The Cable

Russian Opposition Presidential Candidate Found Guilty in Retrial

The sentence means he can’t run for president. He says he will anyway.


Russian presidential candidate Alexei Navalny on Wednesday was found guilty of embezzlement on retrial. He received a five-year suspended sentence. Election law says this should mean the end of his presidential campaign. But Navalny says he won’t quit.

A lawyer and the closest thing Russia has to an opposition leader, Navalny was first found guilty of embezzlement in 2013. This was the same year he ran for mayor of Moscow, and the charges were widely considered to be part of a smear campaign run by the Kremlin, which prefers its opposition candidates to not be quite so oppositional. He was put under house arrest until 2015.

In 2016, the European Court of Human Rights threw out the conviction, ruling the 2013 trial was unfair — and Navalny announced his run for president. The court later ordered Russia to pay Navalny $67,000 in compensation. In the retrial, which began in early December, the charges were exactly the same, and the judge refused to call in the all of the witnesses for the defense because the information was already in the case file. Navalny and his lawyers said the text of the verdict was identical to that issued in 2013.

Convicted criminals cannot run for president in Russia, and so it was understood that, if Navalny was found guilty, as 99 percent of criminal defendants brought to court in Russia are, his presidential race would be finished. But Navalny is vowing to continue his run anyway, tweeting that he will continue his campaign and fight for a better Russia without regard for “this sentence dictated by the Kremlin.” He continued, “Putin and his gang of thieves are afraid to meet us in elections. They are right to do so: we will win.”

How? Because, though election law bars him from running, Article 32 of the Russian Constitution protects a citizen’s right to run for office.

And so it seems Navalny, in a move straight out of the Soviet Russian dissidents’ playbook, is likely to seek to hold the government accountable to its own constitution.

Even if he does manage to get on the ballot for the 2018 presidential race, Navalny is highly unlikely to win the presidency, which would perhaps leave some to wonder whether facing embezzlement charges is worth the trouble of running for office. But perhaps the man who, last year, blogged “the truth is in us and we will win” has a different understanding of political victory.

Photo credit: DMITRY SEREBRYAKOV/AFP/Getty Images

Emily Tamkin is the U.S. editor of the New Statesman and the author of The Influence of Soros, published July 2020. Twitter: @emilyctamkin

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