We must not let Putin use the Ukraine crisis to bury Navalny trial news

Tyrants love a distraction. There are only so many issues, so many countries, so many crises that our global institutions can focus on at any given time. So the worst but most effective of authoritarian regimes seek to implement their most repressive acts when the world is looking elsewhere. Of all those that seek to use misdirection and obfuscation I think it’s fair to suggest that Vladimir Putin is one of the masters.

In recent weeks we’ve seen a terrifying but all consuming escalation in Russian threats against Ukraine. 60% of their land army is now deployed on the borders of Ukraine and Belarus – but we are meant to believe that they have no plans to invade, or rather continue their war against Ukraine that began in 2014 when they invaded Crimea.

The world has rightly been focused on troop movements on the Ukrainian border. Every leader has spoken publicly of events in Eastern Europe. NATO leaders have talked daily, and nearly every democratic power has met with or spoken directly to President Putin. Their conversations have not touched on human rights violations within Russia, Putin’s support for a ruthless dictatorship in Belarus or even their weaponising of cyber activism to undermine democracies.

In the phoney propaganda war Putin is winning. On his own terms. And the world is letting him. He has determined the agenda at hand, world leaders are flocking to meet him in order to stop World War Three (rightly) and the rest of his indiscretions and human rights violations are, for now at least, off the table.

Which brings me to the subject of this blog. Alexei Navalny. On Tuesday, as our world leaders sought to prevent a new war, Putin’s biggest critic was put on trial, again.

The popular Russian opposition leader is accused of embezzling donations to his FBK anti-corruption organisation, which spearheaded investigations into Russian officials and sparked large protests against Putin. Navalny has denied the charges and says they’re politically motivated.

Putin is so fearful of dissent that he has held the trial not in Moscow, in a court, but rather in the prison that Navalny is already detained in. Navalny is being tried three to four hours from Moscow, a journey which is less than straightforward. If lawyers and observers do manage to get to the IK-2 penal colony then no phones or recording equipment may be taken inside, no evidence of impropriety obtained.

Hi wife Yulia wrote on Instagram on the eve of the trial: “[The authorities] want to hide him from all people, from his supporters, from journalists. It is so pathetic that they are afraid to hold the trial in Moscow.”

If Navalny is found guilty, again, then he will face a further 15 years in prison. Every day his family fear for his safety, not unreasonably after the attempted assassination attempt with Novichock in 2020.

Navalny’s case embodies Putin’s dismissal of the rule of law and his callous disregard for basic human rights. Index will continue to stand with Navalny and will keep telling his story to make sure that Putin knows the world is still watching.