Navalny

Neil Buckley

Alexei Navalny, opposition leader and blogger, who came second in Moscow's mayoral election (Reuters)

Little by little, more air is set to be let into Russia’s tightly managed democracy. Opposition members from outside Kremlin-approved parties ­– the so-called non-system opposition ­– will be allowed to compete in, and even win, local-level elections. The recent polls in Moscow and Yekaterinburg were the start.

Those are conclusions that can be drawn from four days of discussions last week among invited Russian and foreign experts at the annual Valdai Club conference, and off-record meetings with some very senior Russian officials. They provided some grounds to hope that the worst of the clampdown that followed the demonstrations of winter 2011-2012 may be over. Having established some ground rules, the Kremlin seems to be elaborating a new approach to the opposition

Gideon Rachman

There was something poignant about Alexei Navalny‘s speculation that he might get a suspended sentence on trumped-up charges of theft and embezzlement. The Kremlin does not do subtlety and it does not do mercy. Mr Navalny, who coined the phrase “party of crooks and thieves” to describe Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party, knows that better than most. And, in the event, the sentence announced today was five years in prison. More than enough to take Mr Navalny out of politics, and to send a clear message to anybody who dares to try to challenge Vladimir Putin.