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  • Anna Rosciszewski

Who Was Alexei Navalny?

You may have heard of the recent death of Russia’s infamous opposition leader, Aleksei Navalny, on February 16th, 2024, and what it signifies for the future of Russia under Putin’s regime. Over the past couple of weeks, headlines have been reacting to his death-a shock that has been felt throughout the democratic world. To fully understand the scope of Navalny’s ongoing impact, we must, however, remember what he fearlessly accomplished during his lifetime and the leader he was, rather than accepting his premature end as the conclusion of his sacrifices. 


Navalny speaking to a crowd during a protest in Moscow, Russia on July 20th, 2019. Image via Pavel Golovkin for AP Press News.


His Legacy

First and foremost, Navalny was Russia’s leading anti-corruption leader. Even posthumously, his work - from leading protests to publishing investigations of government corruption - denotes a major hope for democracy against the oppression and deceit of the Kremlin’s authoritarian rule. After earning his law and economics degrees, his first action as an activist was in 2004, when he founded the Muscovite Protection Committee, with the initiative of blocking construction projects that could be harmful to residents. In 2008, he became a well known public figure when he published proof of embezzlement by top Russian state corporations, Gazprom, Rosneft, and Transneft, before conducting trials against them through his Union of Minority Shareholders. In 2010, he founded yet another project, RosPil, which would detect and prosecute cases of fraud in public procurements, the purchases of goods, services, and works by the government and other state owned enterprises. The next year, he founded the Anti-Corruption Foundation (ACF), which is run by lawyers and economists and independently drafts anti-corruption bills, publishes investigations to inform the public of corruption in high circles of Russian government and business, and provides Russians with platforms to file complaints about damaged public infrastructure. One of the ACF’s bills, which forbade government officials from buying foreign cars at the expense of the public, was passed after garnering a staggering 100,000 signatures. He even took his mission of uncovering the illicit enrichment of government officials, which is forbidden by the United Nations’ Article 20, to UN Headquarters. There, he launched a legislative bill that called for the monitoring of their incomes and expenditures, as well as prosecute those unable to explain the sources of these funds. The Russian government never recognized his initiative and instead revoked his attorney license in 2015;  he continued to protect citizens and fight cases over unlawful court decisions via the European Court of Human Rights.

In the latter half of the 2010s, he released numerous documentaries again exposing the corruption of Russia’s high ranking officials. These include investigations into Yuri Chaika, Igor Shuvalov, and Dmity Medvedev, among others. 


Putin’s Number 1 Enemy

Navalny’s work has enraged the Russian government for over twenty years. Reacting to his initiatives, it has repeatedly published propaganda against him, trying to paint him as a public enemy, while charging him and his family with fabricated crimes. In 2017, despite being nominated as a presidential candidate, where he vowed to reduce inequality and eliminate intragovernmental corruption, he was unconstitutionally barred from running. Moreover, all of his foundations were branded extremist, and thus, rendered illegal to join.

 In 2020, after being poisoned with a Soviet- era nerve agent, Novichok, Navalny barely escaped with his life to a German hospital, where he stayed only five months- just long enough to recover. He returned to Russia for the last time in 2021, despite the certain arrest he knew he would face as soon as he landed in Moscow. Navalny would not give up on his country, people, and mission, even if his actions guaranteed his own eventual doom. 


Navalny recovering from being poisoned with potent Russian nerve agent Novichok in Berlin, Germany. He had to be put into an induced coma for an extended period of time and his breathing machine-automated before making a recovery that allowed him to post this image onto social media with his wife Yulia (right), daughter Daria (bottom left), and son Zakhar (top left).

Image via Instagram.


His Personal Life

Apart from his role as a fierce anti-corruption leader, Aleksei Navalny was a family man. He had a very public love and family life on social media, where he posted his two children and wife often. Only two days before his death, he posted a Valentine’s Day post celebrating his eternal love for the latter. He was a lover of culture, specifically literature, and was often seen with a book in hand and claimed to be able to read many books at a time. While in a remote prison in the Arctic, Polar Wolf, he boasted reading 44 English books in one year and often expressed his fondness for classic Russian writers, in the likes of Chekhov, Tolstoy, and Dostoyevsky. He also maintained regular communication with several journalists, who sent him news articles to keep him informed on not only politics, but also food recipes and pop culture news, like the tragic death of Friends actor, Matthew Perry. Despite the fear and pressure he must have felt during his career, Navalny did not let it show. Instead, he always sought to further inform himself and be a good father to his young children. 


The End of Aleksei Navalny?

Aleksei Navalny may have passed away, but his revolutionary spirit lives on in his family and the Russian people. Days following his death, his widowed wife, Yulia Navalnaya, accused Putin of killing her late husband and promised to continue his fight for a free Russia in a speech addressed at the European Parliament. It is clear that Navalny’s killers have not succeeded in silencing him and those who fought alongside him. The hope he represented for the future of Russian democracy has not been extinguished, a fact which has been shown by the thousands of supporters that risk laying flowers on his grave even weeks after his death.


Sources:

  • “With Prison Certain and Death Likely, Why Did Navalny Return?” from The New York Times. 

  • “Timeline of Alexei Navalny’s life and activism” from abcNEWS 

  • “Aleksei Navalny, Russian Opposition Leader, Dies in Prison at 47” from The New York Times. 

  • “Who is Aleksey Navalny” from Navalny Team

  • “Yulia Navalnaya: ‘If you want to defeat Putin, fight his criminal gang’” from European Parliament.

  • “Russians lay flowers at Navalny's grave, hail him as symbol of hope” from Reuters. 

  • “Inside Aleksei Navalny’s Final Months, in His Own Words” from The New York Times.

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