Russia's Putin says sentences in fraud case involving top critic Navalny were 'strange'

LAKE SELIGER, Russia Fri Aug 2, 2013 3:18pm EDT

1 of 3. Russian President Vladimir Putin addresses the audience during a forum of pro-Kremlin youth groups at lake Seliger, some 400km (248 miles) north of Moscow, August 2, 2013. Putin said on Friday he was surprised by the five-year jail term a court handed down to Alexei Navalny, his top critic, when another man convicted in the same embezzlement case received only a suspended prison sentence.

Credit: Reuters/Michael Klimentyev/RIA Novosti/Kremlin

Related Topics

LAKE SELIGER, Russia (Reuters) - Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Friday he was surprised by the five-year jail term a court handed down to Alexei Navalny, his top critic, when another man convicted in the same embezzlement case received only a suspended prison sentence.

In his first comments on the case since the July 18 verdict, Putin did not make clear if he was suggesting the jail sentence on Navalny was too harsh or the suspended one too lenient.

"I thought it was strange, I will not conceal that, that one of the suspects in the case, who cooperated with the prosecution, got four-and-a-half-years suspended, while the second suspect...was slapped with five years behind bars," Putin said.

"It is up to the court to decide what happened there and how," he told an audience of several thousand pro-Kremlin youth.

Navalny was convicted of embezzling some $500,000 from a state timber firm while Vyacheslav Opalev, a former head of the company, was given a suspended sentence after striking a plea bargain and testifying against his co-accused.

The face of the largest wave of street protests against ex-KGB spy's 13-year rule, Navalny denies any wrongdoing and says the case is an attempt by Putin to silence him.

Putin, dressed casually in a straw yellow shirt and a beige jacket, avoided referring to Navalny by name when responding to a question about the anti-graft blogger, who was released from detention pending appeal - a highly unusual move.

Since his release, Navalny has been busy campaigning in Moscow for a September8 mayoral election. Polls have him trailing far behind close Putin ally Sergei Sobyanin, who is seeking a fresh term.

Critics of Putin, now more than a year into his third presidential term, portray Navalny's prosecution and sentencing as part of a wider crackdown on dissent.

The Kremlin denies using the courts to persecute political opponents but the West has expressed growing concern over human rights in Russia and the treatment of critical voices since Putin returned to the presidency in mid-2012.

(Writing by Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Jon Boyle)

FILED UNDER:
We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/
Comments (1)
The circumstances are only strange if what the activist does – including in opposing the current regime in power – is done within the parameters of the law, and does not upset too many people. Ask yourself, is everything that this opposition blogger has done been lawful? If not, why is he not being tried on lesser charges? The answer is actually very simple. Also, consider how, naturally, embarrassing too many people in public carries repercussions, always, in all situations in life. Politics begin on the interpersonal level. Is the reaction to the accused candidate really at all surprising?


“In the first place, therefore, we are to consider him as the enemy of our state, the implacable enemy of our free constitution. Nothing but the deepest sense of this can give you a true, vigorous, and active spirit. In the next place, be assured that everything he is now laboring, everything he is concerting, he is concerting against our city; and that wherever any man opposes him, he opposes an attempt against these walls…” – Demosthenes; On the State of the Chersonesus (refer to actual oration for further relevance within context)

Aug 03, 2013 4:33pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.