Alexey Navalny handed new jail term as he denounces ‘Putin the poisoner’

The decision is likely to inflame anger among Navalny’s supporters, as tens of thousands of Russians have turned out for protests over the past two weekends, many demanding the activist’s release. His allies had already called for another round of nationwide demonstrations this weekend.

Navalny was detained two weeks ago upon his return to Moscow from Berlin, where he spent several months recovering from poisoning with nerve agent Novichok. He blames the attack on Russian security services and on President Vladimir Putin himself, accusations that the Kremlin has repeatedly denied.

The court on Tuesday ruled that while Navalny was out of the country, he violated probation from a 2014 embezzlement case in which he had received a three-and-a-half year suspended sentence and five years of probation. Navalny describes the case politically motivated.

His suspended sentence will now be replaced with a prison term. The judge took into account the 11 months Navalny had already spent under house arrest as part of the decision.

A perennial thorn in Putin’s side, Navalny has been arrested and detained several times but had until now avoided lengthy sentences.

His team in Moscow criticized the ruling as Putin’s “personal revenge” and called on supporters to gather in Manezhnaya Square near the Kremlin. “This is Vladimir Putin’s personal revenge. For investigating corruption. For having survived after poisoning. For exposing the FSB killers. For not being scared and returning to Russia,” the team said on Twitter.

The verdict also sparked condemnation abroad. US Secretary of State Tony Blinken called on the Russian government to “immediately and unconditionally release” Navalny. The UK, Germany and others issued similar statements.

Servicemen of the Russian National Guard (Rosgvardia) gather outside Red Square in Moscow February 2, 2021.

Navalny tears into Putin

As he listened to the judge read out a lengthy verdict, Navalny drew a heart on the glass box he was confined in for his wife, Yulia Navalnya, who stood near him.

Earlier, he had ridiculed allegations that he could have better informed parole officers of his whereabouts while comatose, repeatedly being told by the judge to stop speaking and to the objections of prosecutors.

“Can you explain to me how else I was supposed to fulfill the terms of my probation and notify where I am?” he said from his glass enclosure.

A prison service representative responded by asking why he had not provided documents to explain the serious reasons that prevented him from showing up for inspections.

“Coma?” Navalny shot back. “Why are you sitting here and telling the court you didn’t know where I was? I fell into a coma, then I was in the ICU, then in rehabilitation. I contacted my lawyer to send you a notice. You had the address, my contact details. What else could I have done to inform you?” he said.

“The President of our country said live on air he let me go to get treatment in Germany and you didn’t know that too?”

Navalny's wife, Yulia Navalnaya, arrives at the court on Tuesday.

In a separate outburst, Navalny described Putin as a “little thieving man in his bunker” who “doesn’t want me to set foot on the ground in Russia.”

“The reason for this is the hatred and fear of one person who is hiding in the bunker. I’ve offended him so deeply by the fact that I’ve survived,” Navalny charged.

When a prosecutor tried to object, Navalny snapped back: “I don’t need your objections.”

“He can pretend he is this big politician, the world leader, but now my main offense to him is that he will go down in history as Putin the Poisoner. There was Alexander the Liberator and Yaroslav the Wise, and there will be Vladimir the Poisoner of Underpants,” Navalny added.

“He is not engaging in geopolitics, he holds meetings on how to smear underwear with chemical weapons.”

A CNN-Bellingcat investigation in December implicated the Russian Security Service (FSB) in Navalny’s poisoning, piecing together how an elite unit at the agency trailed the activist and his team for years, including on the trip to Siberia when Navalny fell ill from exposure to military-grade Novichok.
Navalny also duped one of the agents into revealing that he was poisoned with the nerve agent Novichok applied to his underwear.
Putin himself said in December that if Russian security services had wanted to kill Navalny, they “would have finished” the job. Reacting to the investigation at the time, Putin didn’t dispute any details of the findings but essentially confirmed that FSB agents did indeed trail Navalny.
Law enforcement officers detain a man outside the Moscow City Court on Tuesday ahead of Navalny's hearing.

Mass detentions

Tuesday’s hearing opened under a heavy security presence, with riot police securing the court building and cordoning off the general area with police vehicles, trucks and vans. Nearby streets were open but closed to pedestrians and protesters with barricades.

CNN reporters witnessed police detaining dozens of people outside the court before the hearing had begun. By the time the verdict was announced, more than 360 people had been detained in Moscow, according to the independent monitoring group OVD-Info.

Law enforcement officers block Moscow's Manezhnaya Square in Moscow February 2, 2021.

Navalny’s defense lawyers argued the prison service was well aware of Navalyny’s whereabouts as it received a notice from him in early December. His lawyers also presented a letter from Berlin’s Charite Clinic showing that he was in rehabilitation up until his return to Russia.

Kremlin meets Russian protesters with fiercest crackdown in years

On Sunday, protesters across the country were met with the harshest show of force by Russian security services in years. More than 5,000 people were detained in at least 85 cities, according to OVD-Info, a record since 2011 protests. Navalny led mass protests in 2017-18 against Putin’s government.

Most of Navalny’s key allies and some family members have been detained or put under house arrest in recent weeks, feeding fears of growing political repression. Yulia Navalnaya has been arrested twice since she returned to Moscow with her husband. She was released Sunday soon after being detained that same day.

“Yulia, they show you on TV and keep talking about your radical behavior. Such a bad girl, I’m proud of you,” Navalny said shortly before his hearing began.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said earlier that Putin was not planning on following Navalny’s hearing Tuesday, and was instead meeting with “teachers who are teaching the future generation of Russia.”

CNN’s Anna Chernova and Richard Allen Greene contributed to this report.

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