Navalny arrested in Russia



Opposition leader Alexei Navalny stands in a cage in the Babuskinsky District Court in Moscow, Russia, Saturday, Feb. 20, 2021. Two trials against Navalny are being held Moscow City Court one considering an appeal against his imprisonment in the embezzlement case and another announcing a verdict in the defamation case. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

Russian political leader Aleksei Navalny was arrested for political dissent on Jan 17, after returning from Germany after recovering from a deadly nerve agent attack. Navalny had already been arrested once in 2014 for stealing $500 thousand and was also arrested earlier for stealing 16 million rubles from a state timber company. However, this has been considered a sham by critics of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and the trial was also heavily criticized by the Western Powers.

“He is in jail right now for two an a half years originally and was forced to provide updates, but after he was poisoned he was put in a coma and couldn’t report, and it wasn’t fair,” Liza Domrina ‘23 said.

Navalny has been an outspoken critic of Russian government since 2008, according to the BBC, when he started blogging about corruption in state-controlled corporations. Ever since Putin took power, he has restricted the rights of the press and the rights of the people. Putin has also made numerous changes to the Russian constitution to give himself more terms in office and more power over the national government. This allows Russia to appear as a democratic government, but Putin has all of the power.

Navalny has angered Putin ever since Navalny started to run for Russian President. In 2017, under fear of Navalny gaining power, unknown assailants poisoned Navalny by spraying a chemical into his eyes. Navalny lost 80% of his vision in his right eye but managed to recover.  

In July 2019, while serving a prison sentence after encouraging Russians to take to the streets and protest for Independence, Navalny fell ill and had to be taken into a hospital for recovery. After a few weeks, despite objections from his personal physician, Navalny was sent back to the prison. He was eventually released.

Navalny has survived multiple attempts at assasination from Putin’s Russian FSB (Federal Security Service)  agents, but he has not been able to find enough evidence Putin was behind his poisoning. However, in July of 2020, FSB agents placed a nerve agent known as Novichok in Navalny’s underwear.

Novichok is a nerve agent 10 times deadlier than sarin gas. It started development under the Soviet Union’s chemical weapons program in the 1970s. Recently, new variants of Novichok have been developed, making it far deadlier than the original variant, but this also means it takes longer to take effect. It has to be made in special laboratories inaccessible by common criminals. 

According to CNN, Russian FSBs tailed Navalny in groups of three, using fake IDs, burner phones and even changing their birth dates. Eventually they were able to slip the poison into Navalny’s underwear in his hotel room before his flight, where his plane was going back to Moscow and had to make an emergency landing.  

Navalny was rushed to the hospital in Omsk, where he was not allowed to have any visitors. Eventually, he was rushed to a medical facility in Germany, where he went into a coma for three weeks and underwent stronger medical procedures. German scientists eventually found traces of the poison, where they deemed it would have been impossible for a common criminal to make such a powerful nerve agent.

Navalny also did some investigating himself.  He pretended to be a senior member of the Russian National Security Council, and by making his phone number appear as if it was the headquarters of the FSB, they were able to get a full report from FSB agent Konstantin Kudryastev, with him laying out the plan to poison Navalny in detail to Navalny himself, and Kudryastev even told him the underwear was targeted on purpose.

After Navalny’s recovery, he returned to Moscow; he was arrested and sentenced to two and a half years in a Penal Colony. Hundreds of thousands of protesters took to the streets, throwing snowballs and chanting anti-Putin sentiment. Thousands were arrested and treated inhumanely, with women being forced to strip and do sit downs and were forced to deal with inhumane conditions. 

Western Powers have heavily criticized Putin and his arrest of Navalny. United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken criticized the jailing of Navalny and threatened Russia with strict economic sanctions, but the idea of sanctions did not last long as Russia threatened with retaliation.

“If the U.S. did impose economic sanctions, Russia could retaliate with sanctions of their own, such as an increase in cost to do business with Russian firms, trade barriers, and they could also encourage their allis to do the same, which could severely affect the U.S. economy,” A.P. Government teacher Tyler Shaw said.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel all called for Navalny’s release, and the European Union also expelled three Russian diplomats from Germany, Poland and Sweden.

European Union foreign minister Joseph Borrell visited Moscow on Monday and pleaded for Navalny to be released but his requests were ultimately denied. He will speak to the European Parliament on February 9, which is calling for sanctions that include halting the construction of the Nord Stream 2 energy pipeline between Germany and Russia. 

Russia has entered a state of martial law and has not become a police state. The protests are expected to continue until Navalny is released.