By Anne-Laure Rémy
The new verdict in the case of Alexei Navalny, accused of extremism, was handed down on Friday August 4, the third conviction in the last two years. The aim of this publication is not to take sides, but to provide a purely factual summary so that everyone can form their own informed opinion.
In 2011, the Russian Investigative Committee launched an investigation against Navalny for material damage without embezzlement. He was accused of forcing the public company Kirovles to conclude an unfavorable contract with the forestry company Vyatka while he was an advisor to the governor of Kirov. In July 2012, the charge was reclassified as organization of large-scale misappropriation of third-party property. Navalny was accused of organizing the detour of over 10,000 cubic meters of forest products from Kirovles and selling them at an undervalued price to Vyatka, causing an estimated loss of 16 million rubles. In July 2013, a court sentenced Navalny and his business partner Pyotr Ofitserov to five and four years’ imprisonment respectively, but in October their sentences were replaced by suspended sentences by the Kirov Regional Court.
1. Alexei Navalny and his brother Oleg were investigated by the Investigative Committee at the end of 2012 for large-scale fraud and money laundering. The Main Underwriting Agency, set up by the brothers via Cypriot company Alortag Management Ltd, allegedly embezzled 55 million rubles from Yves Rocher Vostok LLC between 2008 and 2011. The brothers were convicted in December 2014, with Oleg Navalny sentenced to three-and-a-half years’ general regime colony and Alexei Navalny to three-and-a-half years’ suspended imprisonment. However, in January 2021, Alexei Navalny was arrested at Sheremetyevo airport, and his suspended sentence was converted to 3.5 years’ imprisonment in a general regime colony in February 2021.
2. In 2012, a large-scale fraud investigation was opened by the Investigative Committee into the embezzlement of over 100 million rubles in 2007 by the Allekt company, headed by Navalny. This case has been separated from the Kirovles case. According to the investigation, the funds were transferred to the accounts of some 50 companies, most of which were one-day businesses, and the use of the money for advertising services has not been established. Searches were carried out, but no charges were brought against anyone.
3. In 2013, the Navalny brothers were involved in a new fraud case linked to the Multidisciplinary Processing Company. According to the investigation, the company entered into an unfavorable contract with the Main Underwriting Agency set up by the brothers, and the damage caused is estimated at 3.8 million rubles. This case was joined to the Yves Rocher fraud case. In December 2015, Alexei Navalny paid the fines and the enforcement proceedings against him were closed.
4. In spring 2016, Alexei Navalny was sued for defamation by Pavel Karpov, a former police officer. The case involved four online videos in which Karpov was accused of committing serious crimes, including the murder of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky. On November 1, 2016, it was reported that the prosecutor had not approved the indictment in this case and had returned it to the investigators.
5. In the summer of 2020, the RT TV channel broadcast a campaign video to promote amendments to the Constitution, featuring Ignat Artemenko, a veteran of the Great Patriotic War. After the video was released, Alexei Navalny criticized the campaign on Twitter, calling the team ‘corrupt lackeys’ and ‘a disgrace to the country’. Following this, the Investigating Committee opened a defamation investigation against Navalny on June 15. On February 20, 2021, he was fined 850,000 rubles in this case.
6. At the end of 2020, an investigation was opened against Navalny for misappropriation of donations to non-profit organizations, amounting to over 356 million rubles. He would have used this money for personal purchases, material goods and vacations abroad. Moscow’s Lefortovo court heard this case and another for contempt of court (see below), and sentenced Alexei Navalny to nine years in a strict regime colony.
7. In the spring of 2021, proceedings were brought against Alexei Navalny by the Investigative Committee for insulting Judge Vera Akimova, who was presiding over the trial concerning the contempt of war veteran Ignat Artemenko. On March 22, 2022, Moscow’s Lefortovo court found Navalny guilty of contempt of court and sentenced him to nine years in a strict regime colony.
8. In September 2021, the Russian authorities brought charges against Alexei Navalny, accusing him of creating and leading the Anti-Corruption Foundation, a community considered extremist. According to the authorities, the FAC’s aim was to disrupt the constitutional order, compromise public security and undermine the integrity of the state. To support this community, foundations and commercial organizations have been established, as well as a public movement called ‘Navalny’s HQ’. The community’s activities were aimed at discrediting state authorities, stirring up trouble in various regions, encouraging a violent change of power and organizing demonstrations that could degenerate into mass riots. As a result, Alexei Navalny was sentenced to 19 years in a special regime colony and fined 850,000 rubles.
This latest sentence, handed down on August 4, has not caused any particular stir among Russians. In this country, where national pride and attachment to military glory have been part of the people’s DNA for centuries, it’s not a good idea, in times of war, to support the opposing camp. In February 2023, only 9% of Russians had a favorable opinion of Alexei Navalny, according to a poll conducted by an institute considered affiliated with Russia’s liberal opposition Levada-Centre. This is almost half the figure for the same period last year. Support, already weak, seems to be melting away, and at this rate the Alexei Navalny project will very soon be tucked away on a dusty shelf.
The affiliation of politicians with the West is a highly sensitive issue for Russians, who are struggling to come to terms with the humiliation inflicted on their country after the collapse of the USSR, when ministers and other high-ranking officials were expected to toe the Western line. Anyone who threatens to plunge Russia back into those dark days for its sovereignty is instinctively rejected by the vast majority of the country. But Alexei Navalny’s massive support in the West and his positions, which many consider unpatriotic, particularly his call for sanctions against Russia following its intervention in Ukraine, place him in this category.
If his first conviction had already put him in difficulty as a political figure, the war in Ukraine, far from helping his situation, has accelerated his definitive exit from the scene. The conflict has turned Russian sociology on its head, as Navalny’s main audience of opponents have packed their bags. The war has also reinforced the population’s rejection of the West, and Alexei Navalny has paid the price as a relay for the West in Russia.