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New charges are expected against an imprisoned Russian opposition leader


Vladimir Putin's fiercest critic inside Russia is set to be sentenced on extremism charges today. A Russian court is expected to deliver a verdict in the latest trial of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny.


Prosecutors are asking for Navalny to serve an additional 20 years in prison on charges his supporters call absurd. Navalny says he expects his sentence will be grim.

MARTÍNEZ: Joining us to talk about this case is NPR's Charles Maynes, who's in Moscow. Charles, this trial unfolded behind closed doors. What can you tell us about it?

CHARLES MAYNES, BYLINE: Yeah, you know, Navalny's latest trial is taking place under really unusual circumstances. He - even by Russian standards. Judges moved the trial from Moscow to inside the very prison where Navalny is already serving a nine-year sentence on fraud and embezzlement charges. Navalny now faces a slew of new anti-extremism related charges tied to his work with the now-defunct Anti-Corruption Foundation. He's accused - retroactively, I might add - of financing and inciting extremist activities, as well as supposedly rehabilitating Nazi ideology. Navalny's supporters - they call those charges and the circumstances of the trial patently political. They say this is really about the Kremlin and President Vladimir Putin in particular trying to silence Navalny over the long haul.

MARTÍNEZ: Now, the trial happens against the backdrop of the war in Ukraine and also a wider crackdown on dissent in Russia. How has Navalny responded to those events?

MAYNES: Well, some feel the arrest of Navalny and pressure against his foundation - several of his members of his team are also in jail on these extremism charges - was really an attempt to weed out political opponents ahead of the invasion of Ukraine, which, as you say, has since seen this crackdown against any form of dissent. And yet, even from prison, much of it spent in an isolation cell, Navalny has remained an important, if not leading voice against the war, mostly through statements on social media delivered through his lawyers. And despite this closed trial, Navalny has used the platform. Again, we read but don't hear his statements to rail against the war, saying it left Russia floundering, in his words, a pool of mud and blood. How many Russians will see that is debatable, but the message is out there or has been. You know, these new charges come with harsher prison conditions, meaning that the line of communication may well grow dimmer.

MARTÍNEZ: And Navalny doesn't sound hopeful. I mean, he looks like he's expecting the worst. What's he saying?

MAYNES: Well, yesterday, Navalny issued a statement saying he understands that he will get a, quote, "Stalinist sentence." That's a reference to repressions under Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. But Navalny was quick to tell supporters, this is done not to intimidate me but to intimidate you. In other words, by imprisoning hundreds, the Kremlin is trying to intimidate millions. So he's using this moment to call on Russians to resist through acts small and big, clearly understands that not everyone is like him, a man who, after all, was nearly poisoned to death, lived to tell the tale after recuperating abroad and then chose to return to Russia and almost certain imprisonment. And this has really been a hallmark of Navalny's style throughout his ordeals. You know, he has not given in to despair but argues Russians will eventually realize what he calls the beautiful Russia of the future. Yet given the harsh treatment he's already received and which looks only likely to get worse, the concern is whether Navalny will be around to see it.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. That's NPR's Charles Maynes in Moscow. Charles, thank you.

MAYNES: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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