Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny arrested, declares Putin ‘the Underwear Poisoner’
MOSCOW (RUSSIA) – A Russian court jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny on Tuesday, by evading the West in a ruling. The opposition politician blamed President Vladimir Putin for his hatred and fear of him.
The Moscow court sentenced Navalny to a three-and-a-half-year punishment, but his lawyer said the anti-corruption blogger would have to actually serve two years and eight months in jail, as he has already spent time under house arrest.
His lawyers said they would appeal.
The decision, which was followed by nationwide protests calling for Navalny’s release, will further make relations worse with the West, which is looking into imposing sanctions on Russia over its handling of the case.
The United States, Britain, Germany and the EU urged Moscow to immediately set Navalny free, with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken saying Washington would work closely with allies to make Russia answerable.
Russia has implied that Navalny is a CIA asset, a charge he has denied, and said the West must keep away from its domestic affairs.
Navalny said Russian state security agents had applied the poison in his underpants, which the Kremlin dismissed. He used Tuesday’s hearing to try to frame Putin’s place in history.
“(Putin’s) only method is killing people. However much he pretends to be a great geo-politician, he’ll go down in history as a poisoner. There was Alexander the Liberator, Yaroslav the Wise, and Putin the Underwear Poisoner,” said Navalny.
His supporters, on hearing the ruling, encouraged people to meet in central Moscow despite riot police already taking up their position. The Moscow metro shut down three central stations.
Some of them chanted, “Putin is a thief!” and “Putin is a poisoner!”
After his arrest, Navalny launched a YouTube video making accusations about Putin’s wealth, which garnered views of over 100 million times. The Kremlin said it was false.
Tuesday’s hearing focused on Navalny’s alleged parole violations over a suspended sentence in a 2014 embezzlement case, according to Navalny was trumped up.
Navalny, in a fiery speech to the court, alleged he was going to be arrested due to Putin’s concerns about him as a political rival, However, belittling this accusation by Navalny, Kremlin referred to him as a marginal figure without wide popular support.
“Someone did not want me to take a single step on my country’s territory as a free man. And we know who and we know why – the hatred and fear of one man, living in a bunker, whom I offended by surviving when he tried to have me killed,” Navalny, 44, told the court from inside a glass cage.
After the verdict was read out, Yulia, his wife, waved to her husband before giving him a shrug. Navalny shouted: “Don’t worry. Everything will be ok.”
Putin, who the Kremlin said was not following the Navalny hearing as he was busy with affairs of state. It said in December that reports the Russian state had poisoned Navalny were part of a US-backed plot to attempt to discredit him.
Putin said Moscow would have made sure to complete the job if its intention was to have Navalny dead.
Navalny said the conviction, which was criticised by the European Court of Human Rights at the time, was politically motivated.
A prison service representative told the court that Navalny had breached public order many times after being handed the suspended sentence and had not systematically reported in.
Navalny told the court he had been unable to report to the prison service at the end of last year, as he was recovering in Germany after being poisoned. The prison service said its complaints were before his poisoning and that Navalny had in any case been well enough have meet-up with journalists after being discharged from a Berlin hospital in September.
Navalny, already serving a 30-day detention sentence in connection with the same case, told the court: “On what grounds are you saying you didn’t know where I was? You’re misleading the court”.