MOSCOW (AP) — A Moscow court decided Thursday to keep Russian opposition leader and anti-corruption blogger Alexei Navalny under house arrest rather than send him to jail pending trial.
The ruling came as a surprise to many of Navalny's supporters, who had predicted that President Vladimir Putin — riding on 80 percent approval ratings after annexing the Ukrainian Black Sea region of Crimea in March — would have no qualms about putting Russia's top opposition figure behind bars.
"Putin has dreamed for a long time of putting Navalny in jail, but he was scared to do it and didn't feel it was in his power," said Nikolai Lyaskin, who works for Navalny's anti-corruption fund and was protesting outside the court building. "Now he's drunk on his power and feels himself unpunishable."
Instead, the court ruled Thursday to extend Navalny's house arrest, which began in February, for six months.
Navalny is already serving a suspended sentence for an embezzlement conviction last summer, when he was nearly jailed but released at the last minute, allowing him to participate in a high-profile Moscow mayoral campaign. As convictions against him mount, each case makes it more likely that his suspended sentence will be turned into a real one.
On Tuesday, Navalny was fined $8,400 for slandering a lawmaker. He has also appeared in court for several administrative cases this year.
In the current case, Navalny and his brother Oleg are accused of defrauding the Russian unit of French cosmetics company Yves Rocher and embezzling 31 million rubles ($870,000) from the company. Yves Rocher has sent a letter to investigators saying the company suffered no damage in the deal.