Russian court sentences Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny to more than two years in prison

A Moscow court ordered Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny jailed for more than two years on Tuesday, locking up President Vladimir Putin’s best-known opponent in defiance of mass protests and a Western outcry.

The decision to turn a 2014 suspended sentence into real jail time will see Mr Navalny, a 44-year-old anti-corruption campaigner who accuses the Kremlin of poisoning him last year, serve a lengthy prison term for the first time. 

It is likely to set off new protests after thousands joined nationwide demonstrations over the last two weekends, and to further inflame tensions with Western governments who have been demanding his release.

Russian protesters take to Moscow’s streets on 31 January in support of the opposition leader Alexey Navalny who was arrested when he returned from Germany.

AAP/Sipa USA Mihail Siergiejevicz / SOPA Imag

Judge Natalya Repnikova ordered a suspended three-and-a-half-year sentence Mr Navalny received on fraud charges in 2014 to be changed to time in a penal colony, an Agence France-Presse journalist at the courthouse said.

Ms Repnikova said time Mr Navalny previously spent under house arrest in the sentence would count as time served, and, according to his team, that would mean at least two-and-a-half years in prison now.

Mr Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Fund (FBK) immediately called for a protest in central Moscow.

“We’re going to the centre of Moscow right now,” it wrote on Twitter, urging supporters to join them.

In a fiery courtroom speech ahead of the ruling, Mr Navalny accused Mr Putin of trying to intimidate his critics and mocked the Russian leader over allegations the Novichok nerve agent used to poison him had been placed in his underwear. 

“They are putting one person behind bars to scare millions,” Mr Navalny said. 

While Mr Putin wanted to be seen as a great statesman, Mr Navalny said, the Russian leader instead “will go down in history as a poisoner of underpants”.

Mr Navalny was detained at a Moscow airport on 17 January when he returned from Germany, where he had spent months recovering from the August poisoning.

He was charged with violating the terms of his parole under the 2014 suspended sentence on fraud charges because he did not check in with the prison service while in Germany.

The European Court of Human Rights in 2017 condemned the initial ruling in the fraud case as “arbitrary and manifestly unreasonable”.

Police on Moscow streets

Police in full riot gear deployed in parts of Moscow and Saint Petersburg ahead of the ruling, according to journalists from Agence France-Presse

Tens of thousands have taken to the streets of Moscow and other Russian cities over the last two weekends to call for Mr Navalny’s release, prompting a massive police clampdown that saw several thousand people arrested.

Law enforcement officers stand guard in front of a monument to Soviet Marshal Georgy Zhukov outside Red Square in Moscow on 2 February.

Law enforcement officers stand guard in front of a monument to Soviet Marshal Georgy Zhukov outside Red Square in Moscow on 2 February.


Police detained more protesters outside the courtroom on Tuesday, with OVD-Info, a group that monitors arrests and opposition protests, saying more than 300 people including journalists had been detained.

Russian security forces mounted a massive operation during the most recent protest on Sunday, blocking off parts of central Moscow and detaining more than 5,400 people across the country. 

Mr Navalny’s arrest and the mass detentions have triggered a wave of condemnation from the West, with many leaders calling for his release and some urging new sanctions against Moscow. 

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell is expected to raise the issue of Mr Navalny during a visit this week to Moscow.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Tuesday there was no reason Mr Navalny’s detention should affect Russia’s ties with European countries.

“We hope that such nonsense as linking the prospects of Russia-EU relations with the resident of a detention centre will not happen,” he told reporters, in keeping with a Kremlin tradition of never using Mr Navalny’s name.

Anti-corruption investigations

While he has never held elected office, Mr Navalny has made a name for himself with anti-graft investigations exposing the wealthy lifestyles of Russia’s elite.

Two days after he was placed in pre-trial custody last month, his team released an investigation into an opulent seaside property Mr Navalny claims was given to Mr Putin through a billion-dollar scheme financed by close associates who head state companies.

The probe was published alongside a YouTube video report that has garnered more than 100 million views.

Mr Putin denied owning the property and last week a billionaire businessman close to the Russian leader, Arkady Rotenberg, said he was the owner and was turning it into a hotel.

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Kremlin buffed by questions about Putin’s billion-dollar palace

The property in the village of Praskoveevka near the city of Gelendzhik on the Black Sea coast, which Alexey Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) claims to be Vladimir Putin’s palace, directly or indirectly belongs to one or several entrepreneurs, Putin’s official spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

“Indeed, this is a large object, and it is well known in Gelendzhik. One or several individuals directly or indirectly own this object. But you must agree that, probably, the Kremlin has no right to disclose the names of those owners. We are not going to do this as it would be incorrect,” Peskov said.

A journalist noted that the FBK investigation does not even say that the palace belongs to Putin directly. In addition, it is only few individuals, who may own such large property. However, the existence of the no-fly zone above the palace and the presence of FSB or FSO security in the area generates associations with the top leadership of the country.

Peskov could not give an explanation about the existence of either the no-fly zone or security protection. He recommended journalists should ask such questions to special services. According to Peskov, President Putin gave a clearly negative answer to the question of whether he was the owner of the palace.

On January 25, Russian President Putin held a video meeting with students. Danil Chemezov, a student at the Ufa State Oil Technical University, asked Putin if it was true that he owned the palace near Gelendzhik. The head of state said that he had not watched FBK’s documentary in its entirety, but he did look through video compilations on the topic. He then said that he considered Navalny’s latest documentary a compilation of information collected over the recent ten years or so, the goal of which was to “brainwash our citizens.”

“Nothing that is stated there as my property belongs either to me or to any of my close relatives, and it never did. Never,” Putin said.

He confirmed that the FBK documentary mentioned his friends, former colleagues, “some distant relatives, acquaintances,” but also people whom he did not know. The student was satisfied with the answer and called it “complete and logical.”

Alexey Navalny’s associate Leonid Volkov, earlier explained in his Telegram channel that the essence of the FBK investigation was not about the fact of whether it was Putin’s palace or not.

“The point and the news is that

  1. we showed the entire money laundering scheme to finance and maintain the palace through state corporations;

  2. we showed what was inside, and through those interiors we could show the insides of Putin’s skull – – a pathetic little man who has neither fantasy nor taste.”

The “Putin’s palace” documentary has gained more than 91 million views in only one week.

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Kremlin Accuses U.S. of Meddling After 3,500 Protesters Detained

The Kremlin on Sunday accused the United States of interfering in Russia’s domestic affairs and downplayed the scale of the weekend’s protests, when tens of thousands rallied in support of jailed opposition politician Alexei Navalny.

More than 3,500 demonstrators were detained in protests across the country on Saturday, with several injured in clashes with police in Moscow, following Navalny’s call to rally against President Vladimir Putin’s 20-year rule.

The West has widely condemned the “harsh tactics” used against demonstrators, with French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian saying Sunday the mass arrests of protesters was “an intolerable affront” and a “slide towards authoritarianism.”

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell has said the bloc would discuss “next steps” on Monday.

Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Sunday accused the U.S. embassy of interfering in Russia’s domestic affairs after the mission distributed a “demonstration alert” to U.S. citizens in Russia recommending they avoid protests.

“Of course, these publications are inappropriate,” Peskov told a state TV channel. “And of course indirectly, they are absolutely an interference in our domestic affairs.”

A U.S. mission spokeswoman said U.S. embassies and consulates around the world routinely issue safety messages to U.S. citizens.

“This is a common, routine practice of many countries’ diplomatic missions,” she told AFP on Sunday.

The U.S. embassy in Moscow on Saturday said that Washington supported “the right of all people to peaceful protest, freedom of expression.”

Protests in over 100 cities

Peskov also accused protest organizers of seeking to “rock the boat” and said the number of people who had demonstrated paled in comparison to Putin supporters.

“A lot of people vote for Putin,” Peskov said, pointing to last year’s constitutional plebiscite that allowed 68-year-old Putin to remain in power until 2036.

Navalny, Putin’s most prominent critic, was arrested on returning to Moscow last weekend following months of treatment in Germany for a near-fatal poisoning with a Soviet-designed Novichok nerve agent.

He then called for Saturday’s unauthorized protests, which took on an unprecedented geographic scale, spanning more than 100 cities.

Around 20,000 people protested in Moscow and more than 10,000 in Saint Petersburg, according to estimates from AFP journalists, with rallies also held in numerous countries including France and Lithuania.

Leonid Volkov, the head of Navalny’s regional network, praised the turnout.

“I am certainly proud, very impressed and inspired,” Volkov told AFP. Navalny’s team is hoping to stage another rally next weekend.

Many at the protests said they were angered by the findings of a Navalny investigation into an opulent Black Sea property allegedly owned by Putin.

The two-hour report, which claims that Putin owns “the world’s most expensive palace” allegedly financed through a massive corruption scheme, has been viewed nearly 80 million times on YouTube.

Peskov said the luxury mansion on the Black Sea was “private” property and had nothing to do with Putin.

Protester in intensive care 

Moscow officials said that 29 people received medical assistance in hospitals and were released, while a female protester in Saint Petersburg was in intensive care after a policeman kicked her in the stomach.

Saint Petersburg prosecutors said they were probing violations on “the part of law enforcement” and the use of force against a woman.

The statement was released after local media published a video showing a middle-aged woman falling to the ground after being kicked by riot police.

The Investigative Committee, which probes major crimes, said it has launched criminal inquiries in Moscow over the use of violence against law enforcement, hooliganism and property damage.

In a separate statement, investigators said a 36-year-old man was detained after hitting two policemen at the Saint Petersburg protest.

The OVD Info monitor said police seized at least 3,521 protesters, with 1,398 people detained in Moscow and 526 in Saint Petersburg.

The head of the Kremlin’s human rights council, Valery Fadeyev, said most of those detained in Moscow had been released.

He also defended the detentions, saying the protests were illegal and took place during a coronavirus pandemic. “I see no violations whatsoever,” he said.

Navalny, who rose to prominence a decade ago, accuses the FSB security agency of seeking to poison him on Putin’s orders.

He is the target of several criminal probes and supporters fear authorities are planning to sentence him to a long prison term.

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As it Happened: Kremlin Critic Navalny Jailed After Return to Russia

Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny will be kept in custody until mid-February, a court ruled Monday, following his detention Sunday evening at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport.

The 44-year-old opposition leader flew back to Moscow after spending several months in Germany recovering from a poisoning attack that he said was carried out on the orders of President Vladimir Putin.

In the hearing Monday, a court set-up in a local police station on the outskirts of Moscow ruled to prolong his detention for 30 days, until Feb. 15. Navalny will now await a new trial on whether he violated the terms of a controversial suspended sentence handed down in 2014 by not reporting to authorities in person while in Germany.

The opposition leader’s aides and lawyers said they were denied access to him for nearly 15 hours after he was detained, and his spokeswoman said they were give one minute’s notice before Monday’s hearing began at 12:30 p.m.

Live updates:

20:30 Russian police have detained around 50 activists in St. Petersburg who were protesting Navalny’s detention, the Sota Vision telegram channel reported.

19:30 In a press conference outside the police station, Navalny’s lawyer Olga Mikhailova said she will “definitely appeal this decision, as it is completely inconsistent with the law,” the independent Mediazona news site reported.

19:05 Police have begun to detain protestors outside the police station where Navalny’s hearing took place, the Open Russia NGO reported.

18:55 Navalny was escorted out of the police station and put into a police van. He will be taken to Moscow’s Matrosskaya Tishina prison, according to his lawyers. “Alexey will remain there until at least Feb.15, but the detention could be extended. Sooner or later, a trial will take place to replace the suspended sentence with a real one,” Navalny’s spokesperson Kira Yarmysh said in a tweet.

18:10 The hearing to determine whether Navalny’s suspended sentence of 3.5 years will be converted into a prison sentence has been postponed from Jan. 29 to Feb. 2, Navalny’s lawyer told Mediazona.

17:40 Reacting to the decision, Lyubov Sobol, a Navalny ally and lawyer, said: “It is important to understand that this is not 30 days in a special detention center which ends with release. This is a pre-trial detention center where Alexei was put pending consideration of the case to replace the suspended sentence with a real one.” 

Navalny was serving a suspended sentence regarding a 2014 fraud case, under which he was required to report in person two times a month. While in Germany recovering from the poisoning attack he missed six such appointments, prison authorities said earlier January. The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has attacked the 2014 conviction.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has previously ruled that Russia had violated the rights of Navalny and his brother Oleg to a fair trial in that case — concerning embezzlement charges relating French cosmetics firm Yves Rocher — and ordered that they be compensated for moral damages and legal costs.

17:10 Navalny called on his supporters to come to the streets in protest and told them not to be afraid, in a video posted to YouTube after the verdict, recorded while he was awating the decision. Navalny’s close associate Leonid Volkov announced mass nationwide protests in his support on Saturday, Jan. 23 ahead of an anticipated fraud trial.

“This thieving, bunker-dwelling old guy [Putin] sits and shakes in fear,” Navalny said. “They are afraid and therefore they are doing everything so urgently, secretly, in a hushed hurry. They are afraid and they are afraid of you,” Navalny said.

“Don’t be afraid to take the streets. Not for me, but for yourselves and your future.”

17:00 Navalny’s allies have attacked the court decision. “They detained him at the border, took him to unknown places. His lawyer was not granted access, the hearing was carried out urgently right in the police station and he was detained for 30 days,” Navalny’s spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh said. “This cannot even be called a parody of the rule of law.”

16:53 The court announces its decision. Alexei Navalny will remain in custody for 30 days, until Feb. 15.

16:45 The court has reconvened and started announcing its decision, Navalny’s spokesperson Kira Yarmysh said.

16:40 The court hearing is being held in a police station, as opposed to a proper court, because Navalny does not have a negative coronavirus test following his arrival from Germany, Russia’s Ministry of Internal Affairs said in a statement. It added: “In order to ensure sanitary and epidemiological safety, access to the room where the court session is taking place is limited.”

16:30 The second court hearing scheduled for later today (15.55) is an appeal launched on Navalny’s behalf against a previous court ruling freezing his assets and property, Ivan Zhdanov, Director of Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, said on Twitter.

16:25 There has been no public announcement from the court since the judge announced a 15-minute break and said the verdict would be delivered at 15:45, according to Navalny’s lawyer.

15:55 A second separate court hearing with Navalny is scheduled for today at 16:45, according to a court schedule seen by the VTimes.

15:40 One of the supporters gathered outside the Khimki police station was filmed waving blue underwear. That article of clothing came into focus in Russia after Navalny released video of a phone call where he tricked a suspected Russian intelligence agent last month into admitting that Novichok had been placed in his underpants.

15:35 Navalny’s lawyer Vadim Kobzev said the judge has retreated to deliver the verdict at 15:45. “She only needs 15 minutes, meaning that [the verdict] is already ready,” the lawyer said.

15:30 “Lyosha, when you were poisoned, I said that we can cope with everything, we will cope with this as well. Perhaps now you will even have time to read this, unlike the last time: there is no thing that we cannot cope with. Everything will definitely be fine!” Navalny’s wife Yulia said in an Instagram post. Yulis Navalnaya was with her husband yesterday when he was being arrested. 

15:10 The representative of the Ministry of Internal Affairs proposes to arrest Navalny for 30 days for repeatedly violating the conditions of the probationary period, Life Shot Telegram channel reports.

14:05 Dozens of police officers have gathered in front of the police station where Navalny’s court hearing is being held, according to footage from MBX Media.

13:55 The court hearing has gone on a 50-minute break. The judge granted Navalny’s defense 30 minutes to familiarize themselves with the case, and 20 minutes to talk to the client.

13:50 Navalny asked to grant journalists accreditation and access to cover the ongoing court hearing. “They (journalists) are not physically accredited, which indicates a very strange bias. Of course, I advocate that this process is as transparent as possible, so that all media have the opportunity to observe this amazing absurdity that is happening here. I want … real journalists who are right now standing outside the gates in the cold to be allowed in. You cannot, excuse me, pretend that this is not happening..” Navalny said.

13:13 Only journalists from the pro-government Life Shot tabloid and the state-run Rossia television channel have been allowed into the room, Navalny’s spokeswoman said.

12:58 “Why is the court hearing taking place at the police [station]?… I’ve seen a lot of mockery of justice, but it appears that the old man in the bunker [Putin] is so afraid that he demonstrably ripped the penal code apart. This is lawlessness of the highest order, I can’t call it anything less,” Navalny said in a video published by his spokeswoman.

This story is being updated.

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Kremlin critic defies Vladimir Putin to return to Russia after Novichok poisoning

Moscow: Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny was bound for Russia on Sunday to return home for the first time since he was poisoned last summer despite Russian authorities threatening to arrest him upon arrival.

Navalny, one of President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent domestic critics, was flown to Berlin in August last year for emergency medical treatment after being poisoned with what German tests showed was a Novichok nerve agent.

Alexei Navalny boards his flight to Moscow at Berlin Brandenburg airport on Sunday.Credit:AP

“This is the best moment in the last five months,” he told reporters after he boarded the plane in the German capital, bound for Moscow. “I feel great. Finally, I’m returning to my home town.”

He announced his decision to return from Germany on Wednesday, and a day later Moscow’s prison service said it would do everything to arrest him once he returned, accusing him of flouting the terms of a suspended prison sentence for embezzlement, a 2014 case he says was trumped up.

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You’re better off this way. How the Kremlin canceled public politics in 2020

The principles of Russian politics changed beyond recognition last year. In-person voting held over multiple days (first introduced as a temporary pandemic measure) was codified and made permanent, supposedly for voters’ convenience, guaranteeing victory for the authorities’ candidates (even in regions where protest sentiment is high). The State Duma hastily adopted a series of repressive laws that complicated election monitoring, campaigning, and peaceful forms of protest. The authorities tried to remove society from political participation and distance the public from any decision-making, as the country prepares for new parliamentary elections in 2021. At first glance, these efforts have been a success, so far.

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Russia gives Kremlin critic Navalny an ultimatum: Return immediately or face jail

FILE PHOTO: Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny takes part in a rally in Moscow, Russia, February 29, 2020. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov/File Photo

December 28, 2020

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia’s prison service on Monday gave Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny a last minute ultimatum: Fly back from Germany at once and report at a Moscow office early on Tuesday morning, or be jailed if you return after that deadline.

Navalny, one of President Vladimir Putin’s leading critics, was airlifted to Germany for treatment in August after collapsing on a plane in what Germany and other Western nations say was an attempt to murder him with a Novichok nerve agent.

Russia has said it has seen no evidence he was poisoned and has denied any involvement in the incident.

The Federal Prison Service (FSIN) on Monday accused Navalny of violating the terms of a suspended prison sentence he is still serving out over a conviction dating from 2014, and of evading the supervision of Russia’s criminal inspection authority.

Citing an article in the British medical publication The Lancet about his treatment, it said Navalny had been discharged from hospital in Berlin on Sept. 20 and that all symptoms of what it called his illness had vanished by Oct. 12.

“Therefore the convicted man is not fulfilling all of the obligations placed on him by the court, and is evading the supervision of the Criminal Inspectorate,” it said.

Navalny is serving out a suspended three-and-a-half-year prison term over a theft case he says was politically-motivated. His probation period expires on Dec. 30.

The prison service said in a statement late on Monday that it had summoned Navalny to report to the inspection authority and that his suspended sentence could be changed to a real jail term if his suspected violations of the terms of the suspended sentence were proven to be true.

The prison service mentioned no deadline, but Navalny posted a screenshot of a message to his lawyer which said he had until 0900 on Tuesday to return and show up at a Moscow office.

His spokeswoman, Kira Yarmysh, said on Twitter, it was impossible for Navalny to return in time, that he was still convalescing after his poisoning, and accused the prison service of acting on orders from the Kremlin.

“There’s no way he could appear at the Moscow Criminal Inspectorate tomorrow. But does the FSIN really care about common sense? They were given an order, they are fulfilling it,” she wrote.

The Kremlin has said Navalny is free to return to Russia at any time like any other Russian citizen.

(Reporting by Tom Balmforth; editing by Andrew Osborn)

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Lyubov Sobol, an ally of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, detained for 48 hours, lawyer says

Lyubov Sobol, an ally of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, was detained for 48 hours after questioning, according to her lawyer.

Russia launched a criminal case against Ms Sobol over accusations she had violently entered a flat that her supporters said was linked to a secret agent involved in a plot to kill Mr Navalny.

The move against Ms Sobol is the latest in a clampdown on the Kremlin’s opponents before next year’s parliamentary election.

Ms Sobol aims to run for office, although outspoken critics of the Kremlin are often prevented from standing.

Russia’s Investigative Committee, which handles serious crimes, said on its website it had launched a criminal case against Ms Sobol.

It did not mention any detention.

Her supporters said she rang the doorbell of an apartment owned by the family of a man who Mr Navalny has said was an FSB security service officer involved in a bungled attempt to poison him using a nerve agent.

The FSB has dismissed Mr Navalny’s account of the poisoning.

In its account, the Investigative Committee said Ms Sobol and several others tried to gain entry to an old woman’s flat in Moscow, wearing uniforms used by the state consumer health watchdog.

Lyubov Sobol and Alexei Navalny standing next to each other at a rally looking at the camera
Lyubov Sobol (left) is an ally of Alexei Navalny, who spoke out against her detainment on Twitter.(Reuters: Shamil Zhumatov, file)

It accused her of tricking a delivery courier to enter the apartment block before barging into the woman’s flat when she opened the door.

It said Ms Sobol was suspected of using violence to enter illegally, an offence that can carry a jail term of up to two years.

Mr Navalny wrote on Twitter: “They are locking up the mother of a small child for two days to tell everybody: don’t dig into this case. Don’t dare to mess with our killers and poisoners and knock on their doors. These killers are untouchable.”

Germany and other Western nations say Mr Navalny was poisoned with a Soviet-style Novichok nerve agent in a murder attempt.

The Kremlin has repeatedly denied the accusations.


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Kremlin happy Russians will be able to compete at Olympics

The Kremlin voiced regret Friday about the ruling that banned Russia from using its name, flag and anthem at the next two Olympics, but emphasised that the verdict would still allow the country’s athletes to compete.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport halved a proposed four-year ban to two years and left Russia in full control of its roster while also scrapping a plan to exclude athletes suspected of benefiting from past doping cover-ups.

Olympic ringsCredit:AP

Russian sports officials were elated about the ruling because the new restrictions will be weaker than before.

“Of course, we regret this decision, and, of course, our attitude to it is negative,” Dmitry Peskov, President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, said in a conference call. “But, at the same time, as our senior sports officials have already noted, the most important thing is that athletes get the right to take part in international competitions, which will help them maintain their international qualifications and remain in good shape.”

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Kremlin says Russia’s Olympic ban regrettable, but sees small positives

FILE PHOTO: Logo of Russia’s Olympic Committee is seen on its building in Moscow, Russia November 23, 2019. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

December 18, 2020

MOSCOW (Reuters) – The Kremlin said on Friday a court ruling partially upholding Russia’s Olympic doping ban was regrettable and that Moscow viewed it negatively, though it added it was good the sanctions would still allow Russian athletes to compete.

Russian athletes will be barred from competing under the country’s flag at major international events, including the Olympics, until 2022 after a Swiss court on Thursday upheld doping sanctions but halved the original four-year ban.

“Of course we regret this (ruling), we view it negatively,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. “But at the same time, the main thing is that athletes are getting the right to take part in competitions” as neutral competitors.

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) said the measures were “the strongest set of consequences ever imposed on any country for doping-related offences.”

Russian officials, despite their disappointment at more sanctions, focused on the fact the outcome was not worse and that Russians will still be taking part in the world’s most prestigious sporting events.

“The outcome today is a victory for Russia,” Mikhail Bukhanov, acting director of Russian anti-doping agency RUSADA, said on Thursday. “CAS did not restrict clean athletes’ right to compete at the Olympic and Paralympic Games, as well as at world championships.”

Sports Minister Oleg Matytsin said it was “positive” that the sanctions would only last until December 2022, instead of four years.

(Reporting by Maxim Rodionov; Writing by Tom Balmforth and Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Alison Williams and Mark Potter)

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