Who was Alexei Navalny: the opposition leader who accused Putin of “sucking Russia’s blood”?

Who was Alexei Navalny: the opposition leader who accused Putin of “sucking Russia’s blood”?

Alexei Navalny was a leading figure in Russian politics and the country’s most important opposition leader for the past decade.

His death, recently announced, marks the end of a political and personal struggle against President Vladimir Putin. Throughout his career, Navalny faced multiple challenges, including imprisonments and attacks on his life.

Navalny’s early years and political rise

Alexei Navalny was born on June 4, 1976 in Butyn, Moscow region. He graduated with a law degree from the Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia in 1998. His rise as an influential voice in Russian politics began in 2008, when he denounced malpractices and corruption in large state-controlled corporations on his blog.

One of the tactics used by Navalny was to become a minority shareholder in major oil companies and banks, which allowed him to ask uncomfortable questions about irregularities in state finances. His influence grew rapidly, especially among young people, whom he addressed with sharp and blunt language, mocking the Putin-loyal establishment.

Navalny’s role in the 2011 parliamentary elections

In 2011, before the parliamentary elections, Navalny urged readers of his blog not to vote for United Russia, Putin’s party, which he dubbed the “party of criminals and thieves.” Although United Russia won the election, its victory was marred by accusations of vote rigging that sparked protests in Moscow and other major cities.

During the protests, Navalny was arrested and jailed for 15 days, but this did not prevent him from becoming an influential figure in Russian politics. In the 2013 Moscow mayoral election, where he did not run as a candidate, he came a surprising second place with 27% of the vote, despite having no access to state television and relying solely on the Internet and word of mouth.

Navalny’s legal challenges and imprisonments

Throughout his career, Navalny faced numerous legal challenges and imprisonments. In 2014, he was convicted of embezzlement in a case that his supporters considered politically motivated. However, his conviction was overturned by Russia’s Supreme Court after the European Court of Human Rights found that he had not had a fair hearing in his first trial.

Nevertheless, in 2017, he was convicted a second time on the same charges and received a five-year suspended sentence. Navalny denounced these convictions as a sham and accused the government of trying to exclude him from the 2018 presidential election.

Poisoning and the attacks against Navalny

In August 2020, Navalny suffered a poisoning that nearly cost him his life. While traveling on a flight over Siberia, he collapsed and was rushed to a hospital in Omsk. He was later flown to Berlin, where it was determined that he had been poisoned with the nerve agent Novichok, the same chemical used in the attack on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in 2018.

Although the Kremlin denied any involvement in the attack, the German government revealed evidence showing “unequivocal signs” of Novichok poisoning. The European Union imposed sanctions on senior Russian officials and a Russian chemical weapons research center for their involvement in the attack on Navalny.

Alexei Navalny’s final years and death

After the poisoning, Navalny returned to Russia and was imprisoned for violating the terms of a suspended sentence in a fraud case. Despite the conviction, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that he should be released immediately due to the risk to his life, but Russia rejected the decision.

Navalny declared a hunger strike in protest of the inadequate treatment he was receiving in prison. After 24 days without food, he lifted the hunger strike at the request of his private doctors. However, in March 2022, his sentence was increased by nine years for new charges of embezzlement and contempt of court.

In June 2022, his allies reported that Navalny had been transferred to a maximum security prison, where he was repeatedly placed in solitary confinement. Finally, in August 2023, he was sentenced to an additional 19 years for forming and financing extremist organizations and activities.

Sadly, Navalny passed away in prison last Friday, leaving a legacy as an opposition leader and anti-corruption advocate in Russia. His death has generated shock domestically and internationally, and his impact on Russian politics will live on in the collective memory.