It’s easy to focus on the problems around us. When there are marches in our streets, people losing loved ones, and smoke tinting the sky a sickly, technicolor orange, our struggles seem impossible to escape. Once we tear our gaze from the turmoil and look towards international news, we are greeted with similarly dismal stories. However, in Russia, what seemed to be a horrible tragedy has now come forth as a historic victory. Alexei Navalny, the Russian opposition party leader, was poisoned on August 20, 2020. After staying in a medically-induced coma for several weeks, he is awake and in recovery.
Alexei Navalny, according to the Washington Post, was once “a mere annoyance to the Kremlin”. In recent years, however, he has risen to political prominence, not by holding an office, but through Youtube and Twitter. Navalny is a member of the People’s Freedom Party, one of the opposition parties to United Russia, Russian President Putin’s party. Navalny had a rocky political career fraught with elections that were sabotaged. However, his Youtube videos made understanding corruption simple and accessible for the Russian public, where he addressed topics from his organization the Anti-Corruption Foundation to “Who Stole the Aircraft Carriers?: In Pictures”, an animated series on relevant issues simply explained through animation. The Wall Street Journal called Navalny “the man Vladimir Putin fears most”. Navalny attempted to run for president in 2016, but was barred because of his criminal record. His crimes? Embezzlement and attending an unsanctioned protest against Putin. Both of these arrests were politically charged, and both were ruled by the European Court of Human Rights to be in violation of Navalny’s rights to a fair trial. Unfortunately, the government’s actions against Navalny didn’t end in 2016.
On August 20, 2020, Navalny was waiting to board a flight from Tomsk to Moscow. While at the airport, he had his first drink of the day: a simple cup of tea. He had been in Tomsk in anticipation of the local elections in Siberia, backing independent candidates and hoping to keep Putin’s “crooks” out of office. Soon after boarding his flight back to Moscow, he began to feel unwell, according to another passenger, Pavel Lebedev. He soon collapsed and was heard crying out in pain. From The Guardian, “He started feeling really sick. They struggled to bring him round and he was screaming.” The plane’s crew rushed to his aid, and the pilot made an emergency landing in Omsk. He was brought to hospital number one in Omsk. He is believed to have been poisoned with Novichok, an illegal toxin that has been banned since World War Two. From Der Spiegel, or “The Mirror”, a prominent German newspaper, “For the German government, the composition of the toxin is the most important indication that Russian President Vladimir Putin could be involved in the case. The more complex, newer and rarer the chemical composition of the poison, the more likely it is that one can only get hold of it with the help of the Russian state apparatus.” Doctors were forced to put him in a medically-induced coma. Miraculously, after several weeks in the hospital, he awoke on September 7. He has not yet returned to Moscow, but he is expected to live. Navalny is far from being the first victim of the Kremlin. At least ten of Putin’s most outspoken critics have had their violent or untimely deaths linked to Putin. Yuri Shchekochikhin, who wrote about corruption in the Soviet Union, died after contracting a mysterious illness in 2003. His medical documents were deemed classified by the Kremlin. Similarly, Natalia Estemirova, an investigative journalist, was violently murdered outside of her home. There are still no official suspects for the case, over 11 years later. The parallels to Navalnny’s case are even stronger with Alexander Litvinenko’s death in 2006. The harsh critic of Putin had his tea poisoned, and died just 3 weeks later. Making the leap to say that the Kremlin may be behind Navalny’s poisoning is not nearly so illogical as it seems.
Navalny’s recovery will be incredibly significant for the upcoming elections. His sway is already being seen in Siberia, where Navalny’s heads of offices in Novosibirsk and Tomsk have secured council seats. This is a huge victory for Navalny’s party, and shows that his influence is powerful, even if he is not present. Navalny’s influence in the remaining regions he campaigned in should be seen with similar success. If so, Putin will lose his grip on local politics, a great victory in the wake of a morally-dubious Congressional amendment that would allow Putin to rule until 2036. With luck, Navalny will continue to fight for freedom and anti-corruption, and continue to be a source of good news.
Works Cited(www.dw.com), Deutsche Welle. “Berlin Hospital: Russia’s Alexei Navalny Wakes up from Coma: DW: 07.09.2020.” DW.COM, http://www.dw.com/en/navalny-germany-coma/a-54843124.
“Alexei Navalny.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 12 Sept. 2020, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexei_Navalny.
Business Insider. “10 Years Ago Today a Putin Critic Died of Radiation Poisoning – Here Are Others Who Have Ended up Dead.” Business Insider, Business Insider, 23 Nov. 2016, http://www.businessinsider.com/list-of-people-putin-is-suspected-of-assassinating-2016-11.
Harding, Luke, and Andrew Roth. “A Cup of Tea, Then Screams of Agony: How Alexei Navalny Was Left Fighting for His Life.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 20 Aug. 2020, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/aug/20/a-cup-of-tea-then-screams-of-agony-how-alexei-navalny-was-left-fighting-for-his-life.“Navalny ‘Poisoned’: What Are Novichok Agents and What Do They Do?” BBC News, BBC, 2 Sept. 2020, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-43377698.NavalnyRu. “Алексей Навальный.” YouTube, YouTube, http://www.youtube.com/channel/UCsAw3WynQJMm7tMy093y37A.
Spiegel, Der. “Neue Ermittlungsergebnisse Zum Giftanschlag: Nawalny Sollte Im Flugzeug Sterben – DER SPIEGEL – Politik.” DER SPIEGEL, DER SPIEGEL, 11 Sept. 2020, http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/alexej-nawalny-sollte-im-flugzeug-sterben-neue-ermittlungsergebnisse-a-48de45f2-6335-4606-bb7f-2e9fc98f1e75.