Updated February 16th, 2024 at 21:23 IST

Who Was Alexei Navalny? All You Need to Know About Opposition Leader, Putin's Critic

The detention facility where Navalny was sent was a place where ’political criminals’ were subjected to frequent and harsh torturous acts.

Reported by: Digital Desk
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny. | Image:AP
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Alexei Navalny, the opposition leader of Russia who was dubbed as the staunchest critic of Russia's President Vladimir Putin, died on Friday at the prison in Yamalo-Nenets region where he was jailed. Navalny, who was detained on charges of embezzlement, was serving a 19-year-term.  Russia's federal penitentiary service said that Navalny was dead after he became unconscious during a walk. The cause of his death is still unknown.

Navalny was the prominent critic of strongman Putin for over a decade. He was the opposition leader and vehement critic of the very entrenched Putin-led government that he compared to dictatorship. The dissent successfully amassed millions of Russian followers on social media, popualrity, and managed to get hundreds of protesters to take the streets of Moscow to overthrow the ruling government.

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He was then detained by Russian authorities over myriad of criminal charges in an escalation of the movement that began after he was the target of a vile and devious poisoning attempt with Novichok type nerve agent that he said was an attack on him by Russia's FSB.

Navalny was a Russian Opposition Coordination Council member. He was the leader of the Russia of the Future Party and the founder of the Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK). He reflected the anguish of the younger generation of Russians who grew up under Putin and sought changes. Navalny was described as  'the man Putin fears the most', and in a part of the world where autocratic leaders had had few qualms of dispatching their political rivals or anything they viewed as a threat to their rule.

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Navalny sought reforms, but there was a prie to pay

Navalny sought economic reforms, a fight against corruption and redressal to prevalent domestic issues as well as change of the leadership in Russia. In 2016, Navalny announced his intention to contest opposite President Vladimir Putin in the Presidential Elections.

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Russian election officials, later, formally barred him. They deemed that ‘he was not eligible to run for elections’. The headstrong former lawyer rigorously campaigned against Putin for years despite ‘an unrelenting state effort to stifle his activity’. 

Navalny was jailed within the Russian prison system having sentenced for 19 years on extremism-related charges. His supporters slammed the court verdict and harsh prison terms that they said was meted out to political opponents of the Kremlin and Putin amid what Russia called the “special military operation” in Ukraine. Navalny, from the prison, ordered the Russian citizens to mobilise a force against Putin and stop the war.

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The 44-year-old was lodged in a ‘notorious’ penal colony outside Moscow in Kolchugino located in the Vladimir region, and often complained about his deteriorating health due to poor conditions in the cell. Navalny was initially jailed at IK-2 penal camp in detention center-3, pending the outcome of four legal matters which according to him, were all trumped up. Attorney Vadim Kobzev, who at the time, appeared for Navalny said:

"The detention facility where Navalny has been sent is a place where ’political criminals’ are subjected to frequent and harsh torturous acts until they eventually break down."

Navalny, post his arrest, said that the infamous penal colony outside Moscow was like the 'concentration camp'. In his posts on Facebook and Instagram, he compared conditions to those depicted in '1984', George Orwell's famous dystopian novel. The said posts spoke of rigorous prison rules; it read,

"Even in the absence of obvious violence, inmates stood at attention- too frightened to even turn their heads,” and in a way that angled some credibility of people “being beaten nearly to death with wooden hammers.”

He was jailed under jarring conditions and was denied adequate medical care. Russian authorities barred him from seeing a doctor of his choice. Navalny accused Putin of “ordering his attempted murder.”

Putin dismissed such allegations entirely, and in return, accused Navalny of being part of a United States of America-backed 'dirty hegemony' trick campaign to discredit him.

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Navalny's arrest post-assassination attempt

The fiercest surviving opponent of Russia's Putin, Navalny was immediately arrested on his return to Russia from Germany where he was treated after being poisoned on the plane. He stayed in Germany for several months where he was received treatment for nerve agent poisoning, which, he later claimed, was carried out by Russian agents. The Kremlin (home and symbol of the government of the Russian Federation), outrightly denied such involvement, and ruled out any criminal investigation in the poisoning episode.

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That Alexei Navalny is a longtime critic of Putin became clear from the fact that he was arrested when demonstrations against Putin kicked off in 2011. Navalny was categorised as one of the few long-standing vociferous opposing elements in Russia.

His bravery in returning to Russia after barely surviving assassination and his subsequent travails in prison earmarked him as an anti-Putin icon and that was evident from the Russian President using a state-of-the-union type address to warn international agencies and countries from pulling on the Navalny thread too hard.

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Published February 16th, 2024 at 19:20 IST