Putin critic Navalny says 'ready for prison'

Charismatic Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who goes on trial in just over one week, said Monday that he was mentally prepared for a prison sentence and had even packed a bag of clothes to take to jail.

In an interview published in opposition New Times weekly, Navalny said that he was ready to be imprisoned in his embezzlement case, which he believes is being personally directed by President Vladimir Putin.

The trial will be the latest high-profile process that Putin's opponents have condemned as a political show trial, after the sentences handed down to anti-Kremlin tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky and the radical rock group Pussy Riot in the last years.

"Mentally, I am ready for this (prison). I have prepared for it: I've written out powers of attorney and discussed with my wife many times how and what we'll do," said Navalny.

"If they jail me, they jail me," Navalny said defiantly.

"I value what I've done and I'm not going to change my position now because prison has appeared on the horizon. I'm a grown-up. I chose this road."

His embezzlement trial is set to begin April 17 in the northern city of Kirov. Navalny is accused of causing a loss of 16 million rubles ($509,000) to the regional government in an obscure business deal while acting as its advisor.

Navalny's pessimistic comments came after he for the first time last week declared that he wanted to stand for Russian president, saying: "I want to change life in this country".

Putin hinted to Germany's ARD television last week that he did not rule out serving another presidential term himself, saying that he was "far from the longest-lived person in politics."

Navalny, who insists he is innocent, said he believed Putin was "personally giving directions" in the embezzlement case and was likely to jail him for up to ten years rather than give him a suspended sentence.

Both outcomes would preclude him from ever holding office.

"He (Putin) and his entourage need to hold onto power. And to keep power they have no other mechanisms than to put people in prison -- as they do," he said.

"I'm not the first and unfortunately not the last -- we should expect that they will jail many more people."

Navalny speculated that Putin may have hoped he would flee abroad ahead of the trial, since he was given advance warning of his charge and the start of the trial.

"I won't run away, I won't go into emigration," he vowed.

Navalny said he had even worked out what he would need for his first days in prison.

"What will I take to prison? Slippers, tracksuit bottoms, pants, socks and trainers without an insole and with Velcro fasteners," he said.

"You need trainers without laces right at the moment when they put you under guard in the courtroom."

Navalny, a lawyer by training, helped spearhead a mass protest movement in Moscow and has embarrassed ruling party officials with exposes on his whistleblowing blog.

He said he was thinking of jailed oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who supporters say was put in prison for defying Putin.

"I often think about Khodorkovsky now," Navalny said.

He contrasted his life in a Moscow suburb with Khodorkovsky's lavish lifestyle before he was detained in 2003 and convicted of fraud and tax evasion, and then in a second trial of embezzlement and money laundering.

"I'm going to move into a jail cell from a 75-square metre flat in Maryino, but how was it for him to go to a prison camp after a mansion, five-star-hotels, a private jet and everything else that a person with a multi-million fortune gets used to?"