Exactly one year ago, Russian opposition politician Alexey Navalny was poisoned with a chemical nerve agent in Siberia. Today, he’s sitting in a prison outside Moscow. In a post on Instagram, Navalny marked the first anniversary of his poisoning by thanking everyone who helped him survive the assassination attempt. “I got a second chance at life and made decisions that I believe are correct and honest,” he wrote. As always, Navalny found a way to tie in the problem of corruption, arguing that it played a role in saving his life. “Having contaminated Russia’s entire state apparatus, they couldn’t help but contaminate the intelligence services. And the quality of the covert operations we have is the same as our healthcare, education, and communal services,” the Kremlin critic said. Meduza takes a look back on everything that’s happened to Alexey Navalny since he was poisoned one year ago today.
August 20, 2020. Opposition leader Alexey Navalny falls ill while onboard a flight from Tomsk to Moscow. The plane makes an emergency landing in Omsk, where Navalny is put into a medically induced coma. Two days later he’s transferred to Berlin for treatment. The German government announces that Navalny was poisoned with a Novichok-type nerve agent; this is confirmed by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). The European Union imposes sanctions on high-level government officials over Navalny’s poisoning. Navalny claims that Vladimir Putin is directly responsible for the attempt on his life. Russia denies that Navalny’s test results showed any signs of poisoning, accuses the West of Russophobia, and refuses to open an investigation into the “Navalny case.” Investigative journalists from The Insider and Bellingcat publish an investigation that links Navalny’s poisoning to operatives from an FSB task force. (Bellingcat and its partners later connect the same FSB unit in to two suspected assassination attempts on Kremlin critic Vladimir Kara-Murza).
Putin actually admits that Navalny was under surveillance, but denies that he was poisoned by saying, “if they’d wanted to [poison him], they would have finished [the job].” Navalny (posing as an assistant for Russian National Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev) calls one of his alleged poisoners; the FSB operative talks openly about his involvement in the poisoning operation. Russian prison officials threaten to jail Navalny if he returns to Russia. The opposition politician is added to the federal wanted list, standing accused of violating the terms of his suspended sentence from the “Yves Rocher Case” (Russian officials accused Navalny of evading the oversight of probation officers, because he didn’t return to Russia immediately after he was discharged from the hospital in Germany).
Navalny returns to Moscow and is detained upon arrival. Two days later, his associates release the “Putin’s Palace” investigation, which Navalny worked on while recovering in Germany. The video racks up a record number of views on YouTube (it now has more than 118 million views). Across Russia, people take to the streets in support of Navalny — the demonstrations are violently dispersed by riot police: thousands of people are detained, hundreds are jailed, and dozens are slapped with felony charges. A Moscow court revokes Navalny’s probation and imprisons him under a reinstanted sentence (two-and-half-years behind bars, taking into account time already spent under house arrest and in pre-trial detention). In another court case immediately afterwards, Navalny is fined 850,000 rubles (about $11,500) for “slandering” a WWII veteran. In prison, Navalny complains about being denied adequate medical care and goes on hunger strike. He ends his hunger strike after obtaining medical examinations by independent doctors; this takes place against the backdrop of a widespread public campaign calling for proper medical treatment for Navalny.
The Russian authorities set out to destroy Navalny’s movement: a Moscow court designates the Anti-Corruption Foundation and his national network of campaign offices as “extremist organizations” (his political network announces its dissolution ahead of the ruling). The State Duma adopts the so-called “anti-FBK law,” banning anyone linked to an “extremist” group from standing for election in Russia. Opposition politicians who worked with Navalny (including Ilya Yashin) are barred from running in the fall elections. A handful of Navalny’s associates are sentenced as part of the “Sanitary Case.” New criminal charges are brought against Navalny for allegedly creating “an organization that infringes on the rights of Russian citizens.” If convicted, he faces up to three more years in jail. Reports emerge that Navalny’s close associate, opposition politician Lyubov Sobol, has fled Russia (she has yet to confirm her whereabouts).
Working from abroad, Navalny’s chief of staff Leonid Volkov and FBK director Ivan Zhdanov continue to organize the “Smart Vote” initiative in preparation for the fall elections in Russia. The country’s federal censorship agency, Roskomnadzor, asks Google to shut down the “Smart Vote” website, but it’s still online. Roskomnadzor blocks the websites for all of Team Navalny’s other projects.
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Translation by Eilish Hart