Navalny has accused Putin of ordering his poisoning. The Kremlin has repeatedly denied the accusation.(Reuters file photo)
Navalny has accused Putin of ordering his poisoning. The Kremlin has repeatedly denied the accusation.(Reuters file photo)

EXPLAINER: Why Alexei Navalny is a thorn in the Kremlin's side

Navalny vowed to return to Russia and continue his work, while authorities threatened him with arrest.
AP, Moscow
PUBLISHED ON JAN 22, 2021 01:21 PM IST

The return to Russia from Germany by opposition leader Alexei Navalny was marked by chaos and popular outrage, and it ended, almost predictably, with his arrest.

The Jan. 17 flight from Berlin, where Navalny spent nearly five months recovering from a nerve agent poisoning, carried him and his wife, along with a group of journalists documenting the journey. But the plane was diverted from its intended airport in Moscow to another one in the capital in what was seen as an apparent attempt to foil a welcome from crowds awaiting him.

Authorities also took him into custody immediately, sparking outrage at home and abroad. Some Western countries threatened sanctions and his team called for nationwide demonstrations Saturday.

Navalny had prepared his own surprise for his return: A video expose alleging that a lavish “palace” was built for President Vladimir Putin on the Black Sea through an elaborate corruption scheme. His team posted it on YouTube on Tuesday, and within 48 hours, it had gotten over 42 million views.

Navalny faces years in prison from a previous conviction he claims was politically motivated, while political commentators say there are no good options for the Kremlin.

The AP looks at his long standoff with authorities:

WHO IS ALEXEI NAVALNY?

Navalny, 44, is an anti-corruption campaigner and the Kremlin’s fiercest critic. He has outlasted many opposition figures and is undeterred by incessant attempts to stop his work.

He has released scores of damning reports exposing corruption in Putin’s Russia. He has been a galvanizing figure in mass protests, including unprecedented 2011-12 demonstrations sparked by reports of widespread rigging of a parliamentary election.

Navalny was convicted twice on criminal charges: embezzlement and later fraud. He received suspended sentences of five years and 3 1/2 years. He denounced the convictions as politically motivated, and the European Court of Human Rights disputed both convictions.

Navalny sought to challenge Putin in the 2018 election, but was barred from running by one of his convictions. Nevertheless, he drew crowds of supporters almost everywhere he went in the country.

Frequently arrested, he has served multiple stints in jail for charges relating to leading protests. In 2017, an attacker threw a green antiseptic liquid in his face, damaging his sight. He also was hospitalized in 2019 after a suspected poisoning while in jail.

None of that has stopped him. In August 2020, he fell ill while on a domestic flight in Siberia, and the pilot landed quickly in Omsk, where he was hospitalized. His supporters managed to have him flown to Berlin, where he lay in a coma for over two weeks and was diagnosed as having been poisoned by a Soviet-era nerve agent — an allegation the Kremlin denied.

After he recovered, Navalny released a recording of a phone call he said he made to a man he alleged was a member of Russia’s Federal Security Service, or FSB, who purportedly poisoned him. The FSB dismissed the recording as a fake, but it still shocked many at home and abroad.

Navalny vowed to return to Russia and continue his work, while authorities threatened him with arrest.

WHY DID NAVALNY RETURN AT ALL?

Navalny said he didn’t leave Russia by choice, but rather “ended up in Germany in an intensive care box.” He said he never considered the possibility of staying abroad.

“It doesn’t seem right to me that Alexei Navalny calls for a revolution from Berlin,” he explained in an interview in October, referring to himself in the third person. “If I’m doing something, I want to share the risks with people who work in my office.”

Analysts say it would have been impossible for Navalny to remain relevant as an opposition leader outside Russia. “Remaining abroad, becoming a political emigre, would mean death to a public politician,” said Masha Lipman, an independent political analyst.

Nikolai Petrov, a senior research fellow in Chatham House’s Russia and Eurasia Program, echoed her sentiment, saying: “Active, bright people who could initiate some real actions and take part in elections ... while in the country, once abroad, end up cut off from the real connection to the people.”

WHY IS NAVALNY NOW FACING PRISON?

His suspended sentence from the 2014 conviction carried a probationary period that was to expire in December 2020. Authorities said Navalny was subject to regular in-person check-ins with law enforcement officers.

During the final days of Navalny's probation period, Russia’s prison service put him on a wanted list, accusing him of not appearing for these checks, including when he was convalescing in Germany. Officials have petitioned the court to have him serve the full 3½-year sentence. After his return, Navalny was placed in custody for 30 days, with a hearing to review his sentence scheduled for Feb. 2.

Earlier this month, Russia’s Investigative Committee opened another criminal probe against him on fraud charges, alleging he embezzled donations to his Foundation for Fighting Corruption. If convicted, he could face up to 10 years in prison.

DOES NAVALNY THREATEN THE KREMLIN?

Putin never calls Navalny by name, and state-run media depict him as an unimportant blogger. But he has managed to spread his reach far outside Moscow through his widely popular YouTube accounts, including the one this week that featured the allegations about the massive Black Sea estate.

His infrastructure of regional offices set up nationwide in 2017 has helped him challenge the government by mobilizing voters. In 2018, Navalny launched a project called Smart Voting that is designed to promote candidates who are most likely to defeat those from the Kremlin’s dominant United Russia party.

In 2019, the project helped opposition candidates win 20 of 45 seats on the Moscow city council, and regional elections last year saw United Russia lose its majority in legislatures in three cities.

Navalny has promised to use the strategy during this year’s parliamentary election, which will determine who controls the State Duma in 2024. That’s when Putin’s current term expires and he is expected to seek re-election, thanks to constitutional reforms last year.

Analysts believe Navalny is capable of influencing this key vote, reason enough to want him out of the picture.

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

Analysts say Navalny’s return was a significant blow to Putin’s image and left the Kremlin with a dilemma.

Putin has mostly worked from his residence during the coronavirus outbreak, and the widespread perception that he has stayed away from the public doesn’t compare well to Navalny’s bold comeback to the country where he was poisoned and faced arrest, said Chatham House’s Petrov.

“It doesn’t matter whether people support Navalny or not; they see these two images, and Putin loses,” he said.

Commentators say there is no good choice for the Kremlin: Imprisoning Navalny for a long time will make him a martyr and could lead to mass protests, while letting him go threatens the parliamentary election.

So far, the crackdown has only helped Navalny, “and now, even thinking loyalists are, if not on his side, certainly not on the side of poisoners and persecutors,” Alexander Baunov of the Moscow Carnegie Center wrote in a recent article.

All eyes are on what happens at Saturday’s planned protests, Petrov said. In 2013, Navalny was quickly released from prison following a five-year sentence from embezzlement conviction after a large crowd gathered near the Kremlin.

Putin’s government has since become much tougher on dissent, so it is unlikely that mass protests will prompt Navalny’s immediate release, Petrov said. But the Kremlin still fears that a harsh move may destabilize the situation, and the scale of the rallies could indicate how the public would react to Navalny being imprisoned for a long time.

SHARE THIS ARTICLE ON
Close
Policemen clash with the activists of Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) during the third day of protests following the death of Mushtaq Ahmed, a prominent writer and government critic in jail, in front of the National Press Club in Dhaka.(AFP)
Policemen clash with the activists of Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) during the third day of protests following the death of Mushtaq Ahmed, a prominent writer and government critic in jail, in front of the National Press Club in Dhaka.(AFP)

What is Bangladesh's controversial digital security law?

AFP, Dhaka
PUBLISHED ON FEB 28, 2021 06:55 PM IST
  • Mushtaq Ahmed, 53, collapsed and died on Thursday 10 months after being arrested under Bangladesh's Digital Security Act (DSA) for comments on Facebook criticising the government's response to coronavirus.
Close
The agency warned about possible displacement of another 380,000 people if fighting reached the actual city of Marib, capital of the province where camps for displaced people are already crowded. (Representative Image)(Reuters image)
The agency warned about possible displacement of another 380,000 people if fighting reached the actual city of Marib, capital of the province where camps for displaced people are already crowded. (Representative Image)(Reuters image)

UN warns of mass famine in Yemen ahead of donor conference

AP
PUBLISHED ON FEB 28, 2021 06:52 PM IST
The stark warning comes a day before a pledging conference co-hosted by Sweden and Switzerland. The UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres will appeal for $3.85 billion in relief aid for Yemen this year.
Close
Men who fled the conflict in Ethiopia's Tigray region run to receive cooked rice from charity organization Muslim Aid, at Umm Rakouba refugee camp in Qadarif, eastern Sudan.(AP)
Men who fled the conflict in Ethiopia's Tigray region run to receive cooked rice from charity organization Muslim Aid, at Umm Rakouba refugee camp in Qadarif, eastern Sudan.(AP)

US expresses grave concerns over reports of abuses in Ethiopia

AP
PUBLISHED ON FEB 28, 2021 06:31 PM IST
Ethiopia's central government and regional officials in Tigray both believe that each other's governments are illegitimate after the pandemic disrupted elections.
Close
In this undated handout photo provided by Kensington Palace on Saturday, Feb. 27, 2021, Britain's Prince William and Kate, Duchess of Cambridge smile during a video call to people with health conditions about the positive impact of the COVID-19 vaccine. The Duke of Cambridge has urged people to keep on taking the Covid-19 vaccination so "younger generations" will feel "it's really important for them to have it". (Kensington Palace via AP)(AP)
In this undated handout photo provided by Kensington Palace on Saturday, Feb. 27, 2021, Britain's Prince William and Kate, Duchess of Cambridge smile during a video call to people with health conditions about the positive impact of the COVID-19 vaccine. The Duke of Cambridge has urged people to keep on taking the Covid-19 vaccination so "younger generations" will feel "it's really important for them to have it". (Kensington Palace via AP)(AP)

Prince William backs anti-Covid-19 vaccines in call with Indian-origin family

PTI, London
PUBLISHED ON FEB 28, 2021 06:30 PM IST
More than 18 million people have now had a first vaccine dose, equivalent to one in three adults in the UK.
Close
With the SC order, Nepal has possibly averted a crisis which would have torn apart its nascent democratic system, shaken the constitutional structure, pushed the country towards prolonged political instability and led to the entrenched authoritarianism of KP Oli (REUTERS)
With the SC order, Nepal has possibly averted a crisis which would have torn apart its nascent democratic system, shaken the constitutional structure, pushed the country towards prolonged political instability and led to the entrenched authoritarianism of KP Oli (REUTERS)

Remove me if you can: Nepal PM Oli challenges Prachanda

PTI, Kathmandu
PUBLISHED ON FEB 28, 2021 06:25 PM IST
Addressing an event in his home district, Jhapa, Prime Minister Oli challenged the Prachanda-led faction to table a vote of no confidence motion and endorse that, My Republica newspaper reported.
Close
US Supreme Court is seen as National Guard secure the grounds in Washington, DC.(AFP)
US Supreme Court is seen as National Guard secure the grounds in Washington, DC.(AFP)

US Supreme Court could put new limits on voting rights lawsuits

AP
PUBLISHED ON FEB 28, 2021 06:23 PM IST
The high court's consideration comes as Republican officials in the state and around the country have proposed more than 150 measures, following last year’s elections, to restrict voting access that civil rights groups say would disproportionately affect Black and Hispanic voters.
Close
US President Joe Biden. (Bloomberg Photo )
US President Joe Biden. (Bloomberg Photo )

Saudi columnists tell US President to not bully Riyadh

Reuters
PUBLISHED ON FEB 28, 2021 06:21 PM IST
Prince Mohammed, de facto ruler of the US-allied Gulf powerhouse, has denied any involvement in the 2018 murder of Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
Close
A kindergarten employee receives her Corona vaccination with AstraZeneca's drug from Sylvia Baumbach at the Apolda vaccination center in Apolda, Germany.(AP)
A kindergarten employee receives her Corona vaccination with AstraZeneca's drug from Sylvia Baumbach at the Apolda vaccination center in Apolda, Germany.(AP)

Germany limits travel from French region over Covid-19 virus variant

AP
UPDATED ON FEB 28, 2021 06:21 PM IST
Germany's disease control agency, the Robert Koch Institute, said it would add Moselle to the list of “variant of concern” areas that already includes countries such as the Czech Republic, Portugal and the United Kingdom.
Close
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks to members of the media before boarding Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Saturday, Feb. 27, 2021. The U.S. House passed Biden's $1.9 trillion pandemic-relief plan, spanning $1,400 stimulus checks, enhanced jobless benefits and fresh funding for vaccines and testing. Photographer: Chris Kleponis/CNP/Bloomberg(Bloomberg)
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks to members of the media before boarding Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Saturday, Feb. 27, 2021. The U.S. House passed Biden's $1.9 trillion pandemic-relief plan, spanning $1,400 stimulus checks, enhanced jobless benefits and fresh funding for vaccines and testing. Photographer: Chris Kleponis/CNP/Bloomberg(Bloomberg)

Biden team readies wider economic package after virus relief

AP, Washington
PUBLISHED ON FEB 28, 2021 06:07 PM IST
Biden has talked bigger numbers, and some Democrats are now urging him to bypass Republicans in the closely divided Congress to address a broader range of priorities urged by interest groups.
Close
The police recovered a 67-page-long suicide note from the crime scene which revealed the murderer’s intention to kill more people.(Getty Images/iStockphoto/representative use)
The police recovered a 67-page-long suicide note from the crime scene which revealed the murderer’s intention to kill more people.(Getty Images/iStockphoto/representative use)

Newspaper photographer attacked, seriously hurt in France

AP, Paris
PUBLISHED ON FEB 28, 2021 05:54 PM IST
The newspaper L'Union said Sunday that Christian Lantenois, 65, was in a serious but stable condition at a hospital in Reims in northeast France.
Close
The Soyuz spacecraft with the Arktika-M satellite blasts off from the launchpad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan.(via REUTERS)
The Soyuz spacecraft with the Arktika-M satellite blasts off from the launchpad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan.(via REUTERS)

Russia launches space satellite Arktika-M to monitor climate in Arctic

Posted by Kunal Gaurav | Reuters
UPDATED ON FEB 28, 2021 05:44 PM IST
The Arctic has warmed more than twice as fast as the global average over the last three decades and Moscow is seeking to develop the energy-rich region.
Close
Nasa astronauts Hopkins and Victor Glover finish a four-year effort to upgrade the ISS power system during a spacewalk on February 1, 2021. (AFP / File)
Nasa astronauts Hopkins and Victor Glover finish a four-year effort to upgrade the ISS power system during a spacewalk on February 1, 2021. (AFP / File)

Spacewalking Nasa astronauts prep station for new solar wings

Posted by Kunal Gaurav | AP, Cape Canaveral
PUBLISHED ON FEB 28, 2021 05:40 PM IST
  • With more people and experiments flying on the space station, more power will be needed to keep everything running, according to Nasa.
Close
A logo of China's vaccine specialist Cansino Biologics Inc is pictured in Tianjin. (REUTERS FILE)
A logo of China's vaccine specialist Cansino Biologics Inc is pictured in Tianjin. (REUTERS FILE)

China rolls out first locally made single-dose Covid vaccine

By Sutritho Patranobis I Edited by Vinod Janardhanan
PUBLISHED ON FEB 28, 2021 05:40 PM IST
The vaccine was jointly developed by Cansino Biologics, a Tianjin-based private company, and researchers from the Institute of Military Medicine under the Academy of Military Sciences led by scientist, Chen Wei.
Close
AstraZeneca's vaccines are ready for Corona vaccination at a vaccination center.(AP)
AstraZeneca's vaccines are ready for Corona vaccination at a vaccination center.(AP)

Australia receives first batch of AstraZeneca vaccines

ANI
PUBLISHED ON FEB 28, 2021 05:16 PM IST
In addition to AstraZeneca's jabs, Australia also has greenlighted the use of Pfizer's Covid-19 vaccine, and expects the arrival of 20 million doses this year. Vaccinations using Pfizer's shots started in the country a week ago.
Close
People can get desirable protective effect after 14 days of inoculation.(AFP)
People can get desirable protective effect after 14 days of inoculation.(AFP)

China rolls out first one-jab Covid-19 vaccine: Report

PTI, Beijing
PUBLISHED ON FEB 28, 2021 05:13 PM IST
Phase-I clinical trials of the vaccine started on March 16, last year, making it the world's first Covid-19 candidate vaccine that entered clinical trials.
Close
SHARE
Story Saved
OPEN APP