MOSCOW, July 18 (RIA Novosti) – Russian public figures and foreign diplomats on Thursday weighed in on the five-year jail sentence handed down to anti-Kremlin activist Alexei Navalny, with opinions ranging from grim pessimism among liberals and “disappointment” from the U.S. ambassador to mixed forecasts by economic analysts and claims of a fair trial by pro-Kremlin pundits.
- Western diplomats were unanimous in expressing their concern about the sentence, which they called politically motivated. "We are deeply disappointed in the conviction of Navalny and the apparent political motivations in this trial," US Ambassador Michael McFaul said on Twitter. Great Britain’s Foreign Secretary William Hague said in a statement that the sentence had once again highlighted the “selective application” of the rule of law in Russia.
- Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev said that Navalny’s conviction “confirms that there is no independent court” system in Russia. “It’s inadmissible to use courts to fight political enemies,” Gorbachev said in a statement posted on his foundation's website.
- Kremlin loyalist and leader of Russia’s nationalist Liberal Democratic Party, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, said the sentence was "a direct warning to our fifth column. This is the way of those who are linked to the West and work against Russia."
- Opposition figures and government critics said the conviction of Navalny – who said he would run for Moscow mayor in September and challenge Vladimir Putin at the 2018 presidential election – signifies Kremlin’s readiness to prevent opposition leaders from participating in elections by all means possible. “While Putin’s regime is alive, there will be no elections,” bestselling novelist and opposition activist Boris Akunin said. Former lawmaker Gennady Gudkov said that by imprisoning Navalny, the Kremlin had “finally decided to turn elections into a political farce.”
- The liberal Yabloko party said the sentence shows that the Kremlin had “once again shown that it sees courts as an instrument of political punishment of its opponents.” Navalny was a Yabloko activist in 2000-2007 before the party kicked him out for his nationalist views.
- Navalny’s conviction will also complicate the life of Russian businesspeople, opposition figures said. “Navalny was, in fact, sentenced for a regular business deal,” former Prime Minister and co-chairman of the Parnas opposition party Mikhail Kasyanov said. “This is a precedent that could be used by authorities against anyone.” The billionaire head of the Right Cause party and a one-time presidential hopeful, Mikhail Prokhorov, said the conviction “directly affects the interests of small and medium-size business, a pillar of any developed society.”
- Political analyst Alexei Mukhin said that although Navalny would “hardly become a second Khodorkovsky,” his conviction would “blow up [Russia’s] political life.”
- Meanwhile, #Navalny has become the second most popular Twitter hashtag in Russia, and the users of Russia’s most popular social networking website vk.com mentioned him in almost 500,000 messages posted within an hour after his conviction.
- However, #littlethiefjailed – an apparent reference to Navalny – was the third-most popular Russian hashtag on Twitter. “Today, most of the Russian population is rejoicing,” said user @fart181004.