Alexei Navalny: What his death means for Russia

Alexei Navalny died in a Russian penal colony on February 16th 2024. He was the leader of the opposition party ‘Russia of the Future’ and the most publicly outspoken critic of Putin. Throughout his career, he received multiple suspended sentences for embezzlement with the intention of preventing him from running in any elections. He was officially detained in 2021 after returning to Russia from Germany where he had been recovering from Novichok poisoning at the hands of the Federal Security Service (KGB). This detention led to a two and a half year prison sentence, which was then extended by nine years and then by a further nineteen.

The death of political opponents is nothing new in Russian history. It is almost becoming a tradition of exile to the gulags that were established by the tsars and enlarged by Lenin and Stalin under the Soviet Union. Many who were considered critics of any Russian regime have been made ‘missing’ and mystery shrouds all of their deaths. Navalny’s death is no different. After being reported missing from prison for three weeks, Navalny had been transported to the Polar Wolf corrective colony located in the Article Circle. Moscow has claimed that Navalny died from a blood clot after complaining about feeling ill on a walk, his doctor has confirmed that Navalny did not have any medical history of blood clots. This was later changed by the Russian authorities to Sudden Death Syndrome but many leaders from the West are blaming the conditions and treatment on prisoners in the Russian prison system. The death of Alexei Navalny highlights the fact that if you speak out against the system, the system has the power to silence you in any means necessary. Being the most popular opposition in Russia, his death marks the end of prominent criticism of Putin and the prospect of a different future for Russia.

His death also shows a weakness in Putin’s rule. Despite Navalny being locked up indefinitely (a position that gave Putin the upper hand), Putin still felt like death was the only way to dimmish Navalny’s threat to his regime. The murder of the opposition shows fear from Putin and a lack of political strength. President Biden has declared that ‘Putin is responsible’ and is increasing the sanction on Russia. This response from the West further undermines Putin’s regime. Putin can perceive these threats from both in and out of his inner circle. Two members of Putin’s political party fell to their death from a hotel room in India, and the head of Russia’s largest oil company fell from a hospital room in Moscow. These deaths, along with many more, prove that Putin is feeling scared about his longevity as president.

Indeed, the legitimacy of Putin’s Russia has been questioned since its inception, but this has further ruined Russia’s image internationally and especially in the West. Alexei Navalny was a beacon of hope towards a democratic Russia. His death echoes with the treatment of political outsiders from the past and demonstrated that Soviet era Russia is not as extinct as believed.

Image: Pixabay on Pexels

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