Why Putin’s main opponent made a defiant return to Russia


MOSCOW — Russian opposition chief Alexei Navalny’s return to his homeland Sunday was, from the very begin, meant to be a symbolic act of defiance.

He was arrested on arrival and now sits in Moscow’s most infamous detention facility awaiting a trial that might see him jailed for years, underneath guard by the identical regime he says tried to kill him with a Soviet-era nerve agent.

When Navalny introduced he would lastly return to Russia, after recovering from Novichok poisoning in a German hospital, it begged the query: why? The Kremlin had made it clear for months it didn’t need President Vladimir Putin’s most outspoken opponent to return, and was prepared to play soiled to discourage it

Within the days since Navalny’s return, it seems he’s returned for what may very well be his ultimate battle.

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“They’re afraid,” he mentioned in a video recorded from a makeshift courtroom outdoors Moscow on Monday, the place he was sentenced to 30 days pretrial detention.

“They’re afraid of you,” he mentioned. “They’re afraid of these individuals who can cease staying silent and notice their very own energy … I name on you to cease being silent, resist and take to the road. There are such a lot of of us.”

When Navalny left Russia in August on a German air ambulance, he clung to life in a medically induced coma. Scientists in a number of nations decided that he was poisoned, and almost killed, with Novichok, a variant of Soviet-made nerve brokers — the identical kind of chemical weapon used in opposition to former Russian spy Sergei Skripal in the UK in 2018.

To Navalny’s supporters, it was instantly apparent who tried to kill him: Russia’s Federal Safety Service. In spite of everything, they argued, who else might get their fingers on such a weapon? When Navalny, underneath the care of German specialists, awoke from his coma weeks later, he was unequivocal in inserting blame immediately on Putin. The Russian authorities has denied any involvement.

Navalny’s nationwide marketing campaign is organizing protests Saturday throughout the nation in assist of the jailed opposition icon. On Feb. 2, he’ll seem in court docket, the place a decide will take into account the state’s request to show a suspended sentence into onerous time served. If this occurs, he faces imprisonment of as much as three and a half years underneath the present fees. Protests, his allies say, are his solely hope.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin takes half in a video convention name on the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outdoors Moscow, on Tuesday.Alexei Nikolsky / Sputnik / Reuters

This was already a high-stakes scenario by the requirements of Russia’s stifled, closely managed home politics. However Navalny dramatically raised the stakes Tuesday evening. In a transfer that may solely be interpreted as him going all in on an epic, ultimate confrontation with Putin: his group launched one of many largest investigations into Putin’s wealth.

Within the introduction to the two-hour video detailing his group’s investigation into the financing behind “Putin’s palace,” Navalny tells viewers that his group determined to maneuver ahead with the investigation when he was nonetheless in intensive care, and instantly agreed that they might launch it when he returned residence to Moscow, “as a result of we don’t need the principle character of this movie to suppose we’re afraid of him.”

The report particulars Putin’s rise to wealth and energy and the development of the huge $1.four billion palace on the Black Beach. NBC Information has not independently confirmed the report’s findings.

A person holds a placard studying “For Navalny!” as supporters collect outdoors a police station the place the Russian opposition chief is being held, in Khimki outdoors Moscow, on Tuesday.Maxim Shemetov / Reuters

Although Navalny says he determined to pursue this investigation after waking from his coma, the scope of the hassle and the character of the fabric offered means that that is the fruits of years of labor, following a decade of smaller-scale investigations into the figures who encompass Putin. Till now, Navalny has by no means taken such direct photographs on the chief.

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“The nice Russian author Leo Tolstoy as soon as very clearly described the construction of energy in Russia: ‘The villains who robbed the individuals gathered collectively, recruited troopers and judges to protect their orgy, and are feasting,” he mentioned, “We are going to solely stay usually after we cease tolerating officers who steal and re-electing them.”

In 48 hours since happening YouTube, it has been seen 38 million occasions and was the No. 1 trending video in Russia. But, the query stays: Is it sufficient to encourage a large-scale present of assist Feb. 2 when he goes to trial?

If not, and even with the prospect of doable worldwide sanctions over the difficulty, the Kremlin might even see the price of jailing Navalny as solely inexpensive.

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