Before he was handcuffed and led away, Navalny urged his supporters to continue his anti-corruption struggle, tweeting: “Don’t sit around doing nothing.”
U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul said his country was disappointed by the conviction.
Lilia Shevtsova, an analyst at the Carnegie Center in Moscow, had no doubt this was a political trial.
“The whole Navalny case is viewed by the Kremlin as a warning to society,” she said.
“Vladimir Putin would like society to accept the new rules of the game, and the new rules are ‘You have to obey us on the principle of total and absolute loyalty. You don’t have the right to have ambitions, you have no right to fight for power. Loyalty is the main principle of your behavior.’”
“This shows to what extent the government is afraid of Alexei Navalny,” said Yevgenia Albats, chief editor at New Times magazine. “I think they did it because it is the main principle of security officers— not to show weakness. If you put the man on his knees, then you must finish him off.”
The spokesperson of Catherine Ashton, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission, said the charges had “not been substantiated” during the trial.
“Civil society has a vital role to play in exposing wrongdoing and defending human rights, and it should not be stifled,’ the statement said. “This outcome, given the procedural shortcomings, raises serious questions as to the state of the rule of law in Russia.”
The sentence is “an example of Russia’s selective justice, former Russian Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin’s tweeted.
“The sentence looks not like a punishment, but rather a means of isolating him from public life and elections,” he said.
A statement on the Facebook page of oligarch-cum-politician Mikhail Prokhorov said the judge is “the only person in Russia” who didn’t see political motivation in the case.
“From now on every person concluding a commercial contract with anyone will be absolutely sure: he can be jailed at any moment for the contract,” the statement said.
Jailed dissident Mikhail Khodorkovsky said the verdict was inevitable and predictable.
“In Russia, there is nothing unusual about finding political opponents of the regime guilty of criminal offenses – both during the times of the Stalinist terror and in the Khrushchev/Brezhnev years, our law enforcement and judicial system routinely held up opponents of the regime as ordinary criminals, allowing the country’s leaders to hypocritically claim that we had no political prisoners.”
Opposition politician Boris Nemtsov, who attended the hearing, said he was “shocked”. “With today’s ruling, Putin has told the whole world he is a dictator who sends his political opponents to prison,” Nemtsov told Reuters:
Former finance minister Alexei Kudrin, a longtime Putin ally, saw the verdict as “an attempt to isolate him (Navalny) from society and the electoral process”.
Kudrin said the verdict would hurt business activity and the investment climate in Russia, adding to a pall over a country where corruption and lack of property rights undermine the attraction of potentially big profits.
Navalny is the most prominent opposition leader to be prosecuted in Russia since Soviet times.
“This is like 1937 all over again,” said William Browder, once one of Russia’s biggest foreign equity investors:
But pro-Kremlin voices welcomed the prosecution.
Sergei Markov, a Kremlin-connected ‘political technologist’, told Interfax news agency that the court proved that: “Navalny is not an independent social and political actor. He is a foreign political project, a puppet in other people’s hands.”
Vladimir Zhirinovsky, head of the nationalist Liberal Democratic Party, called the verdict “a direct warning to our ‘fifth column.’”
“This will be the fate of everyone who is connected with the West and works against Russia,” he said.
Navalny was targeted because he is a natural politician with the instincts required for leadership, said St. Petersburg political scientist Grigory Golosov.
“Show me another person who, acting almost alone, has been able within a year to deal a tangible blow to a political monopoly of such magnitude,” Golosov wrote before the trial began, saying Navalny has a rare gift of communication. “After two decades of unbridled political ridiculousness, he has largely rehabilitated political debate as meaningful.”
But Carnegie analyst Shevtsova warns that while Navalny’s supporters will be angered by his imprisonment, his support base is too narrow for this to be a defining political moment.
“Navalny is becoming a martyr, a new Russian Mandela,” she said. “Of course they will be prepared to confront the authorities in the future.”
“There is no danger for the time being of a massive tide. Overall the mood within the population at large is pretty quiet.
“Yes, there is frustration and annoyance, they don’t like Putin any more. But few people see a clear alternative. Navalny is not a hero for all people who feel frustrated.”
“In order to be a real political figure, not just a social activist and a rebellious figure of the internet, he has to have a political movement behind him – a clear agenda which is much broader and sophisticated than the struggle with corruption.”