There was much talk of fairy tales in the court-room in Kirov where Alexei Navalny gave his closing statements on Friday. Since leading the failed revolt against Putin’s kingdom of corruption, Navalny has been charged with stealing 16 million rubles worth of Kirov Forest when he was assistant to the local governor in 2009.
The Kremlin is trying some typically shadowy, sly moves to quell the Russian protest movement, but in Alexey Navalny the opposition may have a tactician who can outplay Putin at his own game. After an unexpected 50,000 demonstrators turned out in Moscow on 10 December to protest against electoral fraud, Mikhail Prokhorov, a flamboyant oligarch, said he supported the protests and would run for president in March. Prokhorov, who owns the New Jersey Nets and Snob magazine, and was arrested a few years ago at a French ski resort on suspicion of pimping (though later released without charge), will be an easy target for Putin’s anti-oligarch rhetoric. It seems a classic Kremlin ruse: push forward an opposition candidate so absurd it only strengthens Putin.