Alexei Navalny: Vladimir Putin’s Foil

Michael Vento, Editor-in-Chief

President Vladimir Putin has been Russia’s top leader for nine years. Ever since his “election”, the pillars of Russian democracy have crumbled. A former member of the KGB, Putin is well equipped with the functions of Russian government: most importantly, how to silence the opposition. Yet there is one man who could jeopardize his long regime. In fact, this man has gathered quite the following. It is now said that Russia has two political leaders . . . Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin and Alexei Navalny in prison. 

Who is Alexei Navalny? He is the opposition leader to Vladimir Putin and an anti-corruption advocate. His position may seem familiar. Perhaps he will soon ‘suffer’ a heart attack or ‘fall out’ a broken window. That is, of course, what has happened to Putin’s opposition before. Yet such fate is unlikely for Navalny. Importantly, Alexei Navalny has been imprisoned by the Russian government since the start of the new year. More importantly, he voluntarily turned himself in. 

The largest difference between Navalny and opposition leaders that have preceded him is his grand level of political clout. Navalny was infamously poisoned (more than likely by Putin’s agents) with a novichok nerve agent in August 2020. He survived the murder attempt, and even appeared on CBS’s “Sixty Minutes” to tell the story. This exposé on his ambitious political endeavors and violently inflicted illness only strengthened his support from Russian citizens. 

When Navalny was poisoned, he was allowed to evacuate the country for proper treatment. And so he received the medical attention necessary in Germany. That is where he first informed the world of the attempt on his life. 

It may seem as though Navalny’s evacuation doesn’t add up. Why not deny Navalny passage outside of Russia? Why would Putin let him escape? More than likely because the President of Russia assumed that Mr. Navalny would have no interest in returning. Putin grossly miscalculated. 

Even while undergoing treatment in Germany, Navalny insisted that he must return to Russia. And so he did. Immediately upon arrival, Navalny was arrested for disobeying the terms of a prior probation from an arrest back in 2014. Now in prison, Navalny has thousands upon thousands of Russian’s protesting for his release. 

Navalny’s wife issued a statement to CBS. She famously said her husband “has already won”. More than likely she is referring to his irreversible political relevance. Interestingly, the United States and numerous additional first world nations have recognized Navalny and his opposition movement as legitimate. President Biden and his team have warned the Kremlin that they will “face consequences” if Navalny dies in jail. 

This leaves little wiggle room for Putin. With Navalny’s political clout, Putin’s next move will be closely observed. If Navalny were to die in Russian custody, Putin would be left to deal with the anger of foreign nations. Even worse, Navalny would become a martyr to Russians nationwide, only further isolating the president from the rest of his country. For Vladimir Putin one thing is clear: Navalny cannot die. 

And so Navalny appears to be Putin’s foil: honest, brave, and democratic. Only time will tell how effectively he can influence Russian government for the better.