Vladimir Putin removes the thorn in his side: Alexei Navalny

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Alexei Navalny is handcuffed and escorted by Interior Ministry officers inside a courtroom in Kirov. Photo: REUTERS/Kommersant

He was a thorn in Vladimir Putin's side. The thorn has been removed, for now.

Alexei Navalny is the most prominent Russian opposition leader to be jailed since Soviet times, in a case prosecutors had dropped, before they were ordered to think again. He stood before the judge for three hours, tweeting, defiantly, that the evidence was false and that the fight against Putin must go on.

But Navalny, who was the first opposition leader to use social media to challenge the state, was jailed by the state for five years. The sentence was as shocking as the evidence was flimsy.

He was handcuffed and led away to a penal colony where, its expected, he'll serve the full five years. For more than a year he'd led the mass protests that challenged Putin's rule and re-election as President for a third term.

Navalny called Putin's ruling party "a party of crooks and thieves".

He campaigned to expose rampant State corruption, as late as this week challenging the state-run Russian Railways. But the state has jailed him...For corruption. It's a clear warning shot from the Kremlin to its critics.

As Navalny awaited his sentence, President Putin was inspecting the power of the state at military exercises. Russia's strongman, determined to crush his foes, wherever they're from. He was polishing his image this week as the unchallengeable hard man - piloting a submarine.

But in reality Putin has sunk to new depths.

Vladimir Putin tries pilots a submarine. Credit: APTN

Earlier this month, Russia's courts convicted another prominent critic who'd exposed official fraud. But Sergei Magnitsky couldn't be jailed because he's dead...Beaten in detention.

Another opponent, former world chess champion Gary Kasparov, who'd campaigned against Putin fled Russia weeks ago fearing arrest. Mikhail Khordokovsky, once Russia's richest man, now its most famous political prisoner, said today the state will keep on locking us up, one at a time.

Putin sheds no tears for them. But since he shed tears outside the Kremlin at his re-election, his crackdown on dissent has deepened. It could however backfire.

There were protests today at the silencing of Russia's most popular opposition leader.Alexei Navalny had hoped to be elected mayor of Moscow - and one day President - but riot police and Russia's leaders are determined to stamp on the dreams and dissent of anyone who dares challenge Vladimir Putin.