MOSCOW — A Russian court has convicted and sentenced opposition leader Alexey Navalny to an additional 19 years in prison on extremism-related charges — the latest in a series of harsh prison terms meted out to political opponents of the Kremlin amid its war in Ukraine.
The trial of Navalny, Russian President Vladimir Putin's fiercest domestic critic, unfolded behind closed doors and highly unusual circumstances. Judges moved the courtroom from Moscow to inside a maximum security prison in Melekhovo — some 150 miles east of the capital — where Navalny is already serving a 9-year sentence on fraud and embezzlement charges.
In Friday's ruling, the court found Navalny had retroactively financed and incited "extremist activities" through his now-defunct Anti-Corruption Foundation. Judges also found the opposition leader guilty of "rehabilitating Nazi ideology."
Navalny, 47, has denied the charges and rejected the prison court proceedings — which resulted in his fifth criminal conviction in recent years — as the latest round of political retribution from a Kremlin intent on silencing him over the long haul.
The U.S. called for Navalny's "immediate release" and condemned Friday's sentence, with State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller calling it an "unjust conclusion to an unjust trial."
In a statement, Miller said, "By conducting this latest trial in secret and limiting his lawyers' access to purported evidence, Russian authorities illustrated yet again both the baselessness of their case and the lack of due process afforded to those who dare to criticize the regime."
A war critic from behind bars
Even from prison, Navalny has remained an influential voice in Russian politics.
Navalny's access to lawyers – and through them, a team of associates in exile — has allowed the opposition figure to keep up an active social media presence.
He routinely posts on Twitter and other social media channels about his prison conditions and weighs in on political matters. He has also openly criticized the war in Ukraine as immoral.
Last month, Navalny's associates unveiled an online political campaign to try and turn the public against Putin and the war.
The latest courtroom proceedings, too, have provided him a stage to argue the Kremlin's invasion was leading to Russia's ruin.
"It is now floundering in a pool of mud and blood, with broken bones, and an impoverished, robbed population; and with tens of thousands of people who have died in the most stupid and senseless war of the 21st century," said Navalny in a closing statement to the court last month that was later shared by supporters online.
Yet with the conviction also comes harsher prison conditions that likely will diminish Navalny's access to the outside world.
Ahead of the ruling, Navalny said he had no illusions about Russian justice or the long sentence that awaited him.
The ruling, promised Navalny in a statement, would be "Stalinist" – a reference to the grim Soviet prison camps overseen by dictator Joseph Stalin in the 1930's.
It was also, Navalny argued, a flawed modern-day Kremlin strategy to instill despair.
"Those in power cannot hold it without the arrest of innocent people. They jail hundreds to instill fear in millions," wrote Navalny.
Navalny urged Russians to make small but daily contributions to resist a government that, he argued, had taken the country hostage.
"There's no shame in choosing the safest way to resist. The shame is in doing nothing, in letting yourself be intimidated," wrote Navalny in his statement.
It was a tacit acknowledgment that perhaps few were prepared for Navalny's own level of risk and sacrifice.
In 2020, he barely survived poisoning by a nerve agent that he blamed on the Kremlin. After he eventually recovered in Germany, he returned to Russia – and was promptly incarcerated.
Yet Navalny has maintained optimism that a younger generation of Russians would, ultimately, reclaim what he often calls "the beautiful Russia of the future" from the country's current crisis.
"Sooner or later, of course, [Russia] will rise again," said Navalny in his closing comments to the court last month.
"And what that future is built on depends on us."