Russian opposition leader provoked prosecution

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny provoked legal scrutiny of his past by "teasing" the authorities, an official said Friday, days before the top critic of President Vladimir Putin goes on trial on embezzlement charges.

The spokesman of Russia's powerful Investigative Committee, Vladimir Markin, strongly defended the decision to prosecute Navalny, in a rare interview with the pro-Kremlin Izvestia newspaper.

Navalny, a popular anti-corruption crusader who last week announced that he wants to be president, is going on trial on April 17 in an embezzlement case he says is fabricated on Putin's orders.

"Why should some street protester have immunity? Because the West is protecting him? That would be possible in some weak country, but not Russia. We are a global power," Markin said.

Apparently admitting that Navalny had come under increased legal scrutiny because of his political activities, Markin said:

"If the suspect is going out of his way to attract attention, even teases the authorities... then the interest toward his past grew and the process of bringing it out to the open hastened."

Navalny, who gained a huge following through his anti-corruption blog before rising to political prominence during the mass protests after the parliamentary elections in December 2010, has accused numerous officials of corruption, including the head of the investigative committee Alexander Bastrykin.

Investigators are accusing him of stealing 10,000 cubic metres of timber and causing a loss of 16 million rubles ($509,000) to the regional government of Kirov in central-northern Russia when he worked as advisor to its governor.

Navalny, who has denied any wrongdoing and made all documents regarding the case available for the public, said he expects to be jailed.

Markin suggested that Navalny could "use his experience" as a corruption fighter while in prison.

He even suggested that the activist's stint in Yale University -- where he was a world fellow in 2010 -- led to his cooperation with foreign security services who trained him for regime change.

"I suspect that in Yale, or wherever they prepare politicians for developing countries... they mixed Russia up with Georgia or some other third-world country," Markin said, referring to Russia's neighbour to the south, where the Rose Revolution of 2003 brought to power a pro-western leadership.

The US State department last year expressed "serious concerns" about the embezzlement charges against Navalny and general "politically motivated prosecutions of the Russian opposition."