The Kremlin Feared Navalny in Life and Continues to Fear Him in Death (Part One)

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 21 Issue: 25

(Source: Team Navalny)

Executive Summary:

  • Alexei Navalny died while serving a 19-year sentence in a high-security prison colony. Foreign leaders have directly blamed the Kremlin and Russian President Vladimir Putin for his death.
  • Navalny continually challenged the Kremlin, participated in protests, and attempted to run for office despite the Putin regime’s persecution due to his exposure of corruption, bold activism, and political aspirations.
  • The Russian opposition figure remained resilient and worked against the Kremlin while in prison. His legacy stands as a symbol of resistance against dictatorship both within Russia and internationally.

On February 16, the Federal Penitentiary Service’s department for the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug reported the death of one of Russia’s most prominent political prisoners, Alexei Navalny. He was serving a 19-year sentence in a high-security prison colony in the town of Kharp beyond the Arctic Circle. Foreign leaders have directly blamed the Kremlin and Russian President Vladimir Putin for his death (BBC–Russian Service, February 16).

The Putin regime had been persecuting Alexei Navalny for at least ten years. Navalny’s meticulous work exposing corruption, bold videos, and political aspirations had long irked Russian authorities. For years, however, the Kremlin hesitated to resort to harsh repression against the opposition figure.

In 2013, Navalny was allowed to participate in the Moscow mayoral elections. At that time, however, the Kremlin initiated its first criminal cases against him. He was charged with embezzlement and fraud in the “Kirovles” and “Yves Rocher” cases, both of which resulted in a guilty verdict with a suspended sentence (for more on these cases, see, October 16, 2013; Kommersant, February 8, 2017).

Back then, the authorities feared an eruption of popular discontent. There was a real possibility of backlash if a harsh punishment had been imposed on the opposition figure, especially considering that only a year had passed since the massive protests against falsifying the results of the State Duma elections (, February 3, 2012). It is also possible that the Kremlin hoped to use suspended sentences as a kind of blackmail, allowing it to keep Navalny “within acceptable limits” and preventing too harsh a criticism of Putin.

In addition to the pressure from criminal cases, the authorities attempted to discredit Navalny in every possible way. In the spring of 2016, one of the leading Russian propagandists, Dmitry Kiselyov, dedicated an entire program to how, allegedly, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and MI6 recruited Navalny simultaneously. The story was exceptionally clumsy. Additionally, Kiselyov reported that another well-known critic of the Putin regime, Bill Browder, tasked Navalny with “undermining the foundations of the constitutional system in the Russian Federation” and provided him with a pseudonym assigned by the intelligence agencies, which was the same as  Navalny’s Skype login. Recruitment and task assignments were conducted via Skype, and the correspondence between the two Skype accounts was presented as the sole evidence of “treason” (, April 10, 2016).

Navalny was repeatedly detained for participating in protest rallies and placed under house arrest. In 2017, the Russian Central Election Commission refused to register him as a presidential candidate, citing his previous convictions (, December 25, 2017). Finally, in the summer of 2020, Navalny survived an attempt on his life by a nerve agent, which, according to journalistic investigators, the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) had been preparing for several years (, December 14, 2020).

After undergoing treatment in Germany, the opposition leader returned to Russia on January 17, 2021, and was immediately placed under arrest. Navalny’s previously suspended sentences were replaced with real ones (, February 2, 2021). Simultaneously, new criminal cases began to be fabricated, such as defamation charges against a World War II veteran (Vedomosti, February 20, 2021). This case was not chosen by chance. It was intended not to increase Navalny’s time behind bars but rather to discredit him in the eyes of Russians, as the Second World War (known in Russia as the Great Patriotic War) remains the most significant event in national memory.

This diversion from the Kremlin did not accomplish the distraction it set out to make. Many Russians directed their attention not toward the trial involving the veteran but rather toward one of Alexei Navalny’s most renowned investigations and his Anti-Corruption Foundation. Navalny’s investigation unveiled Vladimir Putin’s secret palace in Gelendzhik, situated on the coast of the Black Sea, which was released online by Navalny’s team just two days after his arrest in Russia (Р, February 21, 2021).

The response from Russian authorities was immediate. The Anti-Corruption Foundation and its regional branches were swiftly labeled as “extremist organizations,” triggering a wave of repression against activists and sympathizers. At the same time, Navalny himself faced a barrage of new accusations. At the time of his death, he was serving a 19-year sentence on charges related to financing extremism, establishing an extremist community, and inciting extremism (BBC–Russian Service, September 26, 2023).

 During his time in the penal colony, the Russian authorities employed various tactics to undermine Navalny’s health. In March 2021, while detained in Correctional Colony No. 2 in Pokrov, Navalny’s associate, Leonid Volkov, reported a significant deterioration in the politician’s condition, citing his inability to use one leg and severe back pain (, March 24, 2021). Subsequently, Navalny was diagnosed with two hernias (, April 7, 2021).

Following his transfer to the Vladimirskaya strict regime colony, Navalny was routinely subjected to solitary confinement, accumulating a total of 308 days spent in isolation (, November 9, 2022). The harsh conditions in the isolation ward exacerbated the problems with his spine. Navalny was often denied medical attention, or when provided it, he was administered excessive doses of antibiotics, resulting in gastrointestinal problems. This situation prompted even the European Parliament to issue a resolution condemning the mistreatment of Navalny in the colony (, February 16, 2023).

Despite all this, the administration of the colony continued to keep the politician in solitary confinement, denied access to doctors, and even discarded the food and medicine sent to him. The same practices persisted when Navalny was transferred to the colony in the village of Kharp earlier this winter (, January 9).

Despite enduring such torment, Alexei Navalny remarkably maintained his resilience. Navalny vehemently opposed the war in Ukraine and, with the support of his team, launched various anti-war initiatives from behind bars (, June 19, 2023). Navalny emerged as a prominent symbol of resistance against dictatorship within Russia and internationally. Notably, a documentary film dedicated to him received the Oscar for Best Documentary last year (BBC–Russian Service, March 13, 2023). Undoubtedly, these developments could not escape the apprehension and vexation of the Russian authorities. His legacy continued to spread while he was behind bars, and it will continue to influence Russia’s future after his death.