Alexei Navalny: Daring Opposition Leader Who Died Behind Bars

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who died on Friday in an Arctic prison, rose to fame through social media and dissatisfaction with the Kremlin.

For years, he was the most outspoken critic of President Vladimir Putin and his policies. He returned to Russia after recuperating from a near-fatal poisoning incident that his supporters claim was engineered by the Kremlin.

He was promptly imprisoned upon arrival and was unable to be revived by medics on Friday after losing consciousness while out for a walk, according to the prison service.

During his stay behind cells, the 47-year-old emerged in shaky footage from makeshift court hearings, daring to criticize Putin’s operation in Ukraine.

His message, delivered to supporters via social media, stood in stark contrast to that of Putin, a 71-year-old former KGB agent with Soviet roots who has reigned for more than 20 years.

“(Russia) is floundering in a pool of either mud or blood, with broken bones, with a poor and robbed population, and around it lie tens of thousands of people killed in the most stupid and senseless war of the 21st century,” Navalny said in a statement.

His criticism, which resonated with thousands of youthful fans, irritated the Kremlin, which rights groups accused of using whatever means to suppress dissent.

His demise will further heighten these concerns.

‘I am not afraid’

In 2018, he campaigned across the country for president, revealed corruption probes that embarrassed the Kremlin, and drew enormous crowds to Russia’s streets.

Navalny’s return to Russia in January 2021, despite risking imprisonment, put him at odds with Putin after blaming the Kremlin for the Siberian poisoning attack.

“I’m not afraid, and I call on you not to be afraid,” he declared in an appeal to followers as he arrived in Moscow, seconds before being held on allegations related to an old fraud conviction.

His arrest sparked some of Russia’s greatest demonstrations in decades, with thousands detained at nationwide rallies appealing for his release.

Navalny’s team responded to Putin with the publishing of “Putin’s Palace,” an inquiry into a magnificent Black Sea property that his team said was given to Putin through corruption.

The exposé caused Putin to issue a rare denial, claiming that if his security services were indeed responsible for the poisoning, they would have finished the job.

While Navalny successfully circulated memes, Putin is known for not utilizing the internet and asking a teenager who wanted to follow his YouTube channel, “What should I sign?”

A similar Navalny corruption video criticizing then-Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev sparked enormous rallies in 2017, with demonstrators holding rubber ducks, which became a symbol of the protests.

Before a presidential election in 2018, Navalny traveled towns around the country to rally support, but he was forbidden from competing due to the previous fraud indictment.

“(Putin) fears me and the people I represent,” he told AFP at the time.

Before that, he contested Sergei Sobyanin for mayor of Moscow, forcing a runoff election.

 ‘Crooks and thieves’

Navalny was an effective public speaker at rallies and in courtrooms, rallying protesters around home-grown slogans such as “the party of crooks and thieves” to criticize the ruling United Russia party.

However, his early journey into far-right nationalism stained him, and a pro-gun video from 2007 in which he compared people from the ex-Soviet South Caucasus region to cockroaches was frequently revived.

Navalny remains a fringe figure for a substantial segment of Russian society, which supports the Kremlin’s official description of him as a Western puppet and convicted criminal.

He had become such a thorn in the Kremlin’s side that Putin hesitated to say his name publicly.His anti-corruption organization was disbanded, and his closest allies are either imprisoned or in exile.

 

‘Cannot shut my mouth’

Navalny’s team said he was tormented in prison and was repeatedly transferred to a punitive solitary confinement cell.

He claimed guards subjected him and other convicts to “torture by Putin” by forcing them to listen to the president’s speeches.

Despite his limitations, Navalny maintained a cheery and caustic demeanor on aide-curated social media profiles.

As a trained lawyer, she advocated for basic rights and challenged jail officials in court. He had also teased them by formally requesting a kimono, a balalaika (a traditional musical instrument), and permission to keep a kangaroo.

“You cannot shut my mouth,” he declared.

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