Kremlin opponent Alexei Navalny awaits his conviction for “extremism” on Friday, a crime which could land him 20 years behind bars.
He has already been sentenced to nine years in prison, after a fraud conviction which is widely perceived as politically motivated.
Amid the war in Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin has unleashed a wave of unprecedented repression on dissent, reminiscent of the Soviet era.
Almost all major opponents have now been thrown into prison or driven into exile. Thousands of ordinary citizens have also been prosecuted for denouncing the conflict, some receiving heavy sentences.
A longtime opponent of the Russian president, Navalny was hounded by the authorities before the Ukraine invasion, but his fate has worsened since.
He was imprisoned on his return to Russia at the beginning of 2021, after surviving an assassination attempt by poisoning he attributes to the Russian security services.
He has since been sentenced twice on charges his supporters say are trumped up.
Navalny, regularly placed in solitary confinement and faced with health problems, said on Thursday he expected a “long, Stalinist sentence”.
“The formula to calculate it is simple: what the prosecutor asked for, minus 10-15%. They asked for 20 years, they will give 18 or something like that,” he said in an online message conveyed by his relatives.
Navalny made a name for himself investigating corruption amongst Putin’s circle.
Many outside Russia came to know him from the Oscar-winning, self-titled documentary based on the events related to his poisoning with a nerve agent in Russia and the subsequent investigation in 2020.
However, he is criticised by some for statements seen as “racist” and “imperialistic” made in the past.
His Anti-Corruption Fund (FBK) was effectively banned in 2021 for “extremism”.
The 45-year-old lawyer turned blogger has become a fierce critic of Russia’s war in Ukraine, railing against the conflict from his prison cell.
During his trial, he mocked the “tens of thousands of dead in the most stupid and senseless war of the 21st century”.
“Sooner or later (Russia) will recover. And it depends on us what it will rely on in the future,” he added.
The Kremlin presents Navalny as a simple criminal, trying to separate legal proceedings from politics.
Navalny is able to bring messages to the outside world through his lawyers. He often recounts prison life and denounces, usually ironically, the harassment he suffers.
He claims to have been sent into solitary confinement 17 times, where he was forced to listen to speeches by Putin.
The Russian president refuses to refer to him by name even to this day, typically calling him “that gentleman”.
The conditions of Navalny’s detention could worsen further following Friday’s verdict. Prosecutors have called for his transfer to a penal colony with a “special regime”.
These prisons have a sinister reputation in Russia and are usually reserved for the most dangerous criminals and lifers.
Navalny’s legal marathon also risks not stopping on Friday. He is also being prosecuted for “terrorism” in another case. Few details are known at this stage but he risks life in prison.