Russian Court Bans Putin-Critic Alexei Navalny From Standing for President

Alexei Navalny
Police officers detain anti-corruption campaigner and opposition figure Alexei Navalny during a rally in Moscow, Russia, March 26. A Russian court upheld the ban on Navalny standing for president. Maxim Shemetov/Reuters

A Russian court has upheld a ruling that now likely leaves the Russian opposition figurehead Alexei Navalny barred from running for president in next year's election.

The regional court ruled in favor of a controversial embezzlement conviction Navalny received in February, the Interfax news agency reported. The court gave Navalny a five-year suspended sentence which, in accordance with Russian criminal law, prevents him from taking public office in the meantime and keeps him out of next year's presidential race. Navalny considers the case to be politically motivated and the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) called the case against him "arbitrary" and lacking a free trial last year.

Navalny's lawyer Vadim Kobzev told Interfax he intends to appeal the ruling in the ECHR, while Navalny's campaign manager told the Mediazona news website that the campaign will continue as planned, regardless of the verdict.

Navalny is not barred from campaigning, though if the court's decision sticks his name will not be on the ballot. Maya Grishina, secretary of Russia's Central Electoral Commission issued a reminder on Wednesday, following the verdict, that "irrespective of any persona" the law dictates anyone with a standing sentence cannot be elected to hold office in Russia.

Through campaigning alone, however, Navalny has already caused a stir in Russian politics over the last few months. His documentary into Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev's alleged secret empire of luxury assets dashed the prime minister's approval ratings to an all time low in April and raised Navalny's profile considerably.

Polls show Russian media mentions of Navalny since he announced the start of his campaign in December have increased five-fold, according to research group Medialogia. Only five politicians are more mentioned than him in Russia—Putin, U.S. President Donald Trump, Medvedev, Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.

His increased recognizability has come at a price, however—he has been attacked twice with an antiseptic, dyeing agent called zelenka in the past two months. Although he laughed off the first attack, last month's splashing attack left him with chemical burns in the eye and he is yet to recover 80 percent of his right eye's vision.

Bloggers have examined footage of the attack from a nearby camera as well as mobile phone footage that pro-Kremlin television channels also incidentally had, and point to a member of nationalist movement SERB as the culprit of the attack.

Navalny accused authorities of not conducting an investigation into the attack on him at all, writing on his blog on Tuesday, that the main suspect is pictured and named widely online but authorities have not arrested him. "Journalists are speaking to him on the phone. Only the police doesn't know anything," he wrote.

"Obviously this inaction is practically helping the attackers," Navalny continued. "They are given time to hide, negotiate, destroy clues and traces and so forth."