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By John Helmer, Moscow 

When Alexei Navalny and his aides met in Germany in January with the US, British and German intelligence services, they agreed that Navalny would cease to be what he imagines himself to be, the front-running candidate for president of Russia, if he followed Boris Berezovsky and  Mikhail Khodorkovsky into permanent exile abroad. The agents also reminded Navalny that his two predecessors could count on more of their own personal cash to pay for the standard of living and attention to which they were accustomed, than Navalny could.  On account of his vanity and their cash, they had Navalny over a barrel.

So return to Russia he must, they decided. They also agreed that if that happened, Navalny would go to jail.

Navalny was assured that if he could accept that, the western allies would do their best, as publicly as possible, to make his stay in prison as politically powerful as possible – and shorter than Khodorkovsky’s ten years.  Navalny was complimented that President Joseph Biden, Chancellor Angela Merkel, and Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised personally to say his name aloud,  not to mention the leaders of Estonia, Lithuania,  Latvia, and Australia, whose names and influence Navalny esteemed less. Turning the courtroom and then his jail cell into Navalny’s new political platform, he was convinced, was the necessary new stage since Operation NOVICHOK and Operation PUTIN PALACE were fizzling out.

Not for the first time, Navalny has miscalculated.

On January 17 Navalny returned to Moscow and was arrested. He was on remand in Moscow until his conviction on the parole violation indictment on February 2.

The evidence was already mounting that Russian prosecutors were preparing a more serious indictment. Between January 18 and February 2, I reported the evidence pointed to the charge of treason, under Article 275 of the Russian Criminal Code.

Source: https://www.wto.org/ -- this is the version of the Code as enacted on June 13, 1996, with amendments through December 7, 2007.  

On February 2, the prosecutors leaked a videotape of a meeting between Navalny’s London fund-raiser Vladimir Ashurkov and an MI6 agent. The meeting on record had taken place in 2010; it was evidence that Navalny’s organisation was aiming to fund its operations through a hostile foreign source and offering in return, in the Art 275 definition of high treason, “assistance rendered to a foreign state”.  It was not direct evidence against Navalny himself.  

On February 2 he was convicted on the parole violation charge and sentenced to prison for the remainder of his three-year sentence. A week later, on February 10, his wife Yulia Navalnaya flew to Germany; she returned to Moscow on February 22. She flew again to Germany on March 24; she was back to visit Navalny in prison on April 13, according to US government radio. In the interval, Navalny launched Operation HUNGER STRIKE. This ended on April 23. Navalnaya is expected to fly to Germany later this month.

A German headquarters has been set up for the Navalny operations. Leonid Volkov, who is learning German, is based there. Other members of the Navalny staff identified in Germany, as well moving to and from other locations outside Russia, include Maria Pevchikh, Ivan Zhdanov, Georgiy Alburov, Vladimir Milov,  and Ruslan Shaveddinov.

In Germay: left,  Leonid Volkov with Navalny near Ibach, in the Black Forest.  Right: Georgiy Alburov, Navalny, and Maria Pevchikh.  In mid-February Milov was in Vilnius, Lithuania.

Left, Ruslan Shaveddinov; right, Alburov, at the same professional broadcast studio from which the new Navalny headquarters broadcasts from Germany.

Left: Pevchikh and Alburov on air in the broadcasting studio on April 8, 2021.  Right: Ivan Zhdanov broadcasting with Shaveddinov and Volkov on April 21.  

Polling by the Levada Centre in Moscow shows that although Navalny’s name and campaigns have been gaining public recognition, support for him has shrunk to teenagers in Moscow and other big cities.  His political rating has remained stuck within the statistical margin for measurement error; he has not gained against Putin.


Click to enlarge table: https://www.levada.ru

Source: https://www.levada.ru/

On April 16, prosecutors filed in a Moscow court for an order banning the central and regional branches of Navalny’s organisations – the Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK), Citizens’ Rights Protection Foundation, and the Navalny headquarters office — under Article 282(2) of the Russian Criminal Code.

Source: https://www.wto.org/ Meduza, a pro-Navalny publication based in Latvia, reported the legal implications for individuals and organisations under this provision. On April 23 Meduza reported that it has been designated a foreign agent by the Russian Justice Ministry.  

On May 1, in an unusual disclosure to Tsargrad TV,  the prosecutors revealed that starting on February 4 they began preparing their indictment of Navalny and two other leaders of his organisation – Leonid Volkov and Ivan Zhdanov — on Article 239. On April 27, a Moscow ruled to apply Art 239 and close down their public operations, bank accounts, social media and public meetings. For its political position,  Tsargrad has been closed down since July 2020 by Google and YouTube on the ground that its financial backer, Konstantin Malofeev,  is on the US sanctions list.  

Source:  https://www.wto.org/-- excerpt of the Code as enacted on June 13, 1996,  with amendments through December 7, 2007.  

A Canadian government publication has endorsed the purpose of Art 239 as a measure to combat race-hate crimes, and noted that not enough was being done to implement the law.    Russian lawyers say the article has very rarely been used in court; a handful of cases relate to religious cults.

Tsargrad reports “from sources in the central apparatus of the SK [Sledkom, Investigative Committee]  it became known that at the beginning of the year the [Navalny] dossier amounted to more than 8 volumes, and some of them were classified as state secrets. The fact is that inside there are decryptions of classified audio, video surveillance materials for Navalny, Volkov, Zhdanov and their assistants. There are also protocols for removing information from digital data channels… The content of these decrypts is still state secrets. But the closer the case gets to court, the more likely it is that they will be declassified and they will leak to the media. Most likely, when the case comes to court, Zhdanov, Navalny and Volkov will appear in it as co-performers and organizers.”

Russian lawyers say the evidence for an Art 275 indictment for treason against Navalny and the others is as strong as for Art 239, and the prison penalty is longer. However, according to the lawyers, treason is an offence by an individual, not a group;  and prosecution of the evidence in an Art 275 case would require more disclosure of state secrets, or more closed-door hearings. In the outcome, it would not be effective against the Navalny organisations.  

Also in its May 1 report, Tsargrad said its Investigative Committee sources confirm they are also compiling a case against Navalny, his family and associates for spending the public donations of funds to the FBK  on themselves, in addition to their official salaries. The volume of the donations since 2011 is reportedly more than Rb1.2 billion.

Source: https://www.wto.org/(1996-2007).

Embezzlement of this kind is an Article 160 offence.   The penalties run up to ten years in prison, and on release,  loss of the right to hold public office.

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