13th Apr 2024


Navalny executed by Putin — another sacrificial victim

  • 'Navalny was prepared to sacrifice his life for a free Russia, for a "beautiful Russia of the future" as he liked to say' (Photo: okras)
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It happened. The Kremlin has finally managed to kill Alexei Navalny, the major political opponent of the regime run by Vladimir Putin for the last quarter of the century.

Whatever the official explanation of Navalny's death the Russian administration or medical establishment presents to the Russian population and the international community, there should be no doubt about the Kremlin's long-standing intention to kill him.

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They started, first, with irritated attempts to dissuade him from getting involved in opposition politics. The regime-inspired thugs attacked him with dangerous substances; he was regularly, in violation of the Russian constitution, arrested at numerous anti-government protests, and was eventually jailed on fake charges.

That did not stop him. When he got out of jail, he continued his anti-Putin activism and built the largest political opposition movement in Russia to date that directly challenged Putin's grip on power. In particular, Navalny's team published investigations that revealed dirty corruption of Russia's most high-ranking officials and politicians, contrasting their greed and luxury lives with poverty and inequality strangling the Russian population.

One of the investigations, looking into former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev, sparked massive protests across Russia.

The Kremlin then chose another tactic: it would repress activists of Navalny's movement and crush their organisational structures, and, at the same time, would demonstratively ignore the figure of Navalny himself — to the degree that Putin would consciously and, perhaps, superstitiously decline to say Navalny's name — even if directly asked about him by the media.

The Kremlin would also try to get rid of Navalny by making him leave Russia voluntarily, but he knew well that his emigration would be the end of his political work in Russia — he would have no moral right to mobilise Russian citizens still based in Russia for action against the authoritarian regime from a comfortable and safe home in the West.

Just too dangerous

At some point, Putin realised that none of the tactics against Navalny worked and that his movement turned out to be too resilient and, hence, too dangerous.

While the long-standing aim of the Kremlin was to depoliticise the population, to make it stop wondering about other directions of political development of their country, Navalny's movement sought to re-politicise Russian citizens, to push them to start posing political questions to Putin and his clique.

That was too much for the Kremlin, so they decided simply to kill Putin's major opponent.

The chosen weapon of murder was the chemical nerve agent — the notorious Novichok poison. Thanks to the Russian emergency medics and German doctors, and, perhaps, sheer luck too, Navalny survived this attempt on his life.

After the successful treatment in a German hospital, Navalny decided to return to Russia — despite all the warnings that the Kremlin would, at the very least, jail him for years, or would even mercilessly try to kill him again. But by that moment Navalny had probably realised that his activism mattered more than his own well-being. He was prepared to sacrifice his life for a free Russia, for a "beautiful Russia of the future" as he liked to say.

He was arrested right upon his arrival in Moscow. He was sentenced to several years in a prison camp, in conditions that left him with zero chance of surviving even in the mid-term. What he experienced in the prison was brutal physical and psychological torture that would necessarily result in his death. That was just a matter of time.

By choosing to be in Russia with his people against all odds — like some other Russian opposition activists including Vladimir Kara-Murza and Ilya Yashin — Navalny became a beacon of hope for those who believed that a different Russia, a democratic Russia, which would rather improve the living conditions of Russian people than send them to kill and be killed in a neighbouring country, was possible.

Navalny's death is crushing this hope and symbolises yet another dramatic watershed in the history of his country. Domestically, his death — just one month before the "presidential re-election" of Putin — signals a new and even more vicious wave of political repression. But it is also a message to the community of Western democracies aiming to show that there is no and never will be a different Russia — a message that Navalny and his movement did their best to counter with their courageous political work.

There is no doubt that Western democracies will respond to Navalny's death — with angry statements and/or sanctions — but neither is there any doubt that the Russian population is the only agent of political change in their country. The next few months will show whether Navalny's sacrifice was or was not in vain.

Author bio

Anton Shekhovtsov is director of the Centre for Democratic Integrity in Vienna, visiting professor at the Central European University, and author of three books: New Radical Rightwing Parties in European Democracies (2011), Russia and the Western Far-Right: Tango Noir (2017), and Russian Political Warfare (2023).


The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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