Written by Quinn Bourret (News Writer)
Long time Putin critic, anti-corruption activist, and opposition leader Alexei Navalny was arrested on January 17 when he returned to Russia, sparking protests across the country. Navalny has opposed Putin and Putin’s United Russia party for well over a decade. His unbreaking demeanor and the support from some members of Russia towards his anti-corruption cause threaten Putin immensely and may result in serious changes in Russia over the coming years.
On August 20th of last year, there was an attempt to poison Navalny while he was flying to Moscow. However, when he was poisoned, the plane made an emergency landing in Tomsk for treatment and four days later, Navalny was sent to Berlin where his life was saved. Over the next few months, various investigations from both states and news organizations speculated about the cause of the poisoning. On September 2, Germany determined that the cause of the poisoning was a Novichok nerve agent. An investigation from journalists from The Insider, Bellingcat, CNN, and Der Spiegel detailed on December 14 that the modern incarnation of Russia’s KGB, the Federal Security Service, were the ones behind the assassination attempt. They tracked down the agents that had carried out the poisoning, finding that they had been watching Navalny for 3 years. A few days later on December 21, Navalny himself, in a video watchable on his YouTube account, contact one of the agents, under the guise as an aide of the Russian Security Council Secretary. Navalny then managed to convince the man to admit to attempting to assassinate him.
Navalny had been charged with embezzlement in 2017, a case the European Court of Human Rights declared to be trumped up for political reasons. While in Germany, Navalny was incapable of visiting his parole officer for a regular check-in, and as a result, Russia’s Federal Penitentiary Service threatened that he would be immediately arrested if he returned. Despite this and the previous attempt on his life, Navalny returned to Russia on January 17th. Navalny was promptly arrested on his return. Two days later, a video was released on his YouTube channel, produced before his departure from Germany, wherein he details Putin’s history of corruption as well as Putin’s secretly and very expensive palace, unknowingly funded by taxpayers. The two-hour video would garner 110 million views and one in four Russians watched it.
Planned protests would erupt on January 23rd across the country with an estimated 40,000 in Moscow. Roughly 4,000 would be arrested. Regardless, Navalny’s team made plans to have protested every weekend. On the 31st, more protests would occur. Beforehand, various businesses, metro stations, and other areas of many different cities across the country were shut down to restrict the movement of protesters. Mass arrests would occur and both Navalny’s wife and opposition leader Ilya Yashin were arrested among nearly 6,000 other protesters. On the 2nd, Navalny had a trial, wherein he was sentenced to two years and eight months in a penal colony for nonsensical claims. Protests would occur but Navalny’s team decided to end them for the upcoming election season, to avoid potential voters being incapable of voting.
Navalny remains fairly unpopular with many Russians, but over the past year, his approval rating has doubled to a fifth of the population. Furthermore, younger citizens increasingly dislike Putin which will become considerably important as they begin to vote more and older, pro-Putin voters pass away. Such a demographic change might not affect Putin to any discernible degree, but it will have powerful ramifications on his successor and the future of Russia.