Moscow — Russian opposition leader and fierce Kremlin critic Alexey Navalny was sentenced to 3 and a half years in prison on Tuesday in a court proceeding that he condemned as politically motivated. The court gave him credit for about year of the sentence he had already served under house arrest, saying he would be required to spend another 2 years and 8 months behind bars.
In a speech in the Moscow courtroom before the ruling was handed down, Navalny accused Russian authorities, and President Vladimir Putin directly, of being responsible for his persecution — and his poisoning with a deadly nerve agent.
“They’re imprisoning one person to frighten millions,” Navalny said. “This isn’t a demonstration of strength, it’s a show of weakness.”
He vowed to continue his years-long fight against Putin’s government from behind bars.
“My life isn’t worth two cents, but I will do everything I can so that the law prevails,” he said.
His supporters — more than 8,000 of whom have been detained by police at protests over the last couple weeks — immediately called for a new show of support, urging people to hit the streets again on Tuesday night.
Navalny, a 44-year-old anti-corruption investigator who’s become an increasingly large thorn in Putin’s side, was arrested on January 17 immediately upon his return from Germany, where he spent five months recovering from poisoning with the Soviet-era nerve agent Novichok .
He says the attack took place in Russia, on Putin’s orders — an allegation the Kremlin has denied.
Navalny was found guilty on Tuesday of violating the terms of a previous 3.5-year suspended sentence, stemming from an earlier conviction that he has always dismissed as politically motivated.
According to the prison service and Russian prosecutors, Navalny failed to check in with prison officials while he was recovering in Germany at the end of last year.
Navalny’s defense team pointedly noted during Tuesday’s hearing that three years ago the European Court of Human Rights ruled his 2014 conviction arbitrary and unreasonable. Russia paid him compensation in line with that ruling.
His conviction for violating the terms of his bail was delivered just two days after tens of thousands of Russians took to the streets for the second weekend in a row to demand Navalny’s release, and to condemn Putin’s rule.
Navalny’s associates called for people to gather near the court on Tuesday morning in a show of support and to demand his release.
The Moscow City Court, where the trial took place, was cordoned off by hundreds of riot police from very early in the morning. Several streets surrounding the building were blocked, and city authorities also closed access to Red Square and other central squares close to the Kremlin, fearing more protests.
About 300 people were detained over the course of the day, many of them before they could even get near to the courthouse.
Navalny’s arrest last month sparked international outrage. More than a dozen Western diplomats attended Tuesday’s court hearing, prompting criticism from Russia’s Foreign Ministry. Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova called their presence an attempt to exert “psychological pressure” on the judge.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken denied Russian claims of interference in an interview with NBC News on Monday, and put the blame for the unrest in Russia squarely on Putin, who has been at the helm of power in Russia for more than 20 years.
“The Russian government makes a big mistake if it believes that this is about us,” said Blinken. “It’s about the government. It’s about the frustration that the Russian people have with corruption, with autocracy, and I think they need to look inward, not outward.”
Blinken said the Biden administration was still considering its response to the situation in Russia.