Factbox: Who is Alexei Navalny and what does he say of Russia, Putin and death?
By Guy Faulconbridge
MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia’s most prominent opposition leader Alexei Navalny has lost 8 kg in jail and is suffering an illness that could be some sort of slow acting poison, his spokeswoman said.
Who is Navalny?
Navalny is by far the most prominent politician among Russia’s splintered opposition.
Supporters cast him as a Russian version of South Africa’s Nelson Mandela who will one day be freed from jail to lead the country.
He earned admiration from many within Russian opposition circles for voluntarily returning to Russia in 2021 from Germany where he underwent treatment for what Western laboratory tests showed was an attempt to poison him with a nerve agent in Siberia.
Rise to prominence
A former lawyer, Navalny rose to prominence with blogs which exposed what he said was vast corruption across the Russian elite. He says Russia is ruled by “crooks and thieves”.
He participated in Russian nationalist marches in the 2000s. Calls for restrictions on immigration and criticism over what some viewed as his overly nationalist views prompted his expulsion from the liberal Yabloko opposition party in 2007.
He lampooned President Vladimir Putin’s elite and exposed some of the opulence of the lifestyles of senior officials, using the internet and even drones to illustrate what he said was their vast holdings and luxury property.
When demonstrations against Putin flared in December 2011, after an election tainted by fraud accusations, he was one of the first protest leaders arrested.
Navalny has long forecast Russia could face seismic political turmoil, including revolution, because he says Putin has built a brittle system of personal rule that is reliant on sycophancy and corruption.
What does the kremlin say?
The Kremlin has dismissed Navalny’s claims of vast corruption and Putin’s personal wealth. Navalny’s movement is outlawed and most of his senior allies have fled Russia and now live in Europe.
Russian officials cast Navalny as an extremist who is a puppet of the U.S. CIA intelligence agency which they say is intent on trying to sow the seeds of revolution to weaken Russian and make it a client state of the West.
Navalny has been detained countless times for organising public rallies, and prosecuted repeatedly on charges including corruption, embezzlement and fraud. He says the accusations and convictions are politically motivated.
In August 2020, Navalny fell ill on a flight from Tomsk, in Siberia, to Moscow. The pilot made an emergency landing, saving his life, and Navalny was flown to Berlin, where he was treated for the effects of a neurotoxin that German military tests showed to be Novichok, a poison developed in the Soviet Union.
A joint media investigation said it had identified a team of assassins from Russia’s FSB security service. Putin dismissed the investigation as a smear, saying: “If someone had wanted to poison him, they would have finished him off.”
Navalny, 46, is married to Yulia. They have a daughter, Darya, who is a student at Stanford University in the U.S., and a son, Zakhar, who is at school.
KEY NAVALNY QUOTES:
ON THE UKRAINE WAR:
“This is a stupid war which your Putin started,” Navalny told an appeal court in Moscow via video link from a corrective penal colony in 2022. “This war was built on lies.”
“One madman has got his claws into Ukraine and I do not know what he wants to do with it – this crazy thief.”
“Corruption is the foundation of contemporary Russia, it is the foundation of Mr. Putin’s political power,” Navalny told Reuters in an interview in 2011.
“Once the great Russian writer Leo Tolstoy described the structure of power in Russia: ‘the villains who robbed their own people got together, recruited soldiers and judges to guard their orgy, and now they’re having a feast’. This brilliant phrase precisely describes what is happing in our country.”
ON FEAR AND AMBITION:
“Why should I be afraid?” he said in 2011 when asked about the dangers of challenging the Kremlin.
When asked by Reuters about his ambition, he winced but his eyes twinkled: “I would like to be president, but there are no elections in Russia.”
“If they decide to kill me then it means we are incredibly strong and we need to use that power and not give up,” he told CNN. “We don’t realise how strong we actually are.”
(Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)