Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The Power Vertical

The Trial Of The Decade

Russian Opposition Leader Says Putin Wants Him Jailedi
|| 0:00:00
April 16, 2013
Two days before the start of his trial for embezzlement, Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny claimed he will be found guilty in a falsified case that will be decided personally by President Vladimir Putin, whom Navalny accuses of defending corrupt officials stealing billions of dollars. Navalny is a 36-year-old anticorruption blogger who was one of the leaders of the biggest opposition protests seen during the Putin era late last year. His trial starts on April 17. (Reuters video)
WATCH: Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny says President Vladimir Putin wants him jailed
It's always interesting when officials get caught telling the truth.

In a recent interview with the pro-Kremlin daily "Izvestia," Investigative Committee spokesman Vladimir Markin pretty much admitted that the criminal case against anticorruption blogger Aleksei Navalny is politically motivated.

"When somebody is constantly attracting attention to himself and even mocking the authorities, claiming he is so pure, then interest in his past increases and the process of exposing it is accelerated," Markin said.

Navalny's trial on charges that, while working as an unpaid advisor to Kirov Governor Nikita Belykh, he organized the theft of 16 million rubles from a state-owned timber company is set to begin on April 17.

Navalny has dismissed the charges as "ridiculous" and, in an effort to make a public case for his innocence, posted all the case materials online. 

"There are bank documents, and we show those documents to everybody: to the investigation, to the public, to everyone. And everybody, apart from the investigation… said, 'oh God this has been totally fabricated.' But the investigation is not interested in this," Navalny said in an interview with Reuters

The fact that the Kremlin has decided to go ahead and prosecute a case against Navalny that has been dropped numerous times due to lack of evidence is a sign of the times. Like the prosecution of Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky a decade ago, it has the potential to be an era-defining event.

"It may not be the trial of the century, but it could be the trial of the decade in terms of defining what is going to happen [in the coming years]," Mark Galeotti, a professor at New York University and author of the blog "In Moscow's Shadows," said recently on the Power Vertical podcast.

Indeed, Navalny's trial could turn out to be the mirror image of the 2003 Khodorkovsky case, which helped consolidate and strengthen Vladimir Putin's ruling elite by sending a message that politically uncooperative tycoons would be dealt with harshly.

Khodorkovsky's prosecution also played well with the public, which was weary of the wild capitalism of the 1990s and supportive of cracking down on the oligarchs who defined that era.

The Navalny case is doing the opposite. It is fracturing the elite and sending a message that the Kremlin is desperate and frightened of a blogger with a cult following who made his name exposing graft in high places.

"Navalny is a far far more dangerous enemy/victim for the state than any they've taken on so far," Galeotti said.

"In prison, Khodorkovsky has been able to reinvent himself as a liberal martyr, but at the time [of his prosecution] he was just one more of these arrogant get-rich-quick oligarchs. [Here] you have a very weak case and you've got a Kremlin with less credibility."

Navalny, Galeotti adds "is not a man who enriched himself obscenely, this is a man who has gone after corrupt officials." Moreover, the trial will give the PR-savvy Navalny "the platform to create his own narrative" and define himself before the public.

In fact, he is already doing so. In media interviews he has showcased his modest lifestyle. He has stressed that he will continue to expose corruption, even if he has to do it from behind bars. And he recently admitted that he wanted to someday seek the presidency to continue his antigraft fight and change the way that Russia is ruled.

And he is seeking to frame the trial as a David and Goliath showdown, pitting an honest blogger against Putin's overbearing Kremlin monolith, which "will destroy anybody who opposes Putin being a lifelong president."

And at least publicly, he appears to be accepting the inevitability of a guilty verdict and the possibility of a long prison sentence stoically.

"I understood that this would happen," he told Reuters. "I perfectly understood that I was fighting against people who stole billions and have seized power in a vast country. And I understood that these people would defend their right to steal those billions. And they will not give up just like that."

Navalny's case is about to join last year's Pussy Riot trial and the ongoing prosecutions of the May 6, 2012 protestors on Bolotnaya Square as defining events of Putin's third term in the Kremlin.

And if the 2003 Khodorkovsky trial, regardless of its merits, showcased a confident and ascendant regime, these cases are exposing one that is exhausted, frightened, and increasingly desperate.

-- Brian Whitmore

Tags: Aleksei Navalny

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Da Russophile from: Mordor
April 16, 2013 18:23
"In a recent interview with the pro-Kremlin daily "Izvestia," Investigative Committee spokesman Vladimir Markin pretty much admitted that the criminal case against anticorruption blogger Aleksei Navalny is politically motivated."

I know that many media outlets are saying the same, but repeating it in lockstep won't make it so. Here is what Markin *actually* said:

Interviewer: But if the case didn’t have Navalny, then, probably, the case itself wouldn’t exist?

Vladimir Markin, IC spokesman: Perhaps, it would not have happened so quickly, because unfortunately the numbers and energy of our investigators are quite limited. In an ordinary case of embezzlement and misappropriation perhaps our hands wouldn’t have reached in so quickly. But if the person in question draws attention to himself with all his strength, or we can even say, teases authority – saying that oh I am so white and flawless, then the interest in his past increases and the process of exposing it to the sunlight, understandably, accelerates.

That is not a equivalent to saying that the prosecution is "politically motivated." What he is saying is that Navalny's high profile and taunting of business drew attention to and interest in his past faster than it otherwise would have.
In Response

by: Marko from: USA
April 18, 2013 11:38
I don't think this thing is going to turn out to be terribly important. Navalny is the darling of the elements of the US media that cover Russia-- that is about it. Most Russians don't even know who he is, and most of those who do know who he is don't like him. I've listened to the tapes in the case. My Russian is a tad rusty, but I would say that those tapes don't make him sound very ethical but also don't necesasarily show that he committed a crime (at least according to my understanding of business law principles). I honestly don't know whether he did anything or not... I will say though that this blog consistently overestimates his chances of seriously influencing Russian politics or holding national office. That unlikely event would obviously be wildly beneficial to US interests-- Navalny was trained by NED, etc and would be completely obedient to American wishes, but again what on earth would be in this for Russians-- a return to the merry old 1990s? Brian, do you really think that can be "marketed" over there. Seems insanely optimistic and unrealistic-- the rose-colored glasses are really strong!
In Response

by: La Russophobe from: USA
April 19, 2013 07:51
"Most Russians don't even know who he is, and most of those who do know who he is don't like him."

That's not really true, or fair. Navalny has nearly 350,000 Twitter followers, a very powerful blog, and a clear majority of those who know him believe his corruption reports are true.

What's true is that a clear majority of those who know him would not vote for him for president, that he's in no way a serious contender in any type of election (indeed, perhaps for that reason, he's never been a candidate). What's true is that he's a bad political leader, and his pseudo political movement has collapsed.

But notwithstanding that, the Kremlin is prosecuting him on charges that are clearly dubious, so it's clear that it does see him as a potential threat or at least an irritant.

by: Ben
April 16, 2013 18:39
Government stakes on officials` patriotic solidarity which is regarded as the particulaily valuable when it`s against the common sense.The last Khodorkovsky trial was the peak of the absurd,the adoption ban was an
importaint step on the same way, Navalny trial has the same dangerous potential.

by: john from: canada
April 16, 2013 20:50
I was somewhat surprised to read Mark Galeotti's opinion about the Navalny case on his Moscow's Shadows blog. Saying stuff that might be construed by Putinists as not being 'neutral' enough has earned Prof Galeotti inclusion on Selyunin's "Russophobes Gallery" - List #3 - its growing!

With all these additions, people may start questioning objectivity of journalists who aren't (yet) included in the Gallery.


The Navalny Case and the Final Battle between Good and Neutrality?:
In Response

by: Ed from: Maryland
April 23, 2013 01:06
Kind of like the parade of exploding munitions storage facilities every 2-3 months in Russia, huh?

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
April 18, 2013 04:28
Guys, please explain what on Earth is going on in the land of bankrupt losers - the United States.
(a) First the US govt spends 12 years implementing anti-terror measures - only to have someone organize a terrorist attack in Boston and kill helpless and defenseless US citizens on the streets of this city. And what is the US govt - with all of its security measures - is doing? It just has NO CLUE who did this and what to do to prevent these killings on its own national territory! What a sad demonstration of incompetence and ineptitude of the US govt and of those who elected it!
(b) And then - due to this usual American Schlamperei - some kind of factory just EXPLODES in Texas wounding dozens of US citizens working there! And the US govt against is standing by and smartly watching things happen without having a slightest idea of what to do about this horrendously explosive situation in their country!
Really, what a country a inept incomptent losers!

by: La Russophobe from: USA
April 18, 2013 10:02
It's probably a bit excessive to call this the trial of the decade. The facts on the ground on Russia tell a different story.

The evidence shows clearly that the vast majority of Russians have never heard of Navalny. This is particularly true outside of Moscow. In Kirov, where the trial of Navalny is proceeding, nobody has heard of him and nobody cares.

A recent poll from Levada shows that a shocking 64% of Russians have never even heard of Navalny and only 14% (barely a third of those who have heard of him) would even consider voting for him for president. Navalny’s name recognition soared upwards in 2011, from just 6% in April 2011, to an amazing 34% in June 2012. But then more recently, it has plateaued. The number had increased to just 37% by March 2013.

It was not long ago we heard that Navalny was going to force a re-vote for Duma. It did not happen. Then we heard Navalny would force Putin into a runoff. It did not happen. Most recently, we heard he'd force early Duma elections. Now apparently that canard has been abandoned, and Navalny is going to force early presidential elections. That will be quite a neat trick indeed, if he's sitting in prison on a ten-year stretch. Navalny also promised he'd soon have 1 million or more Russians joining him in his street demonstrations. The opposite happened, and the demonstrations dwindled to virtually nothing.

46% of Russians who have read Navalny's anti-corruption reports, according to Levada, either don't believe them or don't know whether to believe them. So even within the tiny universe of people who know who he is, Navalny has the strong support of only 54%. And a mere 14% would cast a vote for Navalny as a candidate. Putin's job approval has been significantly higher than that every month for the last two years, and his figures include the entire country, not just a tiny subset.

Here's how Time magazine recently described Navalny: "His right hand was wrapped in a bandage — 'It’s nothing,' he said, 'I fell' — and he wore the same brown leather sneakers he had on a year ago, when he was leading the biggest protests ever to challenge President Vladimir Putin. Now the shoes were looking loose at the seams. The protests have faded, and their leader may soon be bankrupt, convicted of a felony and banned from politics for life."

Navalny claims he wants to run for president, but he has been, unsurprisingly, a complete failure that key political task, raising money, and now he's running out. Doesn't sound much like the next president of Russia to me. The time for Navalny to throw his hat in the ring was two years ago, when a new presidential election was on the horizon, not now, when one won't occur for another five years. I agree that Navalny would be a better ruler of Russia than Putin. But then, so would a ham sandwich.

Analysts do Russia a grave disservice by placing so much emphasis on a failed loser like Navalny. This man is not Russia's last, best hope, and if he were Russia would surely be a doomed state. It is time to look elsewhere for leadership, nurturing and supporting those who have a much better chance of bringing real change to Russia. Navalny is valuable as a sensationalist reporter of high-profile corruption, and nothing more.

The fact is that the vast majority of Russians don't know who Navalny is, and don't care if he goes to prison or not.

Latest Podcasts

About This Blog

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