A Russian court rejected an appeal Thursday to overturn the 30-day detention of Kremlin critic Alexey Navalny ahead of a hearing next month over whether he should face jail time for a years-old fraud case.
Navalny appeared by video link at the court in the city of Khimki, on the outskirts of Moscow. He continues to be held at the Matrosskaya Tishina detention center, in the northeast of the capital.
The opposition activist was ordered to spend 30 days in custody during a surprise hearing on January 18.
He’d been detained a day earlier following his arrival from Germany, where he spent five months recovering from Novichok poisoning he blamed on the Russian government. The Kremlin repeatedly denied any involvement.
Navalny was placed on the country’s federal wanted list last month for breaching the terms of probation related to the 2014 fraud case, which he dismisses as politically motivated.
His next court date is currently scheduled for February 2, when a court will decide whether his three-and-a-half-year suspended sentence on fraud charges should be converted into a jail term due to what Russian authorities say is the violation of the terms of his suspended sentence.
The judge in Thursday’s appeal hearing ruled that Navalny’s detention was lawful and that the opposition leader would remain in detention.
Navalny’s reaction on hearing the decision suggested he was expecting it. “Everything was clear to me even before the hearing,” he told the court.
The politician had earlier complained about violations of legal procedures and a lack of opportunity to communicate with his lawyers since his detention on January 17.
“Everything is so amazing here that I don’t even know where to start. As usual it works: you take a court decision, look for violations of the law and speak about them when appealing. And here everything is one big violation of the law,” Navalny said.
In his final statement, Navalny urged protesters to keep coming out.
“They are the last barrier that prevents those in power from stealing everything. They are the real patriots,” he said. “You will not be able to intimidate us — we are the majority.”
Navalny’s lawyer, Olga Mikhailova, told reporters outside the court that this had been his legal team’s first opportunity to have “a more or less confidential talk with Navalny” since his detention at the airport.
“We will absolutely appeal against this decision at the Court of Cassation and at the European Court. We believe that everything that is happening to Alexey is happening for political reasons — in order to rule out his political activities,” she said.
Russian law enforcement conducted searches Wednesday at Navalny’s Moscow apartment and his team’s headquarters, according to his aides.
The raids came as Navalny’s allies called for a second round of unsanctioned nationwide demonstrations, planned for Sunday, to demand the activist’s release from detention.
Last weekend, tens of thousands of Russians took to the streets, resulting in nearly 4,000 detentions, according to monitoring group OVD-Info.
Tycoon urges US pressure on Putin
Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a former oil tycoon who was once Russia’s richest man, spent more than 10 years in a Russian jail after falling out with Putin.
Speaking to CNN from exile in London, he urged US President Joe Biden to put pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle to help save Navalny from a similar fate.
“Personal sanctions must be imposed by President Biden and others in the West on those closest to Putin,” he told CNN. “This would be extremely painful for Putin’s entourage and will affect the stability of his power.”
Khodorkovsky ran Russian oil giant Yukos until 2003. He was later convicted of tax evasion and fraud — charges he argued were politically motivated — and jailed.
“Looking back, I was one of the lucky ones. I lost a decade of my life in prison but others who challenge Putin have paid a far higher price,” he told CNN.
That list includes Anna Politkovskaya, one of Russia’s most prominent journalists and Kremlin critics. She was shot dead in 2006. There have been numerous arrests, two trials and five convictions, including of three Chechen brothers, but it is still unknown who ordered her murder. The Kremlin denies any connection with the killing.
In 2015, Russia’s former deputy prime minister Boris Nemtsov, then the most visible leader of the Russian opposition, was gunned down on a Moscow bridge within sight of the Kremlin. Five Chechen men were jailed for his killing in 2017.
Former Russian agent Alexander Litvinenko died in 2006 after being poisoned with a rare radioactive isotope, polonium-210. A UK inquiry concluded in 2016 that Putin probably approved the operation by two Russian agents to kill the ex-spy. Russia dismissed the UK inquiry as politically motivated.
US has ‘deep concern’ for Navalny’
The US State Department has called on Russia to free all those arrested at protests in the country over the weekend and for the immediate and unconditional release of Navalny.
US Secretary of State Tony Blinken said Wednesday that the Biden administration was conducting a review of Russian “actions that are of deep concern to us, whether it is the treatment of Mr. Navalny and particularly the apparent use of a chemical weapon in an attempt to assassinate him.”
Biden spoke to Putin on Tuesday for the first time since becoming US President, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said, and raised the poisoning of Navalny, among other issues.
“I don’t want to get ahead of where we are on those reviews,” said Blinken. “But as I say, we have a deep concern for Mr. Navalny’s safety and security, and the larger point is that his voice is the voice of many, many, many Russians, and it should be heard, not muzzled.”
Blinken told reporters he was “not ruling out anything but we want to get this full review done, and then we’ll take it from there.”
He also reiterated his comments from his Senate confirmation hearing that “it remains striking to me how concerned, and maybe even scared the Russian government seems to be of one man, Mr. Navalny.”