The Man Putin Fears Most
Updated: Feb 22
For most people across the world, the COVID-19 pandemic made 2020 the worst year of their lives. The same could be said for Russian politician, Alexei Navalny, but the pandemic is just one of many things that made 2020 a difficult year for him.
“The man Vladimir Putin fears most, the story of Alexei Navalny includes corruption, spies, poisoning, and palaces. " - WSJ
On 20th August 2020, Navalny was seen in video footage being laid on a stretcher, as his flight had to make an emergency landing in Omsk. He was seen screaming ( not from agony, but to acknowledge that he was dying, he declared), as crew members scampered him to the Emergency City Clinic Hospital No.1. His spokeswoman, Kira Yarmysh later announced that he was in a coma and on the ventilator in the Omsk Hospital.
According to her statement, Navalny had only drunk a cup of tea at the airport before boarding the plane. Although the staff physicians had initially recognised a possible poisoning, the presence of police personnel outside Navalny’s room influenced their diagnosis, causing them to almost dismiss it. The Omsk hospital's deputy chief physician later told reporters that poisoning was "one scenario amongst many" being considered.
A plane was sent from Germany to evacuate Navalny from Russia for treatment at the
Charite Hospital in Berlin, even though the doctors treating him in Omsk initially declared he was too sick to be transported, they later released him. On August 24, the doctors in Germany made an announcement, confirming that Navalny had been poisoned with a cholinesterase inhibitor.
RECOVERY AND INVESTIGATION
It was revealed on September 2 by the German government that, Navalny was poisoned with a Novichok nerve agent. Surprisingly, it was from the same family of nerve agents that were used to poison Sergei Skripal and his 33-year-old daughter Yulia, back in 2018.
Navalny had gone into a coma, from which he recovered on the 7th of September, announced doctors. On the 17th, Navalny's team said that traces of the nerve agent used to poison Navalny was detected on an empty water bottle from his hotel room in Tomsk, suggesting that he was possibly poisoned before leaving the hotel. Navalny was later discharged from the hospital; traces of the nerve agent were found in his blood and urine samples.
On December 14, a joint investigation by The Insider and Bellingcat in co-operation with CNNand Der Spiegel was published, which implicated agents from Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) in Navalny's poisoning. According to the investigation, Navalny was under surveillance by a group of operatives from the unit for 3 years and there may have been earlier attempts to poison him.
Upon his return to Russia on 17 January 2021, Navalny was immediately detained on the charges of violating his parole conditions which were imposed on him during his 2014 conviction for embezzlement. Navalny has repeatedly denied the allegations and called them fabricated. A European Court has also found the charges unlawful.
"It is difficult for me to understand exactly what is going on in [Putin's] mind. ... 20 years of power would spoil anyone and make them crazy. He thinks he can do whatever he wants."
Vladimir Putin has been ruling Russian politics ever since 1999. He has served as the President twice, once as Prime Minister, and then twice as President again. Moreover, he has altered the constitution of Russia to his liking, allowing him to stand for President, again.
This is where Alexei Navalny comes into the picture. He is Putin’s fiercest and most vocal critic. He is an anti-corruption campaigner and has millions of social media followers, which he uses to unmask the vehement corruption at the heart of Putin’s administration.
Two days after Navalny was detained by the Russian authorities, he took it upon himself to conduct a joint investigation with the Anti-corruption Foundation (FBK) which targeted President Vladimir Putin, accusing him of obtaining fraudulent funds to build himself a massive estate near the town of Gelendzhik in Krasnodar Krai, allegedly calling it “The world’s biggest bribe”.
"Putin's Palace. History of World's Largest Bribe" is a Russian Documentary released on 19 January 2021, which explores the residence, commonly known as “Putin’s Palace”, reckoning its cost to be over $1.35 billion.
The estate first came into the limelight back in 2010, when businessman Sergei Kolesnikov, who was apparently involved in the project, released details about it.
In Navalny’s video, which has been viewed more than 100 million times, peculiar details about the palace have been shown. It says that the estate is an estimated 39 times the size of Monaco. Moreover, the Federal Security Service reputedly owns 70 square kilometers of land around the palace. This investigation also spoke about an extensive corruption scheme supposedly involving Putin’s inner circle, that helped him conceal billions of dollars to build the estate.
Kremlin’s spokesperson Dmitry Peskov held a press conference in which he called the investigation a ‘scam’. Vladimir Putin denied allegations of him owning the palace, calling the documentary “boring”, while the oligarch Arkady Rotenberg claimed ownership.
THE AFTERMATH: NATIONWIDE PROTESTS
Following Navalny’s arrest and the release of the documentary, mass protests were held across the country in support of Navalny. On the first day itself, protests were held in 198 towns and cities across Russia in what were the biggest anti-government demonstrations since the 2011-13 protests. On 9 February, Navalny’s chief of staff announced the continuation of protests, after withholding them because of the forthcoming presidential elections, shifting from streets to courtyards in hopes of avoiding direct confrontation with police.
On the 16th of February, a European Court demanded that the Kremlin issue Navalny’s release due to The “extent of risk to his life”. The Kremlin called the France-based Courts order unlawful and “meddling with the Russian Judiciary which makes it inadmissible”. Russia also warned western countries against imposing sanctions due to the happenings in the country.
Meanwhile, Navalny’s public approval has only seemed to shot up, which led to him becoming the countrys most mentioned politician on social media, ahead of Putin. As of 20 February, Navalny remains in a Russian Jail, while millions across the world demand his release and the Russian Government brands him a traitor.