Russia has seen several high profile trials in recent weeks, including the Pussy Riot case, the Sergei Magnitsky case (famous because the defendant was dead) and most recently, the trial of anti-corruption blogger, lawyer, & activist Aleksei Navalny. Given Russia’s 99% conviction rate, the guilty verdict that came through earlier today was unsurprising. His sentence – 5 years in prison on the charge of embezzlement – is seen by many Putin critics (and even admitted by members of the government) as motivated by his opposition activities.
The impact of this case, though, will be much more interesting to follow. Navalny has been described as the man Putin fears most, and the outcome will shape Russian politics in the years to come. While the long-term impacts may be difficult to judge, we are already seeing some immediate reactions:
- Thousands took to the streets of Moscow in protest of the ruling, leading to several arrests. While the
- The Russian stock market dropped following the sentence, and financial experts are speculating that Russia may have a more difficult time courting foreign investment. Combined with their ongoing problem of capital flight and things do not look good for the long-term health of the Russian economy.
- The EU has criticized the court’s decision…but keep in mind that Russia’s relations with the West have been already been strained recently due to a number of other issues.
Thinking long-term, people are questioning whether this trial shows a weakening of the Putin regime. The Western media are increasingly comparing Navalny to South Africa’s Nelson Mandela, though that analogy may still be a tad premature. Mandela had a strong social movement and widespread public support to help undermine the Apartheid regime – to be a true challenger for power, Navalny still needs to show that he can take his appeal from a select group of tech-savvy urbanites and reach out across Russia’s social spectrum.