It seems hard to remember now, but there was a point within the last 12 months — starting in, say December and ending in March — when international observers really thought that there would be a change in Russia.That whimsical idea pretty much ended when Vladimir Putin returned to the president’s office.
Now, with the world’s attention elsewhere, Russia seems to be dealing with the opposition. Aleksei Navalny, the lawyer and blogger who became the most visible opposition leader in December, was brought in to deal with russian prosecutors today. Navalny is charged with embezzlement, a crime that carries a sentence of 5-10 years.
The New York Times reports that Navalny is accused of organising a scheme to steal timber from a state-owned company called KirovLes while he was working as an unpaid advisor for the Kirov region, embezzling $500,000 to the regional budget.
The case was considered long dead, the Moscow Times reports, but appears to have been reopened after Navalyny published documents that appeared to show Investigative Committee chief Alexander Bastrykin of concealing real estate and business interests in the Czech Republic in violation of the rules for state officials. The Kremlin denies knowing ever receiving the documents.
(Bastrykin is the same man who reportedly drove a top newspaper editor to the woods near Moscow and threatened to have him killed, by the way.)
The charges (along with the harsh punishment meted out to anti-Putin punk band Pussy Riot) seem to suggest a change in tactics for the Russian authorities. Observers have noted that the actions against Navalny bring to mind the campaign against former Yukos oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who is currently serving a 13.5 year sentence for fraud after publicly challenging Putin.
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