Russian judge: Navalny must do jail time

Yesterday we looked at the arrest of Russian dissident Alexei Navalny upon his return to Moscow from Germany. At the time, I noted the number of “unusual” things about the way the Russians handled the process. Chief among the anomalies was the fact that Navalny wasn’t even taken to a courthouse to face a judge. An impromptu “court” was set up in the jail, away from the prying eyes of the public and the media. Not long after that they found a judge to hear the Putin critic’s case and it didn’t take long for a ruling to be made. Navalny would be kept in jail. But in yet another strange twist, he will be doing 30 days of “pre-trial detention” behind bars, assuming some sort of “accident” doesn’t befall him.

A Russian judge ruled Monday that Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, who was detained after arriving from Germany late Sunday, must remain in pretrial detention for 30 days.

“The court arrested Navalny for 30 days. Until February 15,” the judge’s spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh said on Twitter after the hastily organized hearing at a police station in Khimki on the outskirts of Moscow.

The 44-year-old dissident was detained at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport after he arrived from Berlin, where he had been treated following a poisoning that he had blamed on the Kremlin.

I emphasized the phrase “pretrial detention” above for a reason. The 30 days they plan on keeping Navalny in jail is only covering his failure to appear for two meetings with a parole officer. You know… the two meetings that he missed because he was on death’s doorstep in a German hospital after Vladimir Putin’s goons poisoned him. So that certainly sounds fair, right?

While Navalny remains in jail over that matter, the Russian government is preparing a case to ask that the three and a half years he had remaining on his suspended (and bogus) embezzlement sentence be reimposed. If the judge agrees to that, the dissident could wind up remaining imprisoned until well into the year 2025. And even that would rest on the assumption that he can survive that long.

It’s difficult to see what Putin’s next move here is. He’s fully aware that the eyes of the world – and his own nation – are on him, but I’m still not convinced that he really cares. The die was cast when he sent out a hit squad to poison Navalny and it’s unlikely they had a backup plan in place in case he somehow survived the assassination plot. But poisoning him a second time would be a bit too on the nose even for Putin, wouldn’t it?

Looking through the history of some of the other “inconvenient” people in Russia who have wound up dead or simply “disappeared,” Putin clearly has other options. Some of Vlad’s critics have been the victims of mysterious, random acts of criminal violence, with the perpetrators being so clever that an arrest was never made. It’s not hard to imagine a fight breaking out in the jail where Navalny comes out terminally on the losing side and his opponent then manages a miraculous escape.

I’d love to be wrong about this and perhaps I will be. But Vladimir Putin has a very long track record and a leopard rarely changes its spots. If he reached the point last year where he decided that Navalny needed to die, it’s hard to imagine him allowing his frequent critic to simply do 30 days in the local jail and then return to the streets to continue his opposition to the ruling party.