Navalny Sentencing Exposes the Kremlin’s Weakness: Corruption

Navalny Sentencing Exposes the Kremlin’s Weakness: Corruption
Russian opposition activist and anti-corruption crusader Alexei Navalny arrives at a court in Moscow, Russia, Dec. 30, 2014 (AP photo by Alexander Khitrov).

Just before Russians rang in the new year, opposition activist Alexei Navalny received a three-and-a-half-year suspended sentence for alleged fraud, while his younger brother Oleg faces imprisonment for the same term. Since Oleg is not known for his political activities, the move was widely interpreted as hostage-taking, indicating that Russian President Vladimir Putin intends to silence the elder Navalny without making him a martyr. As Masha Gessen wrote in The New Yorker, “This is a familiar tactic in a state with a long legacy of terror: in the nineteen-seventies, the Soviet government forced dissidents to leave the country by making threats against their families; in the nineteen-forties and fifties, Stalin imprisoned the wives of his closest advisers.”

So far, it hasn’t worked—immediately after the sentence was announced, Navalny defied his house arrest and attempted to join the demonstrations on his behalf outside the Kremlin, but was arrested and returned home. Today, in a further show of defiance, he cut off his electronic monitoring bracelet with a kitchen knife and posted a photo for his large social media following.

In Western media, the sentencing has only heightened Navalny’s already considerable profile. The Independent has declared him “the greatest threat to Putin.” The handsome, charismatic 38-year-old corporate lawyer and blogger has made a name for himself in recent years by exposing corruption at the highest levels of the Russian state, which has proven to be a more resonant criticism among key Russian demographics than the common liberal charges that Putin is an authoritarian or an imperialist. Navalny has never held political office, but he ran for mayor of Moscow in 2013 and received more than 27 percent of the vote against the Kremlin-favored incumbent Sergei Sobyanin, despite the best efforts of state-run media to ignore him.

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