Just one day after Putin was decried as a dictator for locking up his political opponent, the anti-corruption activist and mayoral candidate Alexei Navalny was released on bail, in what lawyers are calling an "unprecedented" move.
Navalny was let out Friday, after Russia's general prosecutor filed a complaint stating the courts weren't allowed to keep him in prison during his appeal. Prosecutors also argued that if Navalny were kept in custody, he would be deprived of his right to stand in September's elections, with which the judge agreed.
“What is going on now is a unique phenomenon for the Russian judiciary,” Navalny told journalists following his release. “This is a strange moment: everyone was sad and everyone is happy now. It may happen again later. But for now we have a couple of spare months.”
Navalny's conviction and 5-year sentencing came a day after he officially registered as a candidate in Moscow's mayoral race. He and co-defendant Pyotr Ofitserov (who was also freed Friday), were charged with stealing nearly half a million dollars in a deal that Navalny brokered in 2009, when was an aide to Kirov's governor. Many saw the convictions as a way of removing the popular anti-corruption blogger from the political area, however.
Hours before his release, demonstrations broke out in Moscow and six other cities in Russia, with thousands gathered to protest his imprisonment.
Riot police reportedly arrested around 200 protestors and closed off the two main squares in the capital.
According to Navalny's lawyer, the mayoral candidate is obligated to stay in Russia's capital until the court makes a decision regarding his appeal, which usually takes about six weeks — just before the elections take place on September 8.
The White House is reportedly considering canceling a fall summit between President Obama and Putin, indicating further strain on their already-tense relations.