The Irish Times view on Alexei Navalny: standing up to Putin

A new nine-year sentence for the Kremlin critics underlines the Russian president’s weakness

In jailing the Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny for a further nine years and dispatching him to a prison far from Moscow, Vladimir Putin seeks to demonstrate his power. In fact the show trial of his most charismatic domestic rival underlines the Russian president's weakness.

More than a month into his unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, Russian forces are bogged down and suffering heavy losses as a result of their inept tactics and strategic miscalculations. The large share of responsibility for those errors belongs to Putin himself, who badly misjudged both the strength of Ukrainian resistance and of the Western response to his aggression. Now, as the Russian economy teeters on the edge of a cliff, Putin is suddenly vulnerable.

With his back to the wall, he was always likely to lash out. The criminal and barbaric bombardment of Ukrainian cities is a sign of his frustration, while reports that senior figures in his security establishment have been removed from their positions hint at internal turmoil. Navalny’s latest sentence, following a “trial” on fraud and contempt of court charges, is a politically-motivated act that is inseparable from Putin’s broader push to clamp down on signs of opposition.

The anti-corruption activist, who nearly died in 2020 in an apparent poisoning by the security services, is already in jail but has become one of Russia’s most prominent critics of the war through messages disseminated on social media by his supporters. Moving him to a maximum-security prison 100 km from Moscow will make it more difficult for him to communicate with the outside world. Meanwhile, his Anti-Corruption Foundation has been banned for “extremism” and many of his supporters have fled the country.


Navalny remains defiant. “They can’t jail everyone. You could ask to give me 113 years – you won’t scare me or those like me,” he said. But concerns for his safety are bound to grow. With the world’s eyes trained on the horrors in Ukraine, those brave men and women who continue to stand up to Putin at home need all the attention – and support – they can get.