Russian Opposition Leader Found Guilty Of Embezzlement

Feb 8, 2017
Originally published on February 8, 2017 9:18 am
Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

We have an illustration today of what it's like to be an opposition figure in Vladimir Putin's Russia. One of the few is Alexei Navalny, who was planning to challenge President Putin in next year's election. Instead, today a Russian court found him guilty of a crime that his attorney says disqualifies him from running at all. NPR's Lucian Kim is covering this story from Moscow. Hi, Lucian.

LUCIAN KIM, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: Who is Navalny?

KIM: Well, Alexei Navalny wasn't really a very well-known person in Russia until 2011, when through his blog and his social media presence he called on Russians to go out on the street and protest voter fraud in the parliamentary elections.

INSKEEP: Oh, and there were big protests in 2011.

KIM: Yes. And Alexei Navalny is credited with really setting it off, getting people to just come out on the street through his social media presence. And thousands, tens of thousands did come onto the street. And that's just about when his trouble began because following the protest movement which basically lasted through the spring of 2012 when Vladimir Putin returned for a third term as president, a lot of these opposition leaders - Navalny included - found themselves entangled in all sorts of complicated lawsuits.

INSKEEP: What is he convicted of today?

KIM: Well, this lawsuit - actually it was started in 2013. He was accused of basically organizing the theft of wood products from a state lumber company. What's interesting is that the European Court of Human Rights determined that that ruling was invalid because he was just following normal business practices. And so the court basically just repeated that suit. And Navalny, true to form, was in court today tweeting. He tweeted that the sentence that's being read out was exactly the identical one four years ago.

INSKEEP: This has become relevant to American politics, Lucian, because as you know President Trump has repeatedly spoken favorably of President Putin. How much democratic opposition does President Putin allow at home?

KIM: Well, I think if you compare the situation with Russia, there is a significant difference. There are three opposition parties in the Russian parliament, but they are largely d'accord. Almost any measure the government initiated passes with huge majorities. The national television stations are all under government control. And the judiciary is also heavily influenced by the government. The acquittal rate is something like 1 percent.

INSKEEP: And we have a man here who's been convicted even though outsiders said it was a false case.

KIM: Exactly.

INSKEEP: Lucian, thanks very much.

KIM: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Lucian Kim in Moscow.

(SOUNDBITE OF BENEVENTO AND RUSSO DUO SONG, "SUNNY'S SONG") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.