Tall, charismatic clutching his briefcase, He breezed into the court room brimming with confidence and wearing a self-assured smile, if not a little forced. He is Alexei Navalny, Russia’s main opposition leader.
500 miles east of Moscow, in the city of Kirov, Alexei Navalny is awaiting the sentencing to charges of embezzlement and I have a front row seat.
Like many Russian cities, Kirov wasn’t it’s original name, in fact it was renamed more than once. It was first mentioned as Khlynov in 1374, then in 1780 Catherine the Great renamed it as Vyatka, presumably after the river Vyatka that runs through the city. In 1934 it was renamed again, this time as Kirov, after the Soviet leader Sergey Kirov, who was assassinated on 1st December 1934.
Away from the court, despite below zero temperatures, locals enjoy the park with its deep snow, frozen lakes and flocks of birds in search of a meal. Did they know about the court case? did they care?
With camera in hand I walked amongst them, I had no plan, I just wanted to capture a flavour Kirov. I thought I would be treated with suspicion, in fact I was greeted with smiles, more than I’d received in Moscow. I was even approached by a few locals in the park, at one point having a conversation, a few words of English and a few words of Russian, the old man explained the ice fishermen won’t catch anything here.
Streets powdered with snow and graffitied covered walls, our stay was only brief. It was good to have a bit of time to look around, engage with the locals and capture life in Kirov, albeit only life on the surface.
After summarising for three and half hours the Judge finally reached his verdict, Alexei Navalny was given a five year suspended sentence. This, however, means that he will not be able to run for president next year against Vladimir Putin. What does this mean for the future of politics in Russia? Navalny will no doubt appeal, would his absence undermine the legitimacy of the election? The only thing that is certain, is that nothing is certain when it comes to Russian politics.