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Mourning Putin’s Greatest Foe

Clara Frey 

Staff Writer

“Baby, [...]– between us, ‘There are cities, takeoff lights of airports, blue blizzards and thousands of kilometers, but I feel you near me every second, and I love you more and more,” wrote  Russian lawyer, Putin opposition leader and youtube-famous anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny to his wife on February 14th 2024, Valentine’s Day. 

Two days later, the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service announced that he collapsed and died in an Arctic Penal colony in Kharp, Siberia, where he was serving a 19-year prison sentence for supposed extremism-related charges. Navalny, also a father of two, was only 47 years old. 

Eight years ago, on December 13, 2016, Alexei Navalny announced his intention to run in Russia’s 2018 presidential elections, centering his campaign on combating corruption within Vladimir Putin’s government. Navalny’s campaign was groundbreaking in that, as a member of the opposition, he could not rely on Russian media for publicity. Social media became his main platform for disseminating his politics. 

“I was banned from everything,” Navalny states in American filmmaker Daniel Roher’s 2022  Oscar-winning documentary, Navalny. “Television: banned. Newspapers: blacklisted. Rallies: forbidden.”

Though Navalny was ultimately denied a place on the ballot due to trumped-up embezzlement charges, he continued to publish video investigations into Russian collusion. Navalny’s Youtube channel became wildly popular because it was the only place he could spread information without censorship. Navalny’s most viewed clip, published in 2021, reached a staggering 131 million views. It examines Putin’s hoarded wealth, offering a look at his 1.4 billion dollar palace on the Black Sea, his fleets of super-yachts, and luxury condos in Miami. 

In August of 2021, Navalny and his team began filming a documentary on local corruption in Siberia. Here, they were surprised that their camera crews had not been met with any hostility from Russian Federal Security (FSB) officers. However, on the flight back to Navalny’s home base in Moscow, the smug opposition leader suddenly fell unconscious (Roher). 

 @navalny via instagram

The plane made an emergency landing in Omsk, where doctors treating Navalny insisted that there was no poison in his blood or urine (Al Jazeera). However, after much difficult negotiation, Navalny’s aids managed to transfer him to Berlin, where German doctors asserted that he had been poisoned with a Novichok- a lethal nerve agent developed by the Soviet Union as described by the European Parliament. 

“What the fuck! That is so stupid!” was Navalny’s response when he finally woke up from a 3-week lifesaving artificially-induced coma. “Putin may as well have signed his name to this assassination. (Roher)” 

Meanwhile, Russia’s Kremlin-controlled media outlets insisted that Navalny’s sudden and near-fatal sickness had been caused by a mysterious metabolic disorder or the use of hallucinogenic drugs. One prominent Russian news network, RT, even went on to add: “this opposition loves to get drunk, use cocaine, and have endless homosexual orgies.” 

Later, in December of 2021, U.K investigative website Bellingcat and Russian online media outlet The Insider published a joint investigation into Navalny’s poisoning. Using flight records and mobile phone geolocation data, they identified a team of FSB assassins hired to stalk Navalny for years. Because of this data, Navalny was able to call one of his assassins on the phone, who actually confessed to having put poison in Navalny’s underpants (Roher). 

Following the publication of this condemning data, Russia’s prison service presented Navalny with a short-order ultimatum on December 28th. It insisted that he return to Moscow the following morning or face jail time. Navalny could not comply with these demands as he was still convalescing. In January, however, knowing full-well that he would be arrested, Navalny returned to Russia.  “The question ‘to return or not’ never stood before me,” he shared in an Instagram post on Jan. 14. “Mainly because I never left. I ended up in Germany, having arrived in an intensive care box, for one reason: they tried to kill me.” He was detained on January 17th, 2021, shortly after landing at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport (Al Jazeera). 

Navalny spent the last three years of his life in various penal colonies across Russia, where he continued to urge his supporters to protest their unjust government. Despite extended periods of solitary confinement, inhumane conditions, and refused medical treatment, Navalny continued to broadcast hopeful messages from prison. “Don’t be afraid. Take to the streets. Don’t go out for me. Go out for yourself and your future,” he said in a video published on social media. 

On February 1st, 2024, Navalny called for protests against Putin as Russians cast their ballots for the upcoming presidential elections in March. 15 days later, he was announced dead. Putin won by a landslide victory. 

Just a few hours after the news of Navalny’s death broke to the media, his widow, Yulia Navalnaya addressed the Munich Security Conference. “I don’t know whether to believe the news, the terrible news,” she said, her eyes red and glassy from crying.  

Alexei’s widow, Yulia Navalnaya promises to continue in her husband’s footsteps. “As you all know, for many years we’ve been unable to believe Putin and his government. They always lie. But, if it is true, I want Putin and everyone around him, his friends and his government, to know that they will be held responsible for what they have done to our country, to my family, and to my husband. The day of reckoning will come very soon.” 



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