© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Russian opposition leader Navalny attends a court hearing in Moscow
MOSCOW (Reuters) – Jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny is due to return to court on Friday for a defamation trial despite calls from the West for his release and on the same day the top European Union diplomat is in Moscow to speak with the Russian Foreign Minister. Navalny, the most prominent critic of President Vladmir Putin, was jailed this week for nearly three years for parole violations that he called bogus, a case the West has condemned and sparked talks about sanctions. Russia has accused the West of hysteria and double standards and said the protests over his imprisonment, in which thousands of people were arrested, were broken up by police because they were illegal. Navalny is due to appear in court at 0700 GMT Friday on charges of defamation of a WWII veteran who participated in a promotional video endorsing last year’s reforms that allowed Putin to run for two more terms in the Kremlin later. of 2024 if you wish. Navalny described the people in the video as conscienceless traitors and corrupt lackeys. Although the charge is currently punishable by up to two years in jail, he cannot face a custodial sentence because the alleged crime was committed before the law was changed to make it a prison crime, according to Navalny’s attorney. Navalny said last summer that the case was part of a relentless campaign to quell his political campaign against the Kremlin. Josep Borrell, the EU’s top diplomat, will meet on Friday with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Despite close trade ties and energy interdependence, Russia’s political relations with the European Union have been at post-Cold War lows since Moscow annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014. On the eve of the talks, the Kremlin said that he wanted the dialogue between Moscow and Brussels to be restored to discuss what he said were many disagreements.