service for trying to enter the home of an alleged security agent he said took part in his poisoning. 

Navalny in December said he had tricked an alleged chemical weapons expert with the Federal Security Service (FSB) into admitting that the domestic intelligence agency had sought to kill him last summer by placing poison in his underwear.

His aide Lyubov Sobol that month went to the alleged agent’s home and rang his doorbell, after which Russian authorities opened a criminal probe into her for trespassing “with the use of violence or the threat to use it”.

A Moscow court said on its Telegram channel Thursday that it had given her a suspended sentence of “correctional labour for a period of one year”.

It added that 10 percent of her wages would go to the state each month as part of her punishment.

Sobol had arrived at the court wearing a white T-shirt printed with red text reading: “Where is the criminal case over the poisoning of Navalny?”

After her sentencing, she said on Twitter: “Meanwhile, a case into the attempted murder of Navalny has still not even been initiated.”

Navalny’s spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh said on Twitter that the ruling would not preclude Sobol from balloting in parliamentary polls this autumn.

Her lawyer Vladimir Voronin said on Twitter that he had already prepared an appeal to the ruling.

Last August, Navalny collapsed on a flight from Siberia to Moscow.

He was transported in an induced coma to Berlin, where Western experts determined he had been poisoned with the Soviet-era nerve agent Novichok.

Navalny says the poisoning was orchestrated by President Vladimir Putin and carried out by the FSB, claims the Kremlin has repeatedly denied.

After spending months recovering in Germany, Navalny returned to Russia in January where he was arrested and sentenced to two-and-a-half years in a penal colony over an old embezzlement conviction.

A Russian military court last month rejected his complaint about the lack of a criminal investigation into his poisoning.

Navalny, his allies, and his regional network routinely face police raids and arrests over their political activities.

Shortly after the Sobol sentencing, Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation said on Twitter that his regional offices in the Siberian city of Irkutsk were facing a police raid.

-AFP

Russian Prison Threatens To Force-Feed Navalny

This handout picture provided by the Babushkinsky district court on February 12, 2021, shows Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, charged with defaming a World War II veteran, standing inside a glass cell during a court hearing in Moscow. Handout / Moscow’s Babushkinsky district court press service / AFP

 

Russian prison officials are threatening to start force-feeding jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, his team said Monday, after he lost eight kilograms (18 pounds) since starting a hunger strike.

“Seeing the seriousness of the hunger strike, the administration is threatening every day to start force-feeding,” Navalny’s team said in a post on his Twitter account.

It said Navalny, who last week said he had a cough and fever, had been transferred back to the prison barracks from its infirmary.

READ ALSO: DR Congo Starts Countdown To End Of Ebola Outbreak

“They are still not allowing a doctor to see him,” it said.

The 44-year-old opposition politician now weighed 77 kilograms (169 pounds), it said, down from 85 kilograms (187 pounds) when he started the hunger strike on March 31.

Navalny, who barely survived a poisoning with nerve agent Novichok last August, began refusing food in protest at what he said was a lack of proper medical treatment in prison for severe back pain and numbness in his legs.

 

File photo: Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, charged with violating the terms of a 2014 suspended sentence for embezzlement, stands inside a glass cell during a court hearing in Moscow on February 2, 2021. Handout / Moscow City Court press service / AFP

 

Navalny, President Vladimir Putin’s best-known opponent, was arrested in mid-January when he returned to Russia from Germany, where he had been treated for the poisoning, and was sentenced to two and a half years in prison on old embezzlement charges in February.

Members of his defence team, who visited him in his penal colony in the town of Pokrov 100 kilometres (60 miles) east of Moscow last week, said he was also losing sensation in his hands.

Navalny’s lawyers and allies are demanding that he be transferred to a regular hospital. The Kremlin has said that Navalny is not entitled to any special treatment.

AFP

US Imposes Sanctions On Russia Security Chief Over Navalny Poisoning

File-COMBO-of-Alexei-Navalny-and-Alexander-Bortnikov.

 

The United States on Tuesday imposed sanctions on the director of Russia’s FSB security agency after finding it carried out the near-fatal poisoning of President Vladimir Putin’s leading critic Alexei Navalny.

The Treasury Department said that Alexander Bortnikov, who since 2008 has led the KGB’s successor, was one of seven senior Russian officials whose US assets will be frozen, with any US transactions with them subject to prosecution.

More to follow . . .

Moscow Appeal Court Upholds Navalny Prison Sentence

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny stands inside a glass cell during a court hearing at the Babushkinsky district court in Moscow on February 20, 2021. The Kremlin’s most prominent opponent Alexei Navalny faces two court decisions on Saturday that could seal a judge’s ruling to jail him for several years, after he returned to Russia following a poisoning attack.
Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV / AFP

 

 

A Moscow court on Saturday upheld a ruling to jail the Kremlin’s most prominent opponent Alexei Navalny, sealing his first lengthy prison sentence in a decade of legal battles with Russian authorities.

Judge Dmitry Balashov dismissed Navalny’s appeal against a recent decision to imprison him for violating the terms of a suspended sentence on embezzlement charges.

The anti-corruption campaigner was ordered on February 2 to serve the time in a penal colony for breaching parole terms while in Germany recovering from a nerve agent poisoning he blames on the Kremlin.

Navalny appeared in court Saturday inside a glass cage for defendants, wearing a plaid shirt, smiling, waving and flashing the V for victory symbol.

In a closing address that referenced the Bible and Harry Potter, Navalny said he had no doubts about his decision to return to Russia.

“The Bible says: ‘Blessed are those who hunger for righteousness, for they will be satisfied,'” he told the court.

“I have no regrets that I am back… I am satisfied that in a difficult moment I did not break this commandment.”

Quoting from a character in Harry Potter, he said it was “important not to feel alone” because that was what the series’ villain Voldemort wanted.

He described the legal process to jail him as “absurd” and called on Russians to take action to make the country a better place.

“Russia should be not only free, but also happy,” Navalny said.

Prosecutors lashed out at Navalny, saying he acted as if he was above the law and had “an exclusive right to do as he pleases”.

The judge on Saturday decided to count six weeks Navalny was under house arrest as part of the time served, so he will now be imprisoned for just over two-and-a-half years in a penal colony.

The ruling to sideline one of the most prominent players in Russian political life came just hours before Navalny was due in court again.

Prosecutors in a separate trial have called for him to be fined the equivalent of $13,000 for calling a World War II veteran a “traitor” on Twitter last year, with a verdict also expected Saturday.

They also asked for Navalny to be jailed on the same 2014 fraud conviction because the tweet was posted while he was serving the suspended sentence.

Supporters of the outspoken opposition figure say the cases against the 44-year-old are a pretext to silence his corruption exposes and quash his political ambitions.

– Western pressure for release –

The 94-year-old veteran at the centre of the defamation trial appeared in a video that Navalny derided for promoting constitutional reforms, passed last year, that could allow President Vladimir Putin to stay in power until 2036.

A series of theatrical hearings in the case ended Tuesday with Navalny asking if the judge could recommend a recipe for pickles, since it is “pointless to talk about the law” with her.

Russia has come under increasing Western pressure to release Navalny since he was detained on arrival at a Moscow airport in January.

He had spent months recovering in Germany from the attack with Novichok that he blames on the Kremlin. Russia has repeatedly denied involvement.

The arrest sparked large protests across the country that saw more than 10,000 people detained, while the European Union threatened to impose new sanctions on Moscow.

Europe’s rights court ruled this week that Russia must immediately release Navalny, a motion swiftly brushed aside by the justice ministry.

Navalny’s jailing has exacerbated a crisis in Moscow’s ties with the West that began with the annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.

EU foreign ministers, who are considering fresh sanctions, are due to meet with two top Navalny aides in Brussels on Sunday.

Navalny Back In Moscow Court On Defamation Charges

This handout picture provided by the Babushkinsky district court on February 12, 2021, shows Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, charged with defaming a World War II veteran, standing inside a glass cell during a court hearing in Moscow.
Handout / Moscow’s Babushkinsky district court press service / AFP

 

Russia’s main Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny was back in court Friday for allegedly defaming a World War II veteran, after being ordered to prison in another case that sparked global outrage and mass protests in his country.

The hearing came a little over one week after the 44-year-old opposition leader, a persistent thorn in President Vladimir Putin’s flesh, was sentenced to serve nearly three years in jail.

The anti-corruption campaigner appeared in a glass cage for defendants at Moscow’s Babushkinsky district court wearing his trademark blue hoodie, an AFP journalist reported.

Heavily-armed riot police surrounded the court and set up cordons outside.

Navalny is accused of describing people — including the 94-year-old veteran — who appeared in a video promoting Kremlin-backed constitutional reforms as “the shame of the country” and “traitors” last June.

The charges currently carry a maximum penalty of two years behind bars.

During a theatrical trial Friday, the opposition figure sparred with the judge and prosecutor and mocked the veteran’s grandson. The judge repeatedly reprimanded Navalny for his behaviour.

His lawyer Olga Mikhailova called on the court to allow media in the courtroom and accused the judge of bias, asking that she be removed from overseeing the hearing.

“Stop shaming yourself and enrol in some courses to improve your knowledge of the laws of the Russian Federation,” Navalny said.

Later, he again accused the veteran’s grandson of “selling out” his grandfather.

When the prosecutor began reading out the frail veteran’s testimony, the court heard a detailed description of his wartime experiences in Soviet-era Belarus.

When Navalny interjected, saying the veteran’s memoirs had nothing to do with the proceedings, the prosecutor continued to read.

“You took this unfortunate pensioner, using the fact that he doesn’t understand anything,” Navalny said.

The trial was adjourned with the next hearing scheduled for Tuesday, February 16.

Last week a different Moscow court turned Navalny’s 2014 suspended sentence into real jail time, ordering him to serve two years and eight months in prison.

His lawyers said Friday they had filed an appeal, which will be considered by a court on February 20.

Russia’s penitentiary service had accused Navalny of breaking the conditions of a suspended sentence for fraud by not checking in with authorities while he was recovering from a nerve agent poisoning attack in Germany — an attempt on his life that Navalny says was ordered by Putin.

Navalny’s arrest on arrival back in Russia last month sparked nationwide protests that saw more than 10,000 people detained and led to allegations of police abuse.

-AFP

Navalny Aides Push EU For New Russia Sanctions

This screen grab from a handout footage provided by the Babushkinsky district court on February 5, 2021, shows Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, charged with defaming a World War II veteran, looking from inside a glass cell during a court hearing in Moscow. Handout / Moscow's Babushkinsky district court press service / AFP
This screen grab from a handout footage provided by the Babushkinsky district court on February 5, 2021, shows Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, charged with defaming a World War II veteran, looking from inside a glass cell during a court hearing in Moscow. Handout / Moscow’s Babushkinsky district court press service / AFP

 

Aides of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny said they have pushed the EU to sanction prominent members of President Vladimir Putin’s circle including business tycoons to ramp up pressure on Russia.

The move comes after the tit-for-tat expulsion of several European and Russian diplomats as tensions run high over the Navalny affair.

The head of Navalny’s regional network Leonid Volkov and another associate, Vladimir Ashurkov, made the calls on Monday during a video conference with EU states dedicated to the bloc’s “next steps” on Russia.

The call was hosted by Poland and included envoys from the United States, Canada, Britain and Ukraine, Poland’s mission in the EU wrote on Twitter.

Volkov wrote on the Telegram messenger late Monday that he and Ashurkov had discussed “personal sanctions” against billionaires Roman Abramovich, the owner of Chelsea football club, and Alisher Usmanov.

He said they also named the head of Russian state bank VTB Andrey Kostin and television executive Konstantin Ernst, among others.

Any new sanctions on Russia imposed by the West would add to a wave of penalties slapped on Moscow by Washington and Brussels following the annexation of the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine in 2014.

Navalny and his team say that for the Kremlin to change its course, the West should introduce targeted sanctions against oligarchs close to Putin.

Volkov did not disclose whether the meeting resulted in concrete agreements, but said Navalny’s team will promote personal sanctions “in the coming weeks and months”.

He said that the proposed sanctions were in the interests of ordinary Russians.

– Valentine’s Day protest –

“It is hard to come up with something more patriotic; something that would be even more in the interests of Russia,” Volkov added.

The video call took place at a time of heightened tensions between the European Union and Russia, exacerbated by the arrest and jailing of Navalny.

Moscow on Friday expelled three European diplomats during a visit to Russia by EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, accusing them of taking part in protests in support of Navalny.

On Monday Germany, Sweden and Poland each ordered the removal of a Russian diplomat in retaliation.

EU foreign ministers have said they will debate punitive measures and possible sanctions against the Kremlin when they meet on February 22.

Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova on Tuesday called Navalny’s team “traitors” for holding talks with people “who see Russia either an adversary or an enemy or an aggressor”.

Vyacheslav Volodin, speaker of parliament’s lower house, has said that Moscow may introduce legislation holding criminally liable those calling for new sanctions against Russia.

Navalny was arrested on his arrival in Moscow in mid-January after recovering in Germany from a Novichok poisoning attack the West believes was ordered by the Kremlin.

He was jailed for nearly three years last week for violating parole conditions while in Germany.

Volkov on Tuesday called on Navalny’s sympathisers to show support Sunday evening by lighting phone flashlights outside their homes for 15 minutes.

“Love is stronger than fear,” he said on Facebook.