Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny accused the Kremlin of trying to block him from running in next year’s presidential election after a court on Wednesday found him guilty of embezzlement. Navalny, who has made a name for himself exposing official corruption, said he would still stand for president, but it was not immediately clear if that was legally possible. The court, in the provincial city of Kirov, found Navalny guilty of embezzlement in relation to a timber firm called Kirovles, and gave him a five-year suspended prison sentence. Navalny denies wrongdoing. “What we are seeing now is a sort of telegram sent from the Kremlin, saying that they believe that I, my team, and the people whose views I voice, are too dangerous to allow us to take part in the election campaign,” Navalny said.
“We don’t recognize this ruling. I have every right to take part in the election according to the constitution and I will do so,” he told reporters in the court room, moments after the sentence was handed down.
Late last year, Navalny announced a plan to run for president in 2018, when Vladimir Putin’s current term expires. Putin has not said if he will seek a new term, though most Kremlin-watchers expect him to run.
If Navalny is allowed to run and is up against Putin, opinion polls indicate the opposition leader will lose by a big margin. However, having Navalny on the ballot paper could be an irritant for the Kremlin.