A court in a provincial Russian city has found opposition politician Alexei Navalny guilty in a retrial of a 2013 fraud case, which means that he cannot run for president next year.
In a webcast hearing on Wednesday in Kirov, a city nearly 800km east of Moscow, Judge Alexei Vtyurin handed down a five-year suspended prison sentence and a fine of about $8,500 to Navalny for embezzling timber worth about $500,000.
Navalny, 40, pledged to appeal against the “politically motivated” ruling and continue with his plans of challenging President Vladimir Putin in the forthcoming presidential elections even though the Russian law bars anyone convicted of a crime from running for a public office for 10 years.
Igor Sutyagin, a senior research fellow in the Russian studies department at RUSI UK, says the verdict shows Putin’s weakness, “eliminating even tiny, but realistic” competition.
“He announced his plans to run for the presidential election, but he wouldn’t have more than 10 percent,” Sutyagin, speaking from Oxfordshire, told Al Jazeera.
“However, the Kremlin decided to get rid of any more or less realistic competition in this election, not risking even 10 percent. That is why Navalny was given this sentence.”
“Putin is weak because he is not sure whether he can win against even the weakest opposition.”
Al Jazeera’s Rory Challands, reporting from Moscow, said the constitution gives some room for Navalny to still try to run in the election.
“The constitution of the Russian Federation says that any citizen can stand for president as long as he is not in prison,” he said.
“Navalny said he will continue his presidential bid as the constitution allows him and he will be appealing this conviction.”
Authorities have accused Navalny of committing the crime while serving as an adviser to a governor of Russia’s central Kirov region.
The previous guilty verdict was overturned by the European Court of Human Rights, which ruled that Russia had violated Navalny’s right to a fair trial.
Navalny, the driving force behind massive anti-government protests in 2011 and 2012, had announced plans to run for the presidential office in December and had begun to raise funds.