Russians Organize Protests as Putin Critic Faces 10 Years in Prison


A Moscow court accused Aleksei Navalny, one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s most outspoken critics, and his brother Oleg, of stealing $500,000 from two firms. Prosecutors wish to give Aleksei a 10-year prison sentence and Oleg eight years. The accusations caused a backlash, which produced a Facebook page in support of Navalny, but the Kremlin quickly shut down the page.

Prosecutor Nadezhda Ignatova said the 10-year sentence will include the five-year suspended sentence Navalny is currently serving under house arrest in Moscow after a court convicted him for stealing from a state timber company. Navalny and his supporters claim the charges on both counts are not true and just another attempt by the Kremlin to shut down opposition against Putin.

His supporters started a Facebook page to organize a demonstration in support of Navalny. Russia’s media regulator Roskomnadzor said Russia’s Prosecutor General’s office demanded the page be blocked in Russia. Roskomnadzor spokesman Vadim Ampelonsky told the media the page was blocked “because authorities have not yet sanctioned the announced demonstration.” It is scheduled for January 15, when the verdict is announced. Over 12,000 people claimed they would attend the demonstration in Manezhnaya Square near the Kremlin.

A new page is available outside of Russia. It says, “One for all and all for one! Life is too short to look at the table.” As of publication, 25,000 RSVP’d to the demonstration, while 3,600 people said maybe. Ampelonsky also said the page will be banned on Russia’s VKontakte, which is a Facebook-like social media platform popular in Russia. Roskomnadzor did not provide the owner of the page with any warning of deletion.

“There was no notification at all,” said Leonid Volkov, an associate of Navalny’s. “The group just disappeared.”

Russia targeted Nalvany on social media sites in the past. From RFERL:

VKontakte founder Pavel Durov said in April that he sold his 12 percent stake in the company amid pressure from Russian authorities, including a request from Russian prosecutors to to shut down a page on the networking site dedicated to Navalny.

Nalvany rose to fame after he exposed a real estate deal between the governments of Hungary and Russia. Hungary sold an embassy building to a company offshore owned by Russian businessman Viktor Vekselberg for $21 billion, who immediately sold it to Russia for $116 million. Nalvany released papers that showed evidence of collusion, a way to limit open competition. Hungarian detained officials involved in the deal, but Russia only started an investigation into the matter in 2013.

In 2010, Nalvany found documents that proved $4 billion “of state funds was stolen” during a “2007 audit of the East Siberia-Pacific pipeline.” Transneft is state-owned and the largest oil pipeline company in the world. It is no surprise CEO Nikolay Tokarev’s friendship with Putin dates back to the KGB since Putin is known for placing his old friends in charge of state-owned energy companies. His KGB friend Igor Sechin, who is currently under santions, is CEO of Rosneft, Russia’s state-owned gas company.