Navalny himself says he's certain he will be convicted of organizing the theft of 10,000 metric tons of timber worth 16 million rubles ($520,000) from the
state-owned KirovLes company.
"The case is ridiculous," he told "Moskovsky komsomolets." "All the evidence for the prosecution is simultaneously our evidence too, from the payments to the wiretapping by the FSB. It is immediately clear from
the wiretap that I am absolutely innocent."
The case dates back to 2009, when Navalny was an unpaid adviser to Kirov Governor Nikita Belykh. It has taken so many dizzying twists and turns that even somebody
unfavorably disposed toward Navalny would have suspicions about the allegations' veracity.
Since the investigation was first launched in December 2011, it has been closed for lack of evidence and then reopened numerous times, most recently in
April 2012 at the
very public insistence of Navalny's arch-nemesis, Investigative Committee head Aleksandr Bastrykin.
But in the case's latest incarnation, individuals who previously testified against Navalny are suddenly being named as his co-conspirators.
"The Investigative Committee has no legal strategy. It has a PR strategy," Navalny told "Moskovsky komsomolets." "My defense against this PR is to post all
the case materials on the Internet -- all the payments, all the bookkeeping."
The strategy is classic Navalny -- using his nimble online organizing skills and his army of devoted supporters to get his message out.
But it also represents something of a twist.
Up until now, Navalny excelled at this online looking-glass war by
playing offense. He famously rebranded United Russia as "swindlers and thieves." He exposed Bastrykin's undeclared property in Europe and managed to dub
Russia's top cop "Foreign Agent Bastrykin." He forced the issue of top officials' overseas
properties into the national conversation.
But with his trial looming, and with state television certain to be repeating like a mantra that "Navalny stole 16 million," he now appears to be taking
steps to define himself, to seize control of his own public image and narrative.
The authorities can, no doubt, get the verdict and the sentence they want from an expectedly obedient Kirov court -- the evidence notwithstanding.
But if they imprison Navalny even as he manages to convince a critical mass of the attentive public that he is innocent, his stature will only grow -- and
take on the added glow of martyrdom.
In various interviews, including a recent one with "The New York Times," Navalny has suggested that the real goal of a conviction could be to legally disqualify him from running in the upcoming elections to the Moscow City
Duma -- something he says he is planning on doing.
If that is the Kremlin's goal, he would likely receive a suspended sentence.
"If they give you a suspended 10-year sentence, you are sitting in a restaurant in Moscow fat and happy and cannot say the bloody regime ruined your life,"
he told "Moskovsky komsomolets." "But you cannot run for anything either."