26 July 2013. Just one day after handing him a five year prison sentence, the court abruptly decided to release Russia’s most charismatic opposition leader, Alexei Navalny. In an unusual move the prosecutors themselves asked for the release of Navalny pending his appeal. The courts are widely considered to be at Putin’s disposal. Navalny, an anti-corruption blogger was handed the sentence for embezzlement conviction that was widely seen as unfair.
Thousands of Navalny’s supporters gathered Thursday around Moscow’s Manezhnaya Square outside the Kremlin for an unsanctioned protest of what they called a politically motivated ruling, chanting “Freedom!” and “Putin is a thief!” in open defiance of the authorities.
Navalny himself credited the protesters with his release, telling reporters Friday that his conviction and sentence “had been vetted by the presidential administration . . . but when people came out on Manezhnaya, they rushed to go back on that decision.”
Kremlin Mayoral election was scheduled for 8 September and it is widely expected that a Kremlin backed candidate will win. Navalny is expected to be the opposition candidate in these elections.
The leadership of Russia’s law-enforcement agencies, referred to as “siloviki,” wants to wipe out the opposition completely. But some other Putin lieutenants believe that the radical opposition poses no immediate threat and could be allowed to take part in elections, giving them legitimacy.
According to a recent opinion survey by the respected independent Levada Centre showed that Navalny had only 5% support in Moscow and he is practically unknown in the rural areas.
These two approaches seem to be the reason for the contradictory decisions made by Kremlin.
Incumbent Sergei Sobyanin, is relatively popular because of his efforts to spruce up the capital. He is widely expected to win the election easily.