Is this the rise of a new ‘Lenin’, in Putin’s own backyard? by Prathamesh Jagtap
For sheer audacity, ingenuity, courage and resilience, there may be no more heroic political figure on the world stage at the moment than Alexei Navalny, Russia’s leading opposition figure. Through organizing, technology and running for political office, the 44-year-old anti-corruption activist has become the sharpest thorn to puncture the side of the mighty President Vladimir Putin.
Who is Alexei Navalny?
Navalny, a lawyer-turned-activist, came to prominence in 2008 after exposing corruption in Russian politics through a blog. In 2018, he was barred from standing against Putin in the presidential elections.
He has also been arrested on multiple occasions. Since he started political campaigning, Navalny has spearheaded many anti-corruption rallies in Russia and is considered the face of Russia's opposition. This country has long been known to eliminate dissidents and spies by poisoning them.
What happened to him?
In August, Kremlin critic Navalny was put on ventilator support in a Siberian hospital after consuming a cup of tea that is suspected to be poisoned.
This was not the first time that Navalny was faced with such a situation. Last year, Navalny was hospitalised after he suffered an allergic reaction in jail, possibly from an unknown chemical substance. Two years before this, Navalny was doused with a bright green liquid in the Siberian city of Barnaul by an assailant who pretended to shake his hand.
In Mr Navalny, Putin has found his strongest political opponent in his two-decade-long rule. Once known for his extreme nationalist and anti-immigrant views, Mr Navalny has turned himself into the embodiment of Russia's anti-Kremlin politics, which remains tightly controlled by Putin. And it is no secret that the Kremlin has tried its best to suppress his political movement. He has been detained several times, and criminal cases launched against him. He was barred from contesting the 2018 Presidential election. And in August, he collapsed while on a domestic flight from Siberia. German doctors who treated him later confirmed that he was poisoned with a Novichok nerve agent.
Western media investigations had implicated Russian agents, an allegation the government has denied. Even if Russian agents were not involved, Putin could not escape questions about his most prominent political opponent being poisoned within Russia. His government has the responsibility to investigate what happened in Siberia and bring the perpetrators to justice. That is what any government that believes in the rule of law should be doing. But instead of finding and punishing those who attacked him, Putin’s government, like any dictatorial regime, is going after the victim. It is ironic that Putin, who recently got the Constitution amended so that he could stay in power beyond two consecutive terms, is still perturbed by the presence of a leader who he says nobody wants. If the long years of attempts to suppress Mr Navalny’s political activism have achieved anything, he is now a stronger opposition figure with international standing.