02/17/2022, 09.26
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Naval'nyj, the 'special prisoner'

by Vladimir Rozanskij

Yet another trial for Putin's main opponent. The court meets in the prison camp where he is held; the detained blogger's lawyer excluded. The regime wants to keep the case out of the spotlight amid the crisis with Ukraine and the West: another sign of the "final state" of the Putin regime.



Moscow (AsiaNews) - Putin's main opponent, Aleksej Naval'nyj, has been languishing for a year in Pokrov penal colony no. 2 in Vladimir province, just over 100 kilometres from the capital. After being sentenced to two years (with a third added) for the so-called 'Yves Rocher affair', in which he allegedly illegally embezzled funds, he is now being tried again for charges of fraud and offending the court in previous trials.

The news is that the Moscow court of Lefortovo, which is in charge of the trials of the anti-Putin blogger, has decided this time to move directly to the Vladimir prison camp, without even using the technological means of remote sitting, for fear of possible demonstrations of supporters in front of its doors. The decision is almost unprecedented in Russia, and shows an unexpected weakness on the part of the guardians of order, given that public demonstrations in Russia have now almost disappeared due to constant repression. Even Putin's other historic opponent, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, had been brought to court, again after being imprisoned in one of the worst Siberian prison camps.

The court refused permission for Naval'nyj's lawyer, Vladimir Voronin, to attend, but at the last minute allowed his wife Julia attend, who was able to re-embrace Aleksej after a long time, as visits to the camps are also rather problematic. Naval'nyj himself intervened to say that 'by now we are at the level of the legal system of Belarus... even in the Soviet Union they didn't have away trials. Since I came back from Germany, you only try me off-site, I don't understand why you keep coming to me and are always around me'.

He concluded by saying that "I want an open trial, which people can watch, which can also be streamed; I want to be a normal 'zek' [lager inmate] who is tried according to normal procedures".

The new allegation of fraud against the founder of the Anti-Corruption Fund (AFBK) was filed last year. According to the investigators' version, Naval'nyj embezzled more than two and a half million roubles (just over 30,000 euro) paid to the fund for personal use, and for this he faces up to 15 years in prison. The same report also shows that the misappropriated sums were intended to be used for the fund's own purposes. The 'victims of the fraud' named by the investigation are four rather dubious characters, referred to in the press as 'the millionaire plumber, the fake pensioner and the court hostages', who allegedly made bona fide donations.

The 'away trial' is mainly intended to avoid the interest of journalists, who might turn it into a national political event. This does not only concern the location, but also the period, trying to make it disappear in the days of the foreign policy crisis with Ukraine and the entire West. An associate of Naval'nyj, Ivan Ždanov, speaking to The Insider, pointed out that 'even in 1937 the trials were attended by a tame public, applauding Prosecutor General Vyšinsky, but at least they pretended to have a public trial, whereas here it looks like a secret gathering of frightened people'.

The comparison with Belarus is not accidental: Lukašenko's first opponent, Sergei Tikhanovskij, was tried directly in prison, and it was precisely this circumstance that prompted his wife Svetlana to take a political stand against the president-dictator of Minsk, starting the process of popular protest against the Belarusian "batka" (godfather). The trial behind closed doors in Naval'nyj, in the days of the threat of war, is another sign of the 'final status' of the Putin regime, which is playing all its last cards.

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