Who is Alexei Navalny and why does Putin want him dead?

By: Nick Mosher

On August 20, 2020, Vladimir Putin’s greatest political opponent, Alexei Navalny, was poisoned by an agent of Russia’s security service, the FSB. The opposition candidate fell ill while on a flight after Novichok, a Soviet-era nerve agent, was applied to his clothing. The pilot made an emergency landing in Omsk, where doctors saved Navalny’s life by treating him for suspected poisoning. The doctors later denied the presence of toxins in his system. After much difficulty, German authorities secured permission to fly Navalny (who had fallen into a coma) to Berlin, where he made a full recovery over the following months.

Alexei Navalny is a lawyer and politician who gained popularity in the late 2000’s as a blogger. In 2011, he established the Anti-Corruption Foundation, and has since effectively utilized his YouTube channel (which now has 6.5 million subscribers) to expose corruption within the Russian government. Putin has been Navalny’s primary target, which hasn’t gone without retribution; the opposition candidate has been arrested over 10 times for crimes ranging from unlawful protests to fictitious embezzlement accusations that have barred the politician from running for several posts, including his campaign for president in 2018. 

After spending five months recovering in Germany, Navalny flew back to Russian on January 17. He was arrested immediately upon arrival. The crime? Violating parole for his 2014 embezzlement conviction. A difficult parole to fulfill considering he was comatose in a German hospital recovering from the Russian government’s attempt on his life.  

Navalny’s most recent arrest sparked widespread protests in over 200 cities throughout Russia. 50,000 demonstrated in Moscow alone. These protests have garnered brutal responses from Russian forces, including beatings from police officers and thousands of arrests. While the EU has condemned the Russian government’s actions, Putin’s administration has pushed back, claiming the EU is acting unfairly and unilaterally. Putin has even kicked out diplomats from Poland, Germany, and Sweden for attending protests. 

Navalny’s strategic team is calling for protestors to focus their efforts on supporting candidates running against politicians from Putin’s party, United Russia, in elections this coming September. On February 2, a Moscow court ruled that the suspended sentence for which Navalny was on parole will be replaced with a prison sentence of over two and a half years. Navalny was transferred from his prison in Moscow to an unknown location. His supporters fear he has been sent to a penal colony. Meanwhile, the EU and US are preparing to sanction top Russian officials, escalating tensions between Russia and the West.

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