MOSCOW, October 20 (RIA Novosti) – Newly-elected Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin, the Kremlin-backed incumbent who recently won the poll to stay at the helm of the Russian capital, has admitted he consulted with President Vladimir Putin about what role his rival, opposition leader Alexei Navalny, should play in the mayoral election.
“Yes, of course,” Sobyanin answered, when asked by a journalist from Kommersant Vlast newspaper if he had consulted Putin and the Kremlin’s first deputy head of administration Vyacheslav Volodin about Navalny’s candidacy for mayor.
“I considered that Navalny should take part in the election and [their] attitude to it was positive,” he said. “I did not sense that there was any other position.”
Sobyanin’s comments are the first on the record confirmation that he discussed the issue with Putin before the poll, although there had been widespread speculation in the media that he had.
Sobyanin won the September poll with 51.37 percent of the vote, as was widely expected, but Navalny, one of the Russian opposition’s main leaders and a vociferous critic of Putin and the ruling establishment, gained a surprise 27.24 percent, well up on what opinion polls had suggested he would gain.
Navalny ran for the mayor’s job just weeks after being convicted for embezzlement and sentenced to five years in prison on July 18, in a trial that he claimed was a political vendetta, a charge the authorities denied.
However, the opposition leader was unexpectedly released a day after his sentencing at the request of the federal Prosecutor General’s Office, prompting speculation about who might have been behind the unusual decision.
Russia’s Vedomosti business daily reported at the time, citing anonymous sources, that Sobyanin, then acting mayor pending the election, had personally asked for Navalny to be let out of jail so that he could run for mayor, to give his re-election credibility.
The Kremlin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in an interview with the Business FM radio station on July 22 Putin had played no role in Navalny’s sudden release from jail.
“The court’s decision to place him [Navalny] in custody in the courtroom was protested according to a legal procedure, and it is absolutely illogical and wrong to involve the president in this respect,” Peskov said.