Russian court made 'huge mistake' in jailing Navalny -Macron

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A Russian court’s sentencing this week of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny to 3-1/2 years in prison was a “huge mistake” for the stability of Russia, French President Emmanuel Macron said on Thursday.

French President Emmanuel Macron puts on his protective face mask as he delivers a statement with his Moldovan counterpart Maia Sandu (not seen) at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, February 4, 2021. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

“The Navalny case is a very serious situation,” Macron told an online forum sponsored by the Atlantic Council, a Washington-based think-tank.

Navalny, one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s leading critics, received the sentence on Tuesday after the court ruled he had violated the terms of a parole. But the court said his term would be shortened for time he spent under house arrest.

“I think this was a huge mistake even for Russian stability today,” said Macron, who spoke from the Elysee Palace in Paris.

Navalny was arrested at the Russian border on Jan. 17 on his return from treatment in Germany, where he was flown in August after being poisoned with a military-grade nerve agent.

The anti-corruption campaigner accused Putin of ordering the attack. Moscow denies Navalny’s charge, and has suggested that Navalny was a CIA asset, something he rejects.

Navalny supporters protested against his arrest at the weekend, taking to the streets across Russia in the biggest show of dissent against Putin since 2018. Thousands of demonstrators were detained.

France, the United States, Britain, Germany and the European Union have called for Navalny’s immediate release. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the new Biden administration would coordinate with close allies on holding Russia accountable.

While the EU imposed sanctions on six senior Russians over Navalny’s poisoning, Macron said that is important to remain engaged with Moscow.

“I advocate ongoing dialogue because you have to deal with your history and geography. Russia is part of Europe,” he said.

Macron has tried to reduce distrust between Russia and the West, hoping to enlist Moscow’s help in solving the world’s most intractable crises.

But his efforts have upset other EU governments, particularly those in the east that escaped Moscow’s orbit after the Cold War.

Reporting by Jonathan Landay, Arshad Mohammed and Michel Rose; Editing by Catherine Evans