What’s Happening in Russia?

February/March 2021

Thousands of people took to the streets of Russia on January 23rd to demand the release of Alexei Navalny, a prominent political opposition leader and candid critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The protests began in the far east, specifically Vladivostok and Khabarovsk, but have spread across the country. In Moscow, the country’s capital, hundreds of metal barriers have been installed to stop gatherings.

Who is Navalny?

Alexei Navalny is a Russian opposition leader and anti-corruption activist. He is most known for his criticisms of Putin and the corruption running rampant in his government. He actively advocates for reforms and even took to running for office to voice his concerns.

While fighting against the Russian administration, he has managed to spread his beliefs and not be silenced. Navalny began with a blog more than ten years ago exposing government wrongdoings. He has since founded and built the Anti-Corruption Foundation, a media company that explores the abuse of power and misconduct in Russia. Even more impressively, he has constructed a team of coordinators who have outmaneuvered the Kremlin’s system for election rigging that has kept Putin in power for twenty years. This team has only been successful in a few local races, but the paradigm they have instituted as well as their minor successes have been enough to scare Putin. Navalny has been arrested multiple times, detained for protests, and convicted twice on fictitious charges, but none of that has quelled him or his supporters. The day after being sentenced to five years in prison in 2013, he sparked mass protests that impelled officials to release him. After his second conviction, he refused to obey an illegal sentence of house arrest and took Russia to the European Court of Human Rights and won.

Navalny was too big a threat and [he claims] Putin’s secret police attempted to poison him with a Soviet-era chemical nerve agent called Novichok. Not only did Navalny survive, but he helped lead an investigation into his own attempted murder. Despite all this, he still refused to stay out of the country. After announcing he had recuperated and planned to return, the Russian prison authority threatened him with arrest, purportedly because he had violated the terms of his “suspended sentence”- an embezzlement case the European Court of Human Rights judged as politically motivated- by not checking in with his parole officer whilst recovering from his poisoning in Germany.

On January 17th, 2021, Alexei Navalny returned to Russia and was immediately detained. In response, his team released a two-hour video investigation into a palace Putin built using taxpayer dollars. In the video, Navalny explains how he and his Anti- Corruption Foundation were able to film the property with a drone. Without exaggeration, he explains that it is the most guarded and secretive facility in Russia. It has unassailable fences, harbor guards, a church, its own checkpoint, a no-fly zone, and even its own border. It is a separate state within Russia. Details of the palace were leaked by construction workers who were shocked by its magnificence. Not only did he stress the size of the palace, but the area of the estate it is in, which is three and a half times the size of the nearest city. This palace is fit for any Tsar, something Putin obviously wanted to feel like – even going as far as putting an Imperial Eagle, a symbol of Tsarist Russia, on the gate.

Although Alexei Navalny’s fight against Putin and his government is far from over, his persistence and rigor in trying to expose his corruption are waking up the people of Russia and opening their eyes to the truth in their ruling party. It is no doubt that his work will change Russia, hopefully for the better.