Saturday, October 25, 2014


The Power Vertical

The Race To Frame Navalny

Will Navalny win even if he loses in court?
Will Navalny win even if he loses in court?
Aleksei Navalny says he is prepared to go to prison. But he is also determined to make sending him there as painful and costly as possible for the Kremlin.

One round in Navalny's long-running battle with the Kremlin will be decided in a courtroom in Kirov Oblast, where the trial that could land him a 10-year sentence is scheduled to begin on April 17. In that venue the outcome is likely preordained.

But the enduring part of the Navalny saga, the part that will have potentially long-term political implications, will be determined in the hearts-and-minds struggle to define him in the public imagination.

And it is here where the crafty anticorruption blogger and opposition figure just might have an edge -- even as he is being smeared by the state-controlled media

Last week, Navalny posted all the case materials from his upcoming trial online and used his blog and Twitter feed to urge the public to make up its own mind about his guilt or innocence.

In a recent interview with "Moskovsky komsomolets," he made a point of stressing that he has lived in the same modest apartment his whole life, drives a simple car, and sends his children to ordinary public schools.

"This is the life of an ordinary Muscovite. And meanwhile they are telling fairy tales about how I stole millions," Navalny said.

Navalny himself says he's certain he will be convicted of organizing the theft of 10,000 metric tons of timber worth 16 million rubles ($520,000) from the state-owned KirovLes company. 

"The case is ridiculous," he told "Moskovsky komsomolets." "All the evidence for the prosecution is simultaneously our evidence too, from the payments to the wiretapping by the FSB. It is immediately clear from the wiretap that I am absolutely innocent."

The case dates back to 2009, when Navalny was an unpaid adviser to Kirov Governor Nikita Belykh. It has taken so many dizzying twists and turns that even somebody unfavorably disposed toward Navalny would have suspicions about the allegations' veracity.

Since the investigation was first launched in December 2011, it has been closed for lack of evidence and then reopened numerous times, most recently in April 2012 at the very public insistence of Navalny's arch-nemesis, Investigative Committee head Aleksandr Bastrykin.

But in the case's latest incarnation, individuals who previously testified against Navalny are suddenly being named as his co-conspirators.

"The Investigative Committee has no legal strategy. It has a PR strategy," Navalny told "Moskovsky komsomolets." "My defense against this PR is to post all the case materials on the Internet -- all the payments, all the bookkeeping."

The strategy is classic Navalny -- using his nimble online organizing skills and his army of devoted supporters to get his message out.

But it also represents something of a twist.

Up until now, Navalny excelled at this online looking-glass war by playing offense. He famously rebranded United Russia as "swindlers and thieves." He exposed Bastrykin's undeclared property in Europe and managed to dub Russia's top cop "Foreign Agent Bastrykin." He forced the issue of top officials' overseas properties into the national conversation.

But with his trial looming, and with state television certain to be repeating like a mantra that "Navalny stole 16 million," he now appears to be taking steps to define himself, to seize control of his own public image and narrative.

The authorities can, no doubt, get the verdict and the sentence they want from an expectedly obedient Kirov court -- the evidence notwithstanding.

But if they imprison Navalny even as he manages to convince a critical mass of the attentive public that he is innocent, his stature will only grow -- and take on the added glow of martyrdom.

In various interviews, including a recent one with "The New York Times," Navalny has suggested that the real goal of a conviction could be to legally disqualify him from running in the upcoming elections to the Moscow City Duma -- something he says he is planning on doing.

If that is the Kremlin's goal, he would likely receive a suspended sentence.

"If they give you a suspended 10-year sentence, you are sitting in a restaurant in Moscow fat and happy and cannot say the bloody regime ruined your life," he told "Moskovsky komsomolets." "But you cannot run for anything either."

But Navalny also doesn't rule out the possibility that he could be sent to prison. "There is a high probability that this will happen," he said. "The thought does not give me the slightest pleasure, but I have been ready for it for the past few years."

And even if he is sent to prison for a decade, Navalny says he believes time is on his side and he is certain that the regime will change before his term is up.

"The regime can extend and revive itself, but everyone has come to understand that it is doomed," he said. "Nevertheless, difficult times lie ahead for us for a year or two."

-- Brian Whitmore

Tags: Aleksei Navalny

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by: La Russophobe from: USA
April 04, 2013 11:18
"The regime can extend and revive itself, but everyone has come to understand that it is doomed. Nevertheless, difficult times lie ahead for us for a year or two."

Can't see how anyone could possibly take such pronouncements from Navalny seriously. He said he'd force a new Duma election. It did not happen. He said he'd force Putin into a runoff election. it did not happen. He said he'd bring a million or more protesters to the streets. It did not happen. What did happen is that the "party of crooks" and Putin easily won and held continuing power and the demonstrations withered to nothing. Navalny has never made any rational, sourced argument that Putin's government will topple, and the only apparent basis for that to happen would be a dramatic drop in oil prices, such as happened in 2008 but even worse. That would have nothing whatsoever to do with either Navalny's efforts or the failings of Putin.

If Navalny does go to jail, who is his successor? Like Lenin, Navalny has foolishly failed to name one. Will he become a martyr to his small group of followers? Maybe. But so did Khodorkovsky, and that hasn't changed either Khodorkovsky's fate or Russia's one single bit.

But Navalny going to jail and failing to name a successor could be a good thing for Russia. I would force the opposition movement to look elsewhere for leadership, something they've proven unable to do despite Navalny's repeated failures of leadership. If a new more competent leader were to be found, it might end up appearing that going to jail was the best thing Navalny ever did for his country.

Brian, I can't help but mention that although I don't believe Navalny is guilty of the "crime" he's charged with almost nobody in Russia is free of corruption entirely, and your article seems dangerously close to prejudging Navalny innocent even as it complains the Kremlin has prejudged him guilty. That's regrettable. At least for appearances, one should await the outcome of a trial before condemning it.

by: Ray F. from: Lawrence, KS
April 04, 2013 13:08
LR brings up some good points and Putin’s popularity continues to remain strong. One might like to believe that Navalny’s arrest could spark off a larger conflagration, but the ‘Russian timber’ does not appear to be sufficiently dried out. Then again, who knows? I was surprised to see the video of the family/friend support of Bolotnaya participant, Dennis Luskeyvich on Navalny’s blog. Should Navalny somehow gather the support of the disaffected military, the political equation regarding the impact of his arrest might change.

p.s. why has RFE removed most of the comment section from their web page? This was often the most interesting feature.

by: Ben
April 05, 2013 11:06
They say every nation has leaders it deserves.Putin, appeared out of the ranks of KGB and is not the worst member of it.If Navalny will some time appear as the Russian president, he will be the first president who participated in fascist marches.

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17:49 October 24, 2014

EVENING NEWS ROUNDUP

From RFE/RL's News Desk:

PUTIN ACCUSES UNITED STATES OF 'UNILATERAL DIKTAT'

Russian President Vladimir Putin has accused the United States of escalating conflicts around the world by imposing what he called a "unilateral diktat."

Putin made the remarks in a combative speech to political experts at the Valdai International Discussion Club, in Russia's Black Sea resort of Sochi.

Putin said the United States has been "fighting against the results of its own policy" in Iraq, Libya and Syria.

He said risks of serious conflicts involving major countries have risen, as well as risks of arms treaties being violated.

He also dismissed international sanctions over Russia's actions in Ukraine as a "mistake," saying they aimed at pushing Russia into isolation and would end up "hurting everyone."

We did not start this," he added, referring to rising tensions between Russia and the West.

(Based on reporting by Reuters, AP, Interfax, TASS)

MERKEL URGES PUTIN TO SOLVE UKRAINIAN GAS DISPUTE

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has urged Russian President Vladimir Putin in a telephone call to push for a quick resolution of the ongoing gas dispute with Ukraine as winter looms.

The call by Merkel to Putin on October 24 comes as representatives of the EU, Russia, and Ukraine are due to meet again next week in EU brokered talks aimed at solving the gas dispute between Kyiv and Moscow.

Merkel also underlined that upcoming elections in areas of eastern Ukraine controlled by Russian-backed separatists must respect Ukrainian national law.

Pro-Russian insurgent leaders are boycotting a parliamentary snap poll on October 26 in Ukraine and are holding their own election in the Lugansk and Donetsk regions, home to nearly three million people, on the same day instead.

(Based on reporting by AFP and Reuters)

UNHCR SAYS MORE THAN 800,000 DISPLACED IN UKRAINE CONFLICT

By RFE/RL

The United Nations says the conflict in Ukraine has forced more than 800,000 people from their homes.

Around 95 percent of displaced people come from eastern Ukraine, where government troops have been battling pro-Russian separatists.

UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, told a briefing in Geneva that an estimated 430,000 people were currently displaced within Ukraine -- 170,000 more than at the start of September.

It said at least 387,000 other people have asked for refugee status, temporary asylum, or other forms of residency permits in Russia.

Another 6,600 have applied for asylum in the European Union and 581 in Belarus.

The agency said it was "racing to help some of the most vulnerable displaced people" as winter approaches.

It also said the number of displaced people is expected to rise further due to ongoing fighting in eastern Ukraine.

THREE ALLEGED MILITANTS KILLED IN NORTH CAUCASUS

Three alleged militants have been killed by security forces in Russia's volatile North Caucasus region.

Russia's National Antiterrorism Committee says that two suspects were killed in the village of Charoda in Daghestan on October 24 after they refused to leave an apartment and opened fire at police and security troops.

One police officer was wounded.

Also on October 24, police in another North Caucasus region, Kabardino-Balkaria, killed a suspected militant after he refused to identify himself, threw a grenade towards police, and opened fire with a pistol.

A police officer was wounded in that incident.

Violence is common in Russia's North Caucasus region, which includes the restive republics of Daghestan, Kabardino-Balkaria, Ingushetia, and Chechnya.

Islamic militants and criminal groups routinely target Russian military personnel and local officials.

(Based on reporting by Interfax and TASS)

MOSCOW LAWYER IN HIGH PROFILE ORGANIZED CRIME CASE KILLED

A lawyer, who represented an alleged victim of the notorious Orekhovo criminal group in Moscow, has been assassinated.

Police in the Russian capital say that Vitaly Moiseyev and his wife were found dead with gunshot wounds in a car near Moscow on October 24.

Moiseyev was representing Sergei Zhurba, an alleged victim of the Orekhovo gang and a key witness in a case against one of the gang's leaders Dmitry Belkin.

Belkin was sentenced to life in prison on October 23 for multiple murders and extortion.

Last month, another of Zhurba's lawyers, Tatyana Akimtseva (eds: a woman), was shot dead by unknown individuals.

The Orekhovo group was one of the most powerful crime gangs of the Moscow region and in Russia in the 1990s. Its members are believed to be responsible for dozens of murders.

(Based on reporting by TASS and Interfax)

17:27 October 24, 2014

LITTLE GREES VOTERS, ANYONE?

17:26 October 24, 2014

SPY VS. SPY

17:00 October 24, 2014
08:29 October 24, 2014

MORNING NEWS ROUNDUP

From RFE/RL's News Desk:

UKRAINIAN PM WARNS OF RUSSIAN DESTABILIZATION OF ELECTIONS

Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk is warning that Russia could attempt to disrupt Ukraine's parliamentary elections scheduled for October 26.

Yatsenyuk told a meeting of top security officials and election monitors on October 23 that "It is absolutely clear that attempts to destabilize the situation will continue and will be provoked by Russia."

Yatsenyuk said "we are in a state of Russian aggression and we have before us one more challenge -- to hold parliamentary elections."

The prime minister said Ukraine needs the "full mobilization of the entire law-enforcement system to prevent violations of the election process and attempts at terrorist acts during the elections."

Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said authorities have ordered some 82,000 policemen on duty for election day.

He said 4,000 members of a special reaction force would be among those maintaining order during polling hours and would be concentrated in "those precincts where there is a risk of some terrorist acts or aggressive actions by some...candidates."

The warning by Yatsenyuk comes on the heels of three violent attacks on parliamentary candidates in the past week.

The latest, against Volodymyr Borysenko, a member of Yatsenyuk's People's Front Party, occurred on October 20 when Borysenko was shot at and had an explosive thrown at him.

He allegedly survived the attack only because he was wearing body armor due to numerous death threats he had recently received.

Elections to the Verkhovna Rada, the parliament, will be held despite continued fighting in the eastern part of the country between Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russian separatists.

Voting will not take place in 14 districts of eastern Ukraine currently under the control of the separatists.

Those separatist-held areas -- in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions -- are planning on holding their own elections in November.

Additionally, Russia's illegal annexation of Crimea in March means the loss of 12 seats from the 450-seat parliament.

Polls show President Petro Poroshenko's party leading with some 30 percent of respondents saying they would cast their vote for the Petro Poroshenko Bloc.

It that percentage holds on election day it would mean Poroshenko's bloc would have to form a coalition government, likely with nationalist groups who oppose conducting peace talks over fighting in the east.

(Based on reporting by Reuters and Interfax)

RUSSIA DENIES ESTONIAN AIRSPACE VIOLATIONS

By RFE/RL

Moscow has denied claims of an incursion by a Russian military plane into Estonia's airspace.

A Russian Defense Ministry spokesman told Interfax news agency on October 23 that the Ilyushin-20 took off from Khrabrovo airfield in the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad on October 21.

The spokesman said the reconnaissance plane flew "over neutral waters of the Baltic Sea" while on a training flight.

On October 22, Estonia’s Foreign Ministry summoned the Russian ambassador in Tallinn, Yury Merzlakov, after the Estonian military said the Russian plane had entered its air space.

In a statement, NATO said the Ilyushin-20 was first intercepted by Danish jets when it approached Denmark, before flying toward non-NATO member Sweden.

Intercepted by Swedish planes, the alliance said the Ilyushin entered Estonian airspace for “less than one minute” and was escorted out by Portuguese jets.

NATO has stepped up its Baltic air patrols and Moscow has been accused of several recent border violations in the region amid heightened tensions between Russia and the West over the Ukraine conflict.

Last month, Estonia accused Russia of abducting one of its police officers on the border.

Russia claims Eston Kohver was seized inside Russia on September 5, while Estonian officials say he was captured at gunpoint in Estonia near the border and taken to Russia.

The European Union and United States have called for the immediate release of the Estonian security official, who is facing espionage charges in Russia.

Meanwhile, the Swedish Navy has been searching for a suspected submarine sighted six days ago some 50 kilometers from the capital, Stockholm, although it said on October 22 it was pulling back some of its ships.

Swedish officials have not linked any particular country to the suspected intrusion and Moscow has denied involvement.

(With reporting by Interfax, TASS, and the BBC)

RUSSIAN COURT POSTPONES RULING ON OIL FIRM BASHNEFT

A Moscow court postponed to next week a ruling on a move to take control of Bashneft, an oil company from tycoon Vladimir Yevtushenkov.

The judge said on October 23 that the next hearing will take place on October 30 after the prosecution requested more time to prepare its case.

Prosecutors filed the suit in September to regain state ownership of Bashneft, citing alleged violations in the privatization and subsequent sale of the company to AFK Sistema investment group.

Yevtushenkov, the main shareholder of the conglomerate, is under house arrest on suspicion of money laundering during the firm's acquisition in 2009.

Yevtushenkov, 66, was arrested on September 16.

He is ranked Russia's 15th richest man by U.S. magazine Forbes, with an estimated fortune of $9 billion.

(Based on reporting by Reuters and TASS)

11:11 October 23, 2014

THERE IS NO RUSSIA WITHOUT PUTIN?

According to a report in the pro-Kremlin daily "Izvestia," deputy Kremlin chief of staff Vyacheslav Volodin told a meeting of the Valdai Discussion Club in Sochi that Western politicians "do not understand the essence of Russia."

"Volodin stated the key thesis about the current state of our country: As long as there is Putin there is Russia. If there is no Putin, there is no Russia," Konstantin Kostin, head of the Foundation for the Development of Civil Society, told "Izvestia."

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The Power Vertical is a blog written especially for Russia wonks and obsessive Kremlin watchers by Brian Whitmore. It covers emerging and developing trends in Russian politics, shining a spotlight on the high-stakes power struggles, machinations, and clashing interests that shape Kremlin policy today. Check out The Power Vertical Facebook page or