Aleksei Navalny woke up this morning knowing that he'd be found guilty of the crime of embezzlement. What he wasn't absolutely sure of, though probably heavily suspected, was that he'd be given a lengthy jail sentence -- five years, as it turns out, which is just one fewer than the prosecutor had asked for, along with a $15,400 fine. In one of the last email exchanges I had with him, a little over a week ago, he'd written back: "Will it happen before the 18th?" in response to a note alerting him to something forthcoming that I knew would be of interest to him. He was under no illusions as to how little time he had left.There are four other "charges" pending against the Russian opposition leader and anti-corruption campaigner, and possibly more to come. Navalny had said recently that he'd lost count of the number of indictments being handed down by Vladimir Putin's legal Thermidor, which is overseen by the Investigative Committee's Alexander Bastrykin. Bastrykin is man who once threatened to to behead a journalist in a forest; he ordered his investigators, who initially turned up nothing, to turn up something implicating Navalny's theft.
As for the defendants in the "Kirovles case," Navalny and his one-time partner Petr Ofitzerov (who got four years and the same fine) are two of modern history's convicted thieves who plainly did not steal anything. Their "trial," presided over by a judge who has never acquitted a defendant, in a country with a higher conviction rate than the Soviet Union during the Great Terror, wasn't just a farce, it was a dull and lazy farce, right up until the dull and lazy end. The entire verdict was 100 pages long and took three hours for Judge Blinov (Blinov means "pancake") to read. "Guilty" came quickly and was anticlimactic for all. But then, perhaps fearing that a population already treated with contempt by its courts, its television channels and most of its newspapers had not been sufficiently stultified into submission, Blinov carried on and on, boring even Navalny, who cheerfully, mockingly live-tweeted his own sentencing. The entire courtroom seemed focused on social media; at one point, the mass distraction prompted Blinov to instruct everyone to please switch off their smart phones. Michael McFaul, the U.S. ambassador to Russia, tweeted at Navalny, "Hi, I'm watching." George Kennan should have been so hip.