Conflict Alerts # 234, 4 February 2021
In the news
On 2 February, a Moscow City Court declared Alexy Navalny guilty of breaking the terms of an earlier case from 2014. He was initially sentenced to three-and-a-half years; since, he had failed to regularly report to the Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN), the Court has stated that his excuse for non-appearance as insufficient, converting his suspended judgement into a real one.
On 2 February, public protests followed the arrest; an additional 1,400 people have been detained.
Issues at large
First, Russia's approach to Navalny. He is considered Putin's harshest critic and is in a personal battle with Russia's leadership. During the court session, he has called President Vladimir Putin a "poisoner", blaming the latter for the attack against him in August 2020. With the arrest now and the detention of the majority of Navalny's colleagues from the anti-corruption party, Russia has taken a firm stance to suppress the movement against him.
Second, domestic and international support for the release of Navalny. On 23 January, 3,900 people were detained after thousands of demonstrators turned up in over 100 cities demanding his release. Last Sunday (31 January), the protests continued. Protests erupted on the day of his arrest where videos of the police beating the protesters emerged on social media and the protesters were heavily outnumbered by the security forces who were seen in helmets and body armours. Navalny has millions of fans across Russia for his criticism of Putin and the United Russia Party. Internationally, Australia, Germany and the UK have raised concerns over the rationale behind his arrests. Boris Johnson called the court ruling "pure cowardice," on Twitter. The Council of Europe stated that the judgement "defied all credibility." However, Russia upholds its 'foreign interference' argument towards the protests.
Third, the Yves Rocher case. In 2014, Navalny was found guilty for embezzling 30 million roubles from two companies, including the cosmetic company Yves Rocher, and was sentenced for three and a half years. He is said to have already served up to 10 months in house arrest. For years he led nationwide protests against the ruling party, but in 2018 he was barred from challenging Mr Putin at the ballot box, because of the court conviction for embezzlement.
The leadership in Russia would want to keep Alexy Navaly in jail for as long as possible to suppress the movement against President Putin. The immediate priority would be to ensure Navalny can no longer organize/ call for unauthorized street protests against his arrest or the corruption. The enthusiasm of the demonstrations has already seen a downfall and can be expected to fizzle out in the following weeks. The Russian government is seen determined to crack down on the situation before it expands further.