Alexander Mercouris’ Analysis of the Navalniy Case

The Navalniy case is rapidly becoming another brick in the anti-Putin edifice: Russia’s “Mandela moment” says the BBC. We see the usual assumptions: opponents of Putin are innocent of all charges and Putin jails them anyway.

The author of the following analysis, Alexander Mercouris, is a British lawyer and has followed the trial in detail. One can only observe that it is much easier to say “political motivations” than to take the effort Mercouris has done to wade through a long and confusing trial process. His necessarily long discussion is at the link below. Here is a summary of his findings.

The Prosecution charged that Navalniy and an associate named Ofitserov, working as unpaid advisors to Governor Belykh of Kirov Oblast, created a company which bought lumber from KirovLes (Kirov Forest) at cheaper rates than it normally sold for and sold this lumber for a higher price through a company they set up. This was made possible because the two persuaded the Director of KirovLes, Opalev, to join their conspiracy. While this scheme did not make anyone very much money, it nonetheless counts as theft in Russian law and would in UK law as well.

The case against Navalniy and Ofitserov stood on two principal legs: the testimony of Opalev who turned states evidence in return for a four-year suspended sentence and intercepts of e-mails from Navalniy which were gathered by a Russian hacker nicknamed “Hell”. Neither of these circumstances was present at the first attempt to bring a court case.

Mercouris discusses the testimony, the conduct of the trial and the relevant Russian law in detail. He demonstrates that the trial was fair, that the judge had little option but to find Navalniy and Ofitserov guilty based on the testimony he heard and that the sentence and judgement were fully in line with practice in the UK and elsewhere.

In short, based on the evidence presented and arguments made, there was a legitimate case against Navalniy, Ofitserov and Opalev and the judge’s findings and sentences were justified.


RUSSIA DEBATE. My colleague Anatoly Karlin has created a website The Russia Debate as a repository for the healthy discussion throughout the English Russophere. The idea is that it would become the go to spot for discussions about issues pertaining to Russia arranged by topic and searchable. At the moment an enormous amount of this discussion happens on Mark Chapman’s site The Kremlin Stooge. All sorts of highly intelligent and useful information may be found there but it is not user-friendly. So I ask you to patronise The Russia Debate and build it up as a repository of the collective wisdom. And those of you who observe but do not participate should scout it too.

THE FAILURE OF PUTINISM. The Russian birth rate in 2012 actually exceeded the US birth rate. The World Bank ranks Russia as the fifth largest GDP in the world by purchasing power, displacing Germany, and eighth over all. The longpredicted collapse must be postponed. Again.

CORRUPTION. Arrests and investigations: tax officer fraud; parliamentarian extortion; regional minister bribes; gang illegal money transfer; mayor corruption; Serdyukov again and again; Armed Forces. Convictions: Khimki City official for violence. And Navalniy. And Browder. And a former Tula governor. See below.

BUT FIRST, SOMETHING YOU WON’T HEAR ABOUT. The European Court of Human Rights announced its judgement on the first Khodorkovskiy trial and found no violation of several articles including right to a fair trial. There is a propaganda war against Russia and initial reports create the bad impression while reconsideration, like this one, arrive too late. Vide Litvinenko. Khodorkovskiy’s site spins the results as best it can. Read the download. It is best, in the case of Russia, to read the original, not read about it; the “about” part is almost always manipulated to fit the anti-Russia memes. See below.

NAVALNIY. Found guilty of responsibility for embezzlement but now out on bail pending appeal. Naturally, as a Putin opponent, the Western MSM assumes he is completely innocent. There is an enormous amount of information in the comments on Mark Chapman’s blog; anyone reading them would soon realise that the Western media didn’t report even a tenth of the story.

MAGNITSKIY. The “trial of a dead man” is completed. Or, accurately, the trial of a live man and his dead assistant is completed. The court convicted William Browder of tax evasion and sentenced him to 9 years and also found Magnitskiy guilty of tax evasion. Just like Stalin, said Browder. This Reuters report is stunningly one-sided: of 1006 words, 475 are opinions criticising the verdict, 150 from Browder himself. Only 44 mention the charge; none mention evidence. Moscow has asked for an Interpol warrant for Browder.

A PUBLICISED TRIAL. The Western MSM likes to give you the impression that only Putin’s enemies are sentenced but the former governor of Tula Region, appointed by Putin, re-appointed by Medvedev and a United Russia member, has just been sentenced to 9 ½ years for bribe-taking.

LITVINENKO. William Dunkerley keeps us up to date: we’re even farther away from learning what happened.

BEREZOVSKIY. We are told, via the UK Embassy in Moscow, that the toxicology examination to find out the cause of Berezovskiy’s death should be completed by the end of the year. Nine months after his death! This isn’t going to turn into another Litvinenko case, is it?

RUSSIAN ARMED FORCES. Quite a lot of activity. At the beginning of the month, an exercise with the Chinese Navy, said to be its largest-ever with a foreign power. Then a series of large combat readiness “snap checks” in the Far East that eventually involved 160,000 troops, 1000 AFVs, 130 aircraft and 70 ships. Documentary here. This concluded on the 22nd and now there is a series of “snap drills” for the Strategic Missile Forces.

INTERESTING STORY. Saakashvili – not typically a source I give much credibility to – has charged that before the August 2008 war Jerusalem gave Moscow the operating codes for the RPVs it had sold Georgia; in return Moscow passed over the codes for a SAM system in Iran. I don’t find this unbelievable: I noticed how swiftly the RPVs disappeared and how immediately after August 2008 Jerusalem dropped Tbilisi as a customer.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Ottawa, Canada (


SNOWDEN. Putin made an offer that brilliantly solved everybody’s problems: Snowden could stay in Russia but he would have to keep his mouth shut. But Snowden rejected it: he will not keep quiet. But he seems to be running out of options on where to go: thus far no other country has volunteered. So he may have to take Putin’s offer yet. I believe Putin when he says there has been no collaboration between Snowden and Russian intelligence structure: I doubt very much that Snowden has anything to tell Spetssvyaz that it does not already know. Meanwhile I can’t see that this behaviour benefits the USA much.

CORRUPTION. Last Sitrep I wondered whether the anti-corruption drive had bogged down with too many cases on the go to properly finish any one. But here is some evidence that the investigators are still working away: another facet of the OboronServis case has been exposed. And a brand-new case of embezzlement at the Baykonur Space Centre.

WHITE COLLAR CRIME. The Duma, after Putin’s request, has overwhelming passed an amnesty for white collar crimes. It will apply to first-time offenders convicted under financial laws who have compensated their victims and did not use violence. It will come into effect over the next 6 months and is expected to apply to about 13,000 in prison and another 70-80,000 under other penalties. Somewhat overdue: too many of these cases were cooked up as a bizness struggle. In another pro-business move, the Duma has voted to lift foreign ownership restrictions on small and medium-sized businesses.

GLONASS. More bad luck for the program when a PROTON rocket carrying 3 satellites crashed on launch. GLONASS never seems to be able to get the last few satellites up there for world-wide coverage (although I notice that Garmin receivers can pick up the signals). This is also a blow to the very successful and remunerative Russian satellite launch business which relies on PROTONs.

SENTENCE. A few years ago there were protests over a plan to put a highway through a forest north of Moscow; a number of protesters were beaten up. A former official has just been jailed for “masterminding” an especially brutal attack.

CHECHNYA. Levada has published a poll showing that nearly two-thirds of (Russia-wide) respondents wouldn’t be very upset if Chechnya were independent; 12% think it already is (rather astute of them I would say). A spokesman for Kadyrov condemned the very idea of the question. Could it be because it gives the game away? Chechnya these days is run pretty much by people who fought Moscow in the first war and I have always thought that their eventual aim is to tip-toe their way to independence – even if that particular word is avoided. In the meantime Moscow pumps enormous sums of money into Chechnya which are, how shall I put it, astutely spent. Moscow is stuck with Kadyrov. But a lot of Russians are starting to resent this and wonder what the point is. But a question that is probably better not raised at this time.

RUSSIAN SAMS TO SYRIA. Remember that fuss a couple of weeks ago? Russia missiles never showed up but US ones did. Complete with their crews. Obama just confirmed that about 700 US troops including Patriot SAMs and fighter planes are to remain in Jordan. The Russian story was just a bit of prestidigitation.

FADING COLOURS. The Kyrgyz parliament voted to close the US air base in Manas in a years’ time and President Atambayev has just signed the bill. And more nasty revelations from Georgia.

DID SAAKASHVILI SUPPORT JIHADISTS? More evidence from a disinterested source – a must-read.

CHINA. Rosneft has announced an agreement with Beijing to supply 365 million tonnes of oil over the next 25 years and jointly develop several fields with the China National Petroleum Corporation. I guess Moscow is tired of reading about its “energy weapon” and “energy blackmail”.

LATVIA SYMBOLS. Latvians, like the other Balts, have difficulty deciding who their war heroes are: those who wore Soviet Army uniforms and defeated the Nazis, or those who joined the Nazis to fight the Soviets; citizens of little countries caught in the middle don’t have any happy choices. Every year this wound is re-opened with the SS veteran parade. Parliament has just passed a law banning the public display of both Soviet and Nazi symbols, which is a solution of sorts. The Russian Foreign Ministry was again dumb enough to react: “blasphemous attempt to rewrite the history of World War II”. Calm down: it’s Latvia’s problem, not yours.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Ottawa, Canada (

Snowdon’s arrival in transit was a surprise to the Russians

I wasn’t going to attempt an answer to Vlad’s questions because I didn’t know what to think about the Snowden affair. Was he alone? Was he a whistleblower appalled at the realities of the world? Or a spy? A traitor? An opportunist? Was his arrival at Sheremetyevo a clever move in a chess game or a panicked flight? (Edward Jay Epstein, one of the few MSM reporters who is not a copy typist, raises some good questions here.)

All I knew was that he was no longer in Hong Kong and that Putin told us last week that he was in no-man’s-land in Sheremetyevo and hoped he would go away soon. (Few commentators understand that all international airports must have such a limbo lest any stowaway, with his feet on the new country, immediately claim asylum or otherwise initiate other tiresome and expensive legalities). But was he still there or had he moved on? Well we know now he’s still there; Ecuador doesn’t particularly want him; he has asked several countries for asylum. Not such a clever chess game it seems.

And he has asked Moscow for asylum and it sounds as if he will been granted it. But there’s a condition: Putin has said “If he wants to stay here, there is one condition: He must stop his work aimed at harming our US partners, no matter how strange this may sound coming from me.” So stay, but be silent. Putin also said there had been no collaboration with Russia’s intelligence services.

Altogether a very clever solution to Moscow’s and Washington’s mutual problem. After years of observation, I have learned that Putin never gives the lie direct, although he does not answer all questions fully. If he says there was no collaboration with Russian intelligence agencies, I believe him. (And not least because it is highly unlikely that Snowden has anything to tell them that they do not already know. Snowden’s big secret, electrifying the outside world, is the fact and extent of the collecting, not the details collected. Spetssvyaz knows all that and does the very same thing.) I also believe that Snowdon’s arrival in transit was a surprise to the Russians and his staying there so long a bigger surprise.

But Putin has cleverly squared the circle: Snowden is safe, but the further damage he can do to the USA is ended. Everybody should be happy – or at least as happy as is possible in the circumstances.

So one interesting question to watch will be how Washington takes this. It is the best available result for it: no embarrassing trial (or more embarrassing non-trial) and no more publicity and leaks. (And the possibility of a quiet interview with Snowden when the fuss has calmed down)

But the most interesting thing to watch will be the anti-Russia mob: will they be able to figure all this out and acknowledge the favour Putin has done Washington? Or will they wind themselves up into another anti-Putin rant? Another learning opportunity for them. And just after Boston too.