Russia seeks 20-year prison term for Kremlin foe Navalny in closed trial, his ally says

A man in a black uniform gesturing as he speaks from inside a caged-off space indoors.
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny speaks in court in this image from a Russian Federal Penitentiary Service video link.
(Alexander Zemlianichenko / Associated Press)
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Russian prosecutors have asked a court to sentence imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny to an additional 20 years in prison on extremism charges, his ally Ivan Zhdanov said Thursday.

According to Zhdanov, Navalny’s trial, which was held behind closed doors in the prison where the politician is serving another lengthy sentence, is scheduled to conclude with a verdict on Aug. 4.

If the court finds Navalny guilty, it will be his fifth criminal conviction — all of which have been widely seen as a deliberate strategy by the Kremlin to silence an ardent opponent.


In his closing statement released Thursday by his team, Navalny bashed Russian authorities as being governed by “bargaining, power, bribery, deception, treachery ... and not law.”

He added: “Anyone in Russia knows that a person who seeks justice in a court of law is completely vulnerable. The case of that person is hopeless.”

Navalny, 47, as one of President Vladimir Putin’s fiercest foes, has exposed official corruption and organized major anti-Kremlin protests. He was arrested in January 2021 upon returning to Moscow after recuperating in Germany from nerve agent poisoning that he blamed on the Kremlin.

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Authorities sentenced him to 2½ years in prison for parole violations and then to an additional nine years on charges of fraud and contempt of court.

He is currently serving his time in a maximum-security prison east of Moscow. He has spent months in a tiny one-person cell, also called a punishment cell, for alleged disciplinary violations such as failing to properly button his prison clothes, properly introduce himself to a guard or wash his face at a specified time.

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Navalny’s allies have voiced concern about his health and accused prison authorities of failing to provide him with proper medical assistance.


The new charges relate to the activities of Navalny’s anti-corruption foundation and statements by his top associates. His allies said the charges retroactively criminalize all of the foundation’s activities since its creation in 2011.

Navalny has rejected all of the charges against him as politically motivated, and has accused the Kremlin of seeking to keep him behind bars for life.

One of his associates — Daniel Kholodny — was relocated from a different prison to face trial alongside Navalny. The prosecution has asked that Kholodny be sentenced to 10 years in prison.

The pair’s trial began a month ago and has gone swiftly by Russian standards; people often spend months, if not years, awaiting a verdict. This trial has been unusually shielded from public attention, and Navalny’s lawyers haven’t made any public comments on the proceedings.

Navalny, in his sardonic social media posts, has occasionally offered a glimpse of what is going on with the case. In one post, he revealed that a song by a popular Russian rapper praising him had been listed as evidence in the case files, and claimed that he had made the judge and bailiffs laugh out loud as the song was played during a hearing. In another post, he said that the case files linked him to U.S. mogul Warren Buffett.

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Another insight into the trial came from three other prominent imprisoned dissidents — Vladimir Kara-Murza, Ilya Yashin and Alexei Gorinov — who revealed in recent weeks that they had testified in the trial in Navalny’s favor.


In social media statements from behind bars, the three described Navalny as in good spirits and cheerful. Kara-Murza said the trial was “Kafkaesque.” Gorinov said he’d exchanged jokes with Navalny about similar treatment they face in prison. Yashin recalled how Navalny himself had asked him questions during Yashin’s testimony, challenging the accusations prosecutors have leveled against him.

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In his closing statement, Navalny once again described the trial against him as unjust, and referred to the recent short-lived armed rebellion by fighters from Russia’s private military company Wagner. The leader of the mutiny, Yevgeny Prigozhin, walked free even though his troops had killed a number of Russian soldiers.

“Those who were declared traitors to their Motherland and betrayers in the morning killed several Russian army officers as all of Russia watched in astonishment, and by lunch agreed on something with someone and went home,” Navalny said.

“Thus, law and justice in Russia were once again put in their place. And that place is not prestigious,” he said. “One surely can’t find them in court.”