Mark Galeotti Mark Galeotti

Despite three years in prison, Navalny still scares Putin

Alexei Navalny (Credit: Getty images)

The March presidential elections in Russia will, of course, be a stage-managed farce, but that doesn’t mean that real politics has been entirely extinguished. It offers a narrow window of opportunity for the opposition to try and connect with the Russian people – so the Kremlin is doing its best to muzzle them.

On the third anniversary of his return to Russia on Wednesday, opposition leader Alexei Navalny issued a statement on X (via his lawyers, his only connection with the outside world) intended to bolster his supporters’ morale. He returned from Germany in 2021 following a poisoning attempt that saw government agents lace his underwear with Novichok. Answering the question as to why he came back even though he knew he would be arrested and imprisoned on trumped-up charges, he framed it in terms of simple patriotism and conviction:

I don’t want to give up either my country or my beliefs. And I cannot betray either the first or the second. If your beliefs are worth something, you must be willing to stand up for them. And if necessary, make some sacrifices.

The Kremlin is clearing the decks of anyone who could become an embarrassment during the election campaign

Fundamentally, he wrote, ‘the people in power must change’. After all, those in power now are, in his eyes, simply interested in retaining power, whatever it takes: ‘so, our polygamists have become conservatives. Members of the [Communist party of the Soviet Union] are Orthodox Christians. Owners of [foreign] “golden passports” and offshore accounts are aggressive patriots.’

Nonetheless, he assured his followers that ‘Putin’s state is not viable. One day we will look at his place and he will not be there. Victory is inevitable. But for now we must not give up and stick to our convictions.’

Some of Navalny’s critics – sometimes simply pro-Putin voices eager to smear him – characterise him as a nationalist or even a racist.

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