A still image taken from video footage shows Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who is accused of flouting the terms of a suspended sentence for embezzlement, making a hand heart gesture during the announcement of a court verdict in Moscow, Russia February 2, 2021. Press Service of Simonovsky District Court/Handout via REUTERS – THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY.

THE NEUTRAL ZONE

A Russian court sentenced Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny to prison for more than 2 ½ years for violating the terms of his probation while recovering from nerve agent poisoning in Germany last August. Navalny blamed the ruling on President Vladimir Putin’s personal hatred and fear of him, using his sentencing as a rallying cry for the Russian people to not lose sight of their rights.

“He’ll go down in history as nothing but a poisoner,” Navalny said in court of Putin. “We all remember Alexander the Liberator and Yaroslav the Wise. Well, now we’ll have Vladimir the Poisoner of Underwear.” Navalny accused Putin of planning how to steal opponents’ underwear to smear with chemical weapons.

A third round of protests in as many weeks swept the country following the verdict, with more than 1,400 people detained by Russian police. Riot police were recorded beating demonstrators with batons, drawing criticism from Europe and the U.S. The German government said it cannot rule out further sanctions against Russia. French President Emmanuel Macron demanded that Navalny and protestors be released, while the U.N. human rights office called for the same and voiced concern over Navalny’s conviction. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken echoed their sentiments.

“Even as we work with Russia to advance U.S. interests, we will coordinate closely with our allies and partners to hold Russia accountable for failing to uphold the rights of its citizens,” Blinken said. As the U.S. condemned the court’s decision, the Biden administration extended the New START nuclear treaty with the hope that it will help prevent an arms race despite rising tensions.

Russian politicians dismissed the West’s criticism of Navalny’s sentence as “hysterics.” Spokesperson Dmitry Peskov accused Navalny’s allies of provoking the police by calling for protests near the Kremlin. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov called western media coverage “selective and one-sided.” Maria Zakharova, a spokesperson for the Russian Foreign Ministry, accused the U.S. of finding excuses for imposing sanctions. The Kremlin downplayed Navalny’s influence, saying his prison term will not have a significant influence on the state of Russian politics or lead to a mass protest movement.

MEDIA PERSPECTIVE

This section includes an aggregation of articles showing different viewpoints on the topic.

As Russian court hands Navalny sentence, his past and future stand trial too – Newsweek – 2/2/2021
The sentencing follows his ascent against the odds through the ranks of Russia’s notoriously limited choices to challenge more than two full decades of rule under President Vladimir Putin and his officials, and a direct brush with death in surviving an apparent poisoning he and his supporters at home and abroad blame on the Kremlin. While many of his backers both inside and outside Russia consider Navalny to be a beacon of democracy and pluralism, even a would-be martyr standing against autocracy, a number of experts also warn of a darker side to his rise.

‘The only verdict allowed’: Navalny’s jailing is a watershed for Russia – Financial Times – 2/3/2021
As the judge in Alexei Navalny’s hearing read out her verdict, sending him to a prison colony for more than two and a half years, the anti-corruption investigator and opposition activist mouthed a message to his wife: “Don’t be afraid. Everything will be OK.” But as he was led out of the courtroom, it was clear his punishment marked a watershed moment in president Vladimir Putin’s bid to silence opposition figures, and a new chapter in the Kremlin’s use of Russia’s judicial system to stymie dissent.

Kremlin stands by police action against Navalny supporters – TRT World – 2/3/2021
Russia has defended its action against protesters who are demanding the release of Alexey Navalny as the opposition figure’s allies vowed to continue putting pressure on the Kremlin. Protest monitors said that more than 10,000 people were detained at recent nationwide rallies in support of President Vladimir Putin’s loudest critic, who was handed a prison term on Tuesday. The verdict spurred Navalny’s supporters onto the streets of Moscow where riot police used batons to disperse the protesters who were detained en masse.

Russia Dismisses International Criticism as Navalny Verdict Is Handed Down – Foreign Policy – 2/3/2021
A Moscow court handed Russian dissident Alexei Navalny a prison sentence of two years and eight months on Tuesday, as authorities hope to put an end to a saga that has seen thousands of Russians take to the streets in protest over the last two weeks. That support showed no sign of waning outside the court after the verdict was announced: Over 900 protesters were arrested yesterday, according to a monitoring group. […] The reasoning behind his probation breach is murky, as Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed to have approved Navalny’s transfer to a German hospital for treatment after he was poisoned in August.

Russia Jails Prominent Independent Journalist Over Protest Retweet – The Moscow Times – 2/3/2021
Russia has jailed the chief editor of the independent Mediazona news website for 25 days for retweeting a joke that allegedly promoted a recent protest in support of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, Mediazona reported Wednesday. Sergei Smirnov, 45, was detained and later released Saturday on charges of “inciting participation in an unauthorized rally.” Photos of his young son watching him being detained on the street were shared widely on Russian social media.

Biden Administration Reviews Its Overall Approach To Russia – NPR – 2/3/2021
There’s been widespread condemnation of the imprisonment of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, but there are only limited options for the U.S. to try to influence Russia’s internal repression.

INFLUENCER PERSPECTIVE

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