Putin foe freed from prison 1 day into 5-year sentence
KIROV, Russia — A court's abrupt decision Friday to release Russia's most charismatic opposition leader less than a day after handing him a five-year prison sentence appears to reflect confusion in President Vladimir Putin's inner circle about how to deal with its No. 1 foe.
Even more, it makes clear that the Kremlin is far from a monolith. The surprising about-face involving Alexei Navalny highlights an open rift between factions in Putin's government that could be as unsettling for the leadership as any opposition figure, experts say.
In an unusual move, prosecutors themselves had requested that Navalny, an anti-corruption blogger and Moscow mayoral candidate, be let go pending appeal just a few hours after he was led out of the courtroom in handcuffs following an embezzlement conviction that was widely seen as unfair.
Thousands of Navalny's supporters on Thursday gathered around Moscow's Manezhnaya Square outside the Kremlin for an unsanctioned protest of what they called a politically motivated ruling, chanting “Freedom!” and “Putin is a thief!” in open defiance of the authorities.
Navalny credited the protesters with his release, telling reporters on Friday that his conviction and sentence “had been vetted by the presidential administration ... but when people came out on Manezhnaya, they rushed to go back on that decision.”
Analysts saw Navalny's sudden release as likely reflecting arguments within the Kremlin about how to respond to his popularity. He has earned rock-star status among his urban middle-class supporters, even if he has little influence among everyday Russians.
They considered the move an attempt to lend legitimacy to the Sept. 8 mayoral vote widely expected to be won by a Kremlin-backed incumbent who resigned last month, forcing a snap election that would make challengers scramble to organize their campaigns.
While the leadership of Russia's law-enforcement agencies, referred to as “siloviki,” favor nipping the opposition in the bud, other Putin lieutenants promote a more subtle approach to dissent, said Alexei Makarkin, an analyst with the Moscow-based Center for Political Technologies, an independent think-tank.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
- Shiia militias in Iraq say they have assurances U.S. will stop strikes
- Iran blames U.S. drone for killing military advisers in Iraq
- ‘Substantial’ roadblocks remain as nuclear talks with Iran go down to wire
- Airstrike hits aid camp for displaced in Yemen, kills dozens
- Co-pilot in Germanwings Alps crash treated for suicidal tendencies
- Leaders wary of vote-rigging in Nigeria
- Antarctica yields life in extremest of conditions, so what about on another planet?
- Terror strikes Somalia hotel
- Yemen urges Arab neighbors to help fight rebels
- Afghans protest beating death of woman accused in Quran burning
- Impasse remains in Iran nuke talks