Man Of The Moment: Alexei Navalny
Navalny Is A Name We’ll Be Hearing A Lot This Year, Writes Corrine Barraclough.
Life as a Putin critic is riddled with risk. As career paths go, it’s the precise opposite of a cruisy, collect the regular paycheck gig.
Ask Alexei Navalny, the 44-year-old anti-corruption activist and Russian opposition leader who’s refusing to be intimidated.
Last summer, Navalny, who is Putin’s most determined and prominent foe, was poisoned. He collapsed on an internal flight in Siberia.
He blames Russian authorities for the attempt on his life.
Of course, the Kremlin denies any involvement.
In mid-January, when Navalny announced he would return to Russia from Germany after five months recovering, the Kremlin faced a difficult decision.
It could jail him and risk protests, turning him into a political martyr like Nelson Mandela. Or, it could do nothing and risk looking weak in the eyes of Kremlin hardliners.
The decision was made to arrest him at passport control as he arrived home in Moscow.
Defiant Navalny is hoping for success in the parliamentary elections in September, while the Kremlin scrambles to find reasons to hold him back. Moscow’s prison service said it would do everything to arrest him once he landed, accusing him of flouting the terms of a suspended prison sentence for embezzlement in 2014.
He says the accusation is politically motivated rot.
You’ll be shocked to hear the Kremlin denies this.
"I know that I'm right. I fear nothing," Navalny told the media just minutes before he was detained.He also faces potential grief in three other criminal cases, which he says are all transparent too.
It’s all very predictable, but like a Bond hero crossed with Julian Assange, Navalny has retained unwavering grit.
His rise as a force to be reckoned with in Russian politics began in 2008 when he started blogging about alleged corruption at some
of Russia’s largest state-controlled corporations. One of his tactics was to become a minority shareholder in major oil companies, banks and ministries, in order to ask curly questions about holes in state finances. On social media he mocks the establishment, which protects Putin.
In 2019 his doctor suggested he might have been exposed to “some toxic agent” whilst in jail. He’s also twice been targeted with anti-sceptic green dye known as zelyonka and suffered chemical burns to his eye.
He’s remained committed to being a thorn in Putin’s side.
“This is the best moment in the last five months,” he happily told reporters after he boarded the plane, knowing full well what may lie ahead.
His flight landed at a different airport than had been scheduled; he boarded a plane in Berlin
at the last moment from a car sitting on the tarmac in order to avoid other passengers and possibly outwit journalists. Extra riot police had been deployed inside the airport where he was scheduled to land.
Several of his allies were detained at Moscow’s Vnukovo airport.
“I know that I’m right. I fear nothing,” Navalny told the media minutes before he was detained.
He kissed his wife Yulia, who had flown with him, and asked border guards, “Have you been waiting for me long?”
He may have been detained but this fight is just beginning; much as Russian authorities like to hold the line that Navalny isn’t popular with the Russian people, it’s not reality.
Putin does not have widespread support; Navalny is a clear threat to Putin’s presidency.
News of Navalny’s detention prompted swift criticism from the European Union. There is a growing chorus demanding his release, including US
President-elect Joe Biden’s incoming national security adviser, Jake Sullivan. “The Kremlin’s attacks on Mr Navalny are not just a violation of human rights, but an affront to the Russian people who want their voices heard”.
Navalny is a name we’ll be hearing a lot this year.