'This case is nonsense': Defiant anti-corruption blogger Alexei Navalny goes on trial as Vladimir Putin brings his biggest critic to the dock – in Russia’s
dissident heartland

Anti-corruption activist faces 10 years in jail if found guilty of embezzlement

Kirov

It is a trial that his supporters hope will one day be seen as a pivotal moment in Russian history, but many people here in Kirov do not even know that it is taking place. In the dock is Alexei Navalny, the charismatic anti-corruption blogger who has become the most high-profile critic of President Vladimir Putin. Mr Navalny is accused of embezzling £330,000 while acting as an adviser to a local timber company in 2009. If found guilty, he could be jailed for up to ten years.

In a brief hearing this morning, Judge Sergei Blinov adjourned the case for a week to give Mr Navalny and his lawyers more time to get acquainted with the vast amount of case materials. Mr Blinov has never issued a not-guilty verdict in his career. “I’m not going to say the usual banal phrases: that I’m not guilty, that this whole case is fabricated,” said Mr Navalny inside the courtroom. “I think anyone, even without a legal education, can read the case for themselves and see that it is nonsense.”

Mr Navalny, who has said he wants to become president of Russia, arrived in Kirov 90 minutes before the hearing on an overnight train from Moscow, accompanied by several dozen supporters, activists and journalists. He was greeted by a small but boisterous crowd at Kirov train station, leading some to make comparisons with Vladimir Lenin, the Bolshevik leader who famously arrived in revolutionary St Petersburg by train in 1917.

There is a long way to go, however, before Mr Navalny’s dreams of overthrowing the current Kremlin regime can be considered even vaguely plausible. He is a celebrity with a rock-star following among the young, internet-savvy generation in Moscow and other big cities, but out in the provinces he is an unknown. Many people in Kirov said they have never so much as heard of Mr Navalny, while others were vaguely aware of his existence but thought he might be an oligarch, or a corrupt local official. “I know that there is a case going on, but I prefer not to follow it, politics is a dirty business,” said Eduard, a local interior designer. “We have a saying – the less you know, the better you sleep.”

Kirov, a dilapidated provincial city of muddy potholed roads and crumbling buildings, was famous as a Tsarist-era place of exile for dissidents and revolutionaries. The satirical author Mikhail Saltykov-Shchedrin, known for his acerbic musings about the Tsarist regime, spent several years banished to the city in the 1850s, during which time he worked for the local governor in the building that now functions as the courthouse where Mr Navalny is standing trial.

Ahead of the trial, a small but dedicated band of Mr Navalny’s followers has spent a week in Kirov attempting to drum up support for the activist among the locals, with only minor success. “About thirty per cent of people here have heard of him, and of those, only a few know the details of the case,” says Nikolai Lyaskin, one of Mr Navalny's associates. “It’s not a case of being pro-Putin or anti-Putin, people have just been put into a state where they simply don’t care about politics and assume that everyone is cynical and corrupt. We are trying to tell them that here they have a chance to look at things for themselves and make up their own minds.”

However, the majority of locals who passed the media scrum outside the court early this morning looked on in bemusement at the travelling circus of political passion. Shouts of “All for one and one for all!” and “Putin, resign!” were enthusiastically repeated by travelling activists but drew only bemused half-smiles from the majority of locals. Not everyone was indifferent, however. A group of portly babushkas working at the city’s Trifonov Monastery confided that they were covert supporters of the blogger. “We’re not supposed to say anything or we’ll get in trouble,” one of them said in a whisper. “But of course we know who he is, we have the internet! We support him!”

Around the corner from the courtroom, activists had set up a stand bearing the inscription “Putin is a thief”, plastered with information about alleged corruption within Mr Putin’s inner circle. Mr Navalny’s investigations have proved embarrassing for the Kremlin on more than one occasion. Recently, a leading MP for Mr Putin’s United Russia party, Vladimir Pekhtin, was forced to give up his parliamentary seat after an investigation by Mr Navalny’s team uncovered over $2m of undeclared property that he owned in Florida. However, while Mr Navalny is now on trial, Mr Pekhtin has been handed a new job as a board member of RusHydro, the state hydroelectric company. A spokesman for Russia’s Investigative Committee said last week that Mr Navalny’s “teasing” of the government had meant that the case against him had been pursued with extra vigour.

Despite the lack of interest from many ordinary Russians, the case has caused dismay among the urban intelligentsia. Former Finance Minister and close Putin confidant Alexei Kudrin said that the case had no basis and would affect the investment climate in Russia. Writer and opposition activist Boris Akunin said jailing Mr Navalny would radicalise the opposition and cause the government serious problems. “[Putin] is revelling in his greatness and thinks he will live forever,” wrote Mr Akunin on his blog today. “But he doesn’t see anything, doesn’t hear anything, doesn’t understand anything.”

Putin threat to sack officials

Video footage leaked online shows Vladimir Putin, the Russian President, threatening to sack senior officials at a meeting of ministers and governors.

The video was aired by LifeNews, a website with Kremlin links. Mr Putin said that efforts to deliver on promises to improve people’s quality of life were behind schedule. If we don’t do it, we will need to acknowledge that either I work inefficiently or you work badly and you will need to resign,” he told the gathering. “I would like to draw your attention to the fact that I am currently inclined towards the second scenario,” he said.

Shaun Walker

News
peopleHowards' Way actress, and former mistress of Jeffrey Archer, was 60
News
Robyn Lawley
people
News
people
Life and Style
lifeDon't get caught up on climaxing
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Sport
Usain Bolt confirms he will run in both the heats and the finals of the men's relay at the Commonwealth Games
commonwealth games
Life and Style
Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson voice the show’s heroes
gamingOnce stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover
Sport
Romelu Lukaku puts pen to paper
sport
Arts and Entertainment
Unhappy days: Resistance spy turned Nobel prize winner Samuel Beckett
books
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmThe film is surprisingly witty, but could do with taking itself more seriously, says Geoffrey Macnab
News
people
News
A speech made by the Turkish Deputy Prime Minister urging women not to laugh in public in order to preserve morality has sparked a backlash on social media from women posting defiant selfies of themselves laughing at his remarks.
GALLERYWhy are Turkish women having a chuckle at the government's expense?
News
i100
Life and Style
Phones will be able to monitor your health, from blood pressure to heart rate, and even book a doctor’s appointment for you
techCould our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?
News
people
Extras
indybest
Travel
Ryan taming: the Celtic Tiger carrier has been trying to improve its image
travelRyanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?
Life and Style
Slim pickings: Spanx premium denim collection
fashionBillionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers 'thigh-trimming construction'
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Data Analyst

£30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly reputable software house is looking ...

SAP PROJECT MANAGER

£60000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: SAP PROJECT MAN...

Microsoft Dynamics AX Developer

£50000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: A unique and rare opport...

Team Secretary - (Client Development/Sales Team) - Wimbledon

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Secretary (Sales Team Support) - Mat...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star