Monday, November 24, 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

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
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.

The Power Vertical Feed

In this space, I will regularly comment on events in Russia, repost content and tweets I find interesting and informative, and shamelessly promote myself (and others, whose work I like). The traditional Power Vertical Blog remains for larger and more developed items. The Podcast, of course, will continue to appear every Friday. I hope you find the new Power Vertical Feed to be a useful resource and welcome your feedback. More

19:16 November 21, 2014

POWER VERTICAL PODCAST: A YEAR OF LIVING DANGEROUSLY

On this week's Power Vertical Podcast, we use the one-year anniversary of the Euromaidan uprising to look at how it changed both Ukraine and Russia. My guests are Sean Guillory and Alexander Motyl.

09:14 November 21, 2014
09:11 November 21, 2014

AND AS TENSIONS RISE IN THE BALTICS...

09:09 November 21, 2014

MORNING NEWS ROUNDUP

From RFE/RL's News Desk:

UKRAINE MARKS START OF EUROMAIDAN PROTESTS WITH NEW HOLIDAY
By RFE/RL
Ukrainians are marking a new national holiday on November 21 -- the anniversary of the start of Kyiv’s Euromaidan protests that led to the ouster of the country’s former pro-Kremlin regime.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko signed decree on November 13 that declared the holiday for annual “Day of Dignity and Freedom” celebrations.
The protests began with a few hundred people who met spontaneously on a vast square in central Kyiv of November 21, 2013 – disappointed by then-President Viktor Yanukovych’s rejection of a landmark deal with the European Union in favor of closer ties with Russia.
After that first night, as the protests quickly swelled to tens of thousands of demonstrators, brutal police efforts to disperse the crowds with batons and teargas backfired.
As the crowds got bigger, the protesters began to call for Yanukovych’s ouster – which came in February 2014 after more than 100 people were killed in clashes with police that failed to end the demonstrations.

BIDEN TO MEET UKRAINIAN LEADERS, ANNOUNCE NONLETHAL U.S. AID
By RFE/RL
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden was expected to announce an increase in nonlethal U.S. military assistance to Ukraine on November 21 as he meets in Kyiv with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk.
The talks come on the first anniversary of the start of the Euromaidan protests in Kyiv that toppled Ukraine's former pro-Kremlin regime.
As Biden arrived in Kyiv on the evening of November 20, U.S. officials told reporters that he will announce the delivery of Humvee transport vehicles that are now in the Pentagon’s inventory of excess supplies.
They said Biden also would announce the delivery of previously promised radar units that can detect the location of enemy mortars.
The U.S. officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, did not specify a dollar value for the assistance. 
Russia on November 20 warned the United States not to supply weapons to Ukrainian forces.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Lukashevich cautioned against "a major change in policy of the (U.S.) administration in regard to the conflict" in Ukraine. 
He was commenting on remarks by U.S. President Barack Obama's choice to fill the number two spot at the State Department, Anthony Blinken, who told a congressional hearing on November 19 that lethal assistance "remains on the table. It's something that we're looking at."
The U.S. State Department's Director of Press Relations Jeffrey Rathke on November 20 told reporters that "our position on lethal aid hasn't changed. Nothing is off the table and we continue to believe there's no military solution."
He added, "But, in light of Russia's actions as the nominee mentioned [on November 19] in his testimony, as he indicated, this is something that we should be looking at."
The aid expected to be announced by Biden on November 20 falls short of what the Ukrainian president requested during a visit to Washington in September when he appealed for lethal aid - a request echoed by some U.S. lawmakers in response to what NATO allies say is Russia's movement of tanks and troops into eastern Ukraine.
In September, Washington promised Ukraine $53 million in aid for military gear that includes the mortar detection units, body armor, binoculars, small boats, and other nonlethal equipment for Ukrainian security forces and border guards in the east.
The United States and its European allies have imposed several rounds of economic sanctions on Russia for its seizure of Crimea and incursion into eastern Ukraine.
(With reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, dpa, and TASS)

RUSSIAN OLYMPIAN CHARGED WITH SPOUSAL ABUSE IN UNITED STATES
Russian Olympian hockey player Slava Voynov – who plays with the Los Angeles Kings NHL hockey team – has been charged with felony domestic violence against his wife.
Voynov faces one felony count of spouse abuse with a maximum penalty of nine years in prison. If convicted, he also could be deported.
Prosecutors say Voynov “caused his wife to suffer injuries to her eyebrow, check, and neck” during an argument at their home in October.
Voynov has been suspended from the NHL since his arrest early on October 20 at a California hospital where he took his wife for treatment.
Voynov’s attorney, Craig Renetzky, says his client didn’t hit his wife.
Renetzky blames the charges on a misunderstanding between police and Voynov’s wife, who speaks very little English.
Voynov – who played on Russia’s team at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics -- faces arraignment on December 1.
(Based on reporting by AP and Reuters)

NATO: RUSSIAN ACTIVITY IN BALTICS POSES RISK
NATO says Russia's growing military presence in the skies above the Baltic region is unjustified and poses a risk to civil aviation.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said in Tallinn on November 20 that the aircraft regularly fail to file flight plans or communicate with air controllers and also fly with their transponders off.
Speaking at the Amari air base, he said alliance fighters have intercepted planes more than 100 times in the Baltic region alone so far this year, a threefold increase over 2013. 
He did not say how many of the intercepted aircraft were Russian.
Stoltenberg also said that, overall, NATO aircraft have conducted 400 intercepts to protect the airspace of its European alliance members in 2014 -- an increase of 50 percent over last year.
(Based on reporting by AP and AFP)

 

16:55 November 19, 2014

MORE ON THE SOURCES OF RUSSIAN ANTI-AMERICANISM

Konstantin Eggert has a commentary in "Kommersant" on Russia's anti-Americanism. He opens like this:

"Sometimes I have this feeling that there are only two countries in the world - Russia and the United States. Of course, there is Ukraine, but it either to join us or the Americas. Russian politicians and state television are constantly in search of the 'American hand' in all spheres of our life. In Soviet times, the United States was formally considered to be our number one military and ideological enemy. But even then it didn't occupy such a large space in the minds of the political leadership and citizens. And the paradox is that, on one hand, officials and the media regularly talk about the decline of America as a great power, and on the other declare it to be the source of all evil in the world. This contradiction does not seem to disturb anybody."

And closes like this:

We still have not been able to use the opportunity that we were given with the collapse of the communist regime - to arrange our lives based on liberty and civic virtue. And today, we, as a people, want to go back to the starting point, to beat everyone. And the Soviet Union, with its absence of sausage and freedom, again suddenly seems sweet and dear. But it won't happen. I will put it banally: you can't go into the same river twice.

Read the whole thing here (in Russian, with audio)

15:53 November 19, 2014

UNDERSTANDING THE INFORMATION WAR

MIchael Weiss, editor-in-chief of The Interpreter magazine, appearing on Hromadske TV to talk about Russia's information war.

Michael and Peter Pomarantsev recently co-authored an excellent report "The Menace of Unreality: How the Kremlin Weaponizes Information, Culture, and Money." Both also appeared recently on The Power Vertical Podcast to discuss the report.

15:42 November 19, 2014

WHY IS PUTIN PICKING A FIGHT WITH THE U.S.?

Oleg Kosyrev has a snarky and clever blog post on the subject up on the Ekho Moskvy website. 

1) The United States is the ideal opponent. "It is big and strong and your self-esteem increases when you fight somebody really influential."

2) The United States is not fighting with Russia. "They aren't really interested. They have enough of their own problems and dreams. It's nice to fight somebody who is not fighting you."

3) It is a substitute for the authorities' inability to benefit Russians. "How convenient. Who is to blame for rising food and gas prices? The U.S.A.. Who is to blame for the fact that Russian has political prisoners? The U.S.A. Who is to blame for people demonstrating on the streets? The U.S.A. Who is to blame for the fact that independent international courts denounce the Russian court system? The U.S.A. You can even blame the U.S. for the fact that the light doesn't work in the entrance to your apartment building."

Read it all (in Russian) here.

15:23 November 19, 2014

UKRAINE SAYS MHI7 SHOT DOWN BY RUSSIAN CREW

14:47 November 19, 2014

AFTERNOON NEWS ROUNDUP: THE SEQUEL

From RFE/RL's News Desk:

KYIV, WEST SAY RUSSIA CANNOT BAR UKRAINE FROM NATO

Ukraine says it will not tolerate pressure from any other country over whether or not it seeks to join NATO.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Yevhen Perebyynis spoke made the remark to reporters in Kyiv on November 19, after the BBC quoted Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying in an interview that Moscow wants "a 100 percent guarantee that no-one would think about Ukraine joining NATO."

Hitting back with a reference to Russia's annexation of Crimea and support for pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, Perebyynis said Kyiv would like guarantees that Moscow will not interfere in Ukraine's internal affairs, send in troops, or annex Ukrainian territories. 

The U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt, told journalists on November 19 that any decision on seeking to join NATO could be made only by the Ukrainian people, not by Russia, Europe, ar the United States.

The Canadian Ambassador to Ukraine, Roman Waschuk, made a similar statement on November 19.

(Based on reporting by UNIAN and Interfax)

PUTIN TELLS U.S. ENVOY TIES MUST BE BASED ON EQUALITY

President Vladimir Putin says that Russia is ready for cooperation with the United States as long as Washington treats Moscow as an equal, respect its interests, and refrains from interfering in its affairs.

Putin spoke November 19 at a Kremlin ceremony during which he received the credentials of foreign envoys including John Tefft, the new U.S. Ambassador to Moscow.

Putin said, "We are ready for practical cooperation with our American partners in various fields, based on the principles of respect for each other's interests, equal rights and non-interference in internal matters." 

The remark echoed a formula Putin set out in a foreign policy decree at the start of his third term in 2012.

Tefft, 64, is a career diplomat who previously served as U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Georgia and Lithuania. 

His posting starts at a time when ties are badly strained over the Ukraine crisis. 

Tefft replaces Michael McFaul, who was ambassador from January 2012 until February 2014. 

(Based on reporting by Reuters and TASS)

RUSSIA SAYS 2010 NUCLEAR ARMS PACT STILL IN RUSSIA'S INTERESTS

By RFE/RL

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has signaled that a landmark nuclear arms treaty with the United States is not in jeopardy despite severe tension over Ukraine.

Speaking to Russian lawmakers on November 19, Lavrov said the 2010 New START treaty "meets our basic strategic interests and, on condition of its observance by the United States, we are interested in its full implementation."

The treaty, one of the main products of President Barack Obama's first-term "reset" of ties with Russia, requires Russia and the United States to have their long-range nuclear arsenals under specific ceilings by 2018.

But Lavrov said the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty, which President Vladimir Putin suspended in 2007, is "dead" for Moscow. 

NATO has refused to ratify a revised version of the CFE treaty without a full withdrawal of Russian troops from Moldova and Georgia.

Latest Podcasts

About This Blog

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