Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny has been arrested - again

Mr Navalny has spent every seventh day in the last year in jail

Oliver Carroll
Moscow correspondent
Wednesday 24 July 2019 16:23 BST

Russia’s most prominent opposition politician Aleksei Navalny has been arrested near his Moscow home — a sanction he claimed followed plans to lead a protest against the exclusion of opposition candidates from Moscow city elections.

Mr Navalny was detained by riot police as he left for a morning jog. Sharing news of his arrest on social media, he quipped that the development showed that sport was sometimes harmful.

“I left for a run and to buy my wife flowers,” he said. “It’s her birthday today — so, happy birthday, Yulia!”

Several hours later, the Kremlin nemesis whom Vladimir Putin refuses to call by name was charged with violating Russia’s controversial protest laws.

That offence carries a maximum of 30 days in jail. But there were also signs that authorities could be preparing a more serious sanction. On Wednesday, the State Investigative Committee announced it was opening a criminal investigation over possible interference in the work of election committees.

The confrontation between Russian authorities and Mr Navalny centres on a decision by local election officials to exclude almost all critical voices from September’s city elections.

The officials maintain the candidates had not collected the required number of acceptable signatures to run — but they did this only after striking out a high percentage of the autographs as false.

On 14 July, several of the excluded candidates staged an unsanctioned protest at the doors of Moscow’s election committee; this forms the basis of the criminal investigation announced today.

A week later, more than 20,000 people attended a demonstration in central Moscow. It was the largest opposition rally for many years.

Mr Navalny had planned to lead a repeat rally this weekend. It is likely a short jail sentence will now put pay to that.

People have a feeling that someone is playing dirty tricks

Maxim Trudolyubov, Kennan Institute 

It would not be the first time that Mr Navalny is sentenced. In the past calendar year, the opposition leader has spent every seventh day behind bars. On all occasions, he has been jailed for short periods over relatively minor infringements.

It is widely assumed authorities have chosen this approach as the least provocative way of keeping their nemesis at bay. An attempt to imprison Mr

with a long-term jail sentence in 2013 ended in mass protests and an unprecedented decision to overturn the verdict.

Some now suggest that the containment strategy might be changing. Writing on social media, the opposition-minded lawyer Pavel Chikov said that the Kremlin has decided to change tack: to reach out to one part of the opposition; and to lock up those it considered extreme.

Maxim Trudolyubov, a a Senior Advisor at the Kennan Institute and long-time Kremlin watcher, said it was difficult to be sure what, if any, change had occurred — “The Kremlin changes its rules and mode of operation all the time,” he said.

But the scandal has clicked a switch in Moscow, he added.

“Once upon a time, authorities employed a very smart strategy of making elections as boring and hopeless as hell. But now everyone is interested. Everyone is on edge. And people have a feeling that someone is playing dirty tricks.”

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