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Putin’s quieter war

Alexei Navalny at a rally in Moscow in 2019. Sefa Karacan/Anadolu Agency/Getty

With the world’s media distracted by military shenanigans on the Ukrainian border, says The Wall Street Journal, the Kremlin is taking the opportunity to wage a rather quieter war “on domestic critics”. On Tuesday a new criminal trial began in which opposition leader Alexei Navalny is facing “phoney charges” of embezzling millions of dollars from his anti-corruption organisation. The 45-year-old could spend more than a decade behind bars if convicted by this “kangaroo court”. The trial is taking place in the modern-day gulag where he is already serving time for separate “bogus” charges. His real crime, of course, is “threatening Mr Putin’s grip on power”.

It’s no surprise the Russian leader is striking now. A bloody invasion of Ukraine, let alone a “costly and lengthy occupation”, would likely be unpopular back home. Critics like Navalny are at their most dangerous when their protests coincide with the kinds of painful economic sanctions that would surely follow a Ukrainian adventure. To his credit, Navalny has so far kept up his fine work despite being in prison. His video of Putin’s alleged billion-dollar Black Sea palace was “the most viewed on Russian YouTube” last year. His organisation has also publicly named 35 Russian elites “connected to the regime’s abuses”. If he is convicted again, a crackdown on these individuals would be a “fitting response”. Navalny is a man of “rare courage”. The West shouldn’t forget him.