Jailed Russian Opposition Leader Navalny Appears For Court Hearing
NOEL KING, HOST:
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny appeared in a court in Moscow this morning. TV footage showed him wearing a blue hoodie and at times joking with his wife, Yulia - joking despite the fact that this is a serious situation. He's facing up to 3 1/2 years in jail for alleged parole violations. The European Court of Human Rights says the conviction that led to him being on parole, though, was politically motivated. Nina Khrushcheva studies Russia at The New School in New York, but she's in Moscow today, and she's on the line now. Thanks for being with us.
NINA KHRUSHCHEVA: Thank you.
KING: What have you seen today? Are there protests there?
KHRUSHCHEVA: There are protests there - they're not very big, but it's hard to have big protests because everything is essentially blocked around the court where Navalny is in. And I think about 230 people, including journalists, were already - have been already arrested and put in special cars and been taken to places where they will be processed for participating in a protest, which is now - because of COVID or because of other things - Putin and Navalny - basically now a crime.
KING: These protests have been happening throughout the country. As you say, they're often small because it is dangerous to protest in Russia. But I wonder, are they about Alexei Navalny, or are they about something bigger, or is it both?
KHRUSHCHEVA: I think it's about both. I mean, it's something bigger. We just have to remind ourselves all the time that Putin has been in power for 20 years, which is a long, long time. And the generation that is now mostly protesting is exactly those 20, 18-years-old people. So they only know Putin. And as my niece put it to me - she went to protest, and she said, well, I don't want to die with Putin. I was born under Putin. So this is, I think, the major issue. But it's also the Navalny because he was really brilliantly able to bring forward an image of Russia where Putin is not there and offered people some sort of a unity force. You know, we all want to unite around a hero, and he is this kind of hero now - almost mythical. He survived the poisoning. He came back. And so it is also about Navalny, as well. But it's also about sort of the ossified, long-lasting, very corrupt, absurd power that, really, Russia has right now in the Kremlin.
KING: If Navalny - this, as you've described him, almost mythical hero - if he does end up being sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison, what happens to the movement?
KHRUSHCHEVA: Well, I'm actually - it could be 3 1/2 years, but I can even imagine him getting 10 years...
KHRUSHCHEVA: ...Precisely because, as you, of course, know, Putin has another potentially 16 years in power or - yes, 16 years. And so if Putin does plan to stay on, then Navalny is certainly not necessary to kind of lead that oppositional movement. But at the same time, in prison, Navalny is also a big problem for Putin because I don't think - it doesn't seem that people are going to kind of get spooked and scared right now. That won't - really, I've been to all these protests, and that's not what I'm seeing. In fact, if anything, the power looks more ridiculous by essentially occupying its own city, blocking every single exit into the central Moscow and in other places. And so I would imagine that it will continue every weekend with more people, with less people. But that's a headache that the state is going to have.
KING: It is a headache. Is it frightening for Vladimir Putin, or is he too powerful at this point to really be threatened by any of this? And what would your young niece say to that question, I wonder?
KHRUSHCHEVA: Well, it is - I mean, it's kind of - there are three scenarios. And I know we have very little time, so I will be very brief. So one of them - all this is happening in this ridiculous way. It's to undermine Putin. People are very - the elites are very tired of him, and they want to embarrass him in front of the international community, and he will be quietly getting out. Then Putin went crazy. He's terrified. He treats Navalny not as a great opposition figure, sort of on the level of Andrei Sakharov, the great Soviet human rights hero, but as Leon Trotsky. He is - you know, Navalny is a direct threat to his power. And therefore, they're doing anything they can. Or nobody went crazy, and they're actually using the absurd way they're treating Navalny and his threat - or no threat - so they can tighten the screws. It would be a more authoritarian society than it really has been, and Putin is preparing to stay on for a long time.
KING: Nina Khrushcheva, thank you so much for your time this morning.
KHRUSHCHEVA: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.