Wednesday, August 31, 2016

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

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
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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The Power Vertical is a blog written especially for Russia wonks and obsessive Kremlin watchers by Brian Whitmore. It offers Brian's personal take on 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