Alexei Navalny, Kremlin Critic, Found Guilty of Extremism and Receives 19-Year Prison Sentence

Imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has been convicted of extremism by a Russian court and sentenced to 19 years in prison on Friday. This comes as Navalny is already serving a nine-year term on charges he asserts were politically motivated.

The new charges are connected to the actions of Navalny’s anti-corruption foundation and statements made by his top associates. This marks his fifth criminal conviction and the third and most extended prison term imposed upon him. Supporters perceive these convictions as part of a calculated strategy by the Kremlin to silence one of its most vocal opponents.

Russian state news agencies have reported that this new sentence will run concurrently with his existing prison term for charges of fraud and contempt of court. While Navalny’s spokeswoman, Kira Yarmysh, anticipates this outcome, Navalny’s legal team has not yet seen the official verdict.

The prosecution had demanded a 20-year prison term, a prediction Navalny himself had made before the trial. In 2021, he was also sentenced to two and a half years in prison for violating parole. The extremism trial occurred behind closed doors at the penal colony east of Moscow where Navalny is incarcerated.

Appearing in court wearing prison attire and appearing gaunt, Navalny displayed a determined smile. Standing alongside his lawyers and co-defendant, he listened intently as the judge delivered the verdict. The judge’s announcement was remarkably swift, taking less than 10 minutes—an uncommon occurrence in Russia where such proceedings often extend for hours or even days. The proceedings were relayed to reporters in a separate room, though the judge’s words were barely audible.

Navalny’s spokeswoman, Kira Yarmysh, confirmed the verdict, adding that Navalny was also fined 500,000 rubles (approximately $5,200). Navalny himself responded to the sentence through a social media post, presumably shared via his team.

In a concise statement posted several hours after the hearing, Navalny emphasized that “the number doesn’t matter.” He acknowledged that, like many political prisoners, he is serving a de facto life sentence, determined by the longevity of his life or that of the current regime. He urged his supporters not to waver in their resolve to resist in the aftermath of his sentencing.

At 47 years old, Navalny stands as President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent adversary. He has exposed official corruption and spearheaded significant anti-Kremlin protests. Navalny’s arrest in January 2021 followed his return to Moscow from Germany, where he had been recuperating from nerve agent poisoning that he attributed to the Kremlin.