Mr. Navalny’s backers sometimes say that the exact length of his prison term matters little, because they expect Mr. Putin’s system to collapse in the coming years. Leonid Volkov, Mr. Navalny’s professed chief of staff, said on Twitter that the government’s expectation that Mr. Navalny would serve a full nine years was “the same overestimation of their strength as the one that led them to war and economic disaster.”
But for the moment, Mr. Putin has the upper hand. The Kremlin has forced Mr. Navalny’s network of supporters into exile and, in recent weeks, blocked access to Instagram and Facebook, and cracked down further on the independent media — making it ever harder for Mr. Navalny to communicate with the Russian public.
There is substantial evidence that the Russian government was responsible for the poisoning that nearly killed Mr. Navalny in August 2020, and with the world’s attention on Ukraine, Mr. Navalny’s supporters fear that his life is in danger again.
“Without public protection, Aleksei will be face to face with those who have already tried to kill him,” his spokeswoman, Kira Yarmysh, posted on Twitter on Monday. “And nothing will stop them from trying again. Therefore, we are now talking not only about Aleksei’s freedom, but also about his life.”
Mr. Navalny’s sentencing came amid further crackdowns on freedom of speech in Russia on Tuesday. The country’s Supreme Court turned down an appeal to stop the liquidation of Memorial, a major human rights organization that chronicled political repression in the Soviet Union, after it was designated a “foreign agent” in December.
And the Russian Parliament amended an existing “anti-fakes” law to make it more sweeping. The new language prohibits the spreading of false information or the discrediting of activities that the Russian government performs abroad. The original version of the law referred only to military bodies.
On Tuesday evening, Alexander Nevzorov, a journalist and a former member of Russia’s Parliament, became the most prominent person to be targeted by the law.