Alexey Navalny: The Man Vladimir Putin Fears Most
Alexei Navalny is Russia's main opposition leader, anti-corruption investigative journalist, and Putin's number one critic. He was born in Butyn, Russia on June 4, 1976. Navalny was born to Anatoly Navalny and Lyudmila Navalnaya, who own a basket-weaving factory in the village of Kobyakovo, Vologda Oblast, which they have run since 1994. His estimated net worth is reported to be around $200,000 as of 2020. Navalny graduated from the Peoples' Friendship University of Russia in 1998 with a law degree. He then studied securities and exchanges at the Financial University under the Government of the Russian Federation. Navalny received a scholarship to the Yale World Fellows program at Yale University in 2010.
Navalny has released some of Russia's most damning reports exposing corruption and organized crime links in Putin’s inner circle. He has also been a prominent figure in sparking mass protests, including the 2011 - 2012, sparked by reports of widespread electoral fraud during the parliamentary election.Navalny has been arrested multiple times and has served stints in jail for charges relating to leading protests. He has been legally barred from running for Russia's presidency by previous convictions.
In 2008, Navalny invested in stocks of five oil and gas companies: Rosneft, Gazprom, Gazprom Neft, Lukoil, and Surgutneftegas to become an activist shareholder. Navalny was investigating high-level directors of these companies and attempting to prove theft and gain transparency as a shareholder.
In 2010n, Navalny published confidential documents about Transneft's auditing. Navalny exposed that Transneft's leaders had stolen at least $4 billion during the construction of the Eastern Siberia–Pacific Ocean oil pipeline.
In December of that year, Navalny announced the launch of the RosPil project, which sought to shed light on corruption in the government procurement process. RosPil project took advantage of regulation that requires all government requests for tender to be posted online. RosPil now publishes information about winning bids online as well, allowing comprehensive transparency. In May two thousand eleven, Navalny launched RosYama, a project that allowed individuals to report potholes and track government responses to complaints. This project was aimed at exposing the Kremlin's incompetence and neglect of infrastructure across Russia.
In August 2011, Navalny published papers related to an infamous real estate deal between the Hungarian and Russian governments. The papers revealed Hungary sold a former embassy building in Moscow for $21 million to an offshore company owned by Viktor Vekselberg, who immediately resold it to the Russian government for $116 million. Viktor Vekselberg is a Russian metals tycoon and multi-billionaire currently sanctioned by the United States. Three Hungarian officials responsible for the deal were detained and no official investigation was conducted on the Russian side.
In February 2012, Navalny concluded that Russian federal money going to Ramzan Kadyrov's Chechen Interior Ministry was being spent on luxuries. The money was being stolen by Kadyrov's inner circle for their personal use.
In May 2012, Navalny accused Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov of participating in organized crime and theft. He exposed that companies owned by Roman Abramovich and Alisher Usmanov transferred tens of millions of dollars to Shuvalov's company. The transfer was to share in the profit from Usmanov's purchase of the British steel company Corus.
In July 2012, Navalny exposed that Alexander Bastrykin, head of the Investigative Committee of Russia, owned an undeclared business in the Czech Republic. The investigation on Bastrykin came out on the back of a espionage operation targeting Navalny whose emails leaked prior to his arrest.
In March 2017, Navalny published the investigation "He Is Not Dimon To You", exposing Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev of participating in organized crime. Russian authorities refused to look into the matter or conduct a further investigation, instead, they dismissed it altogether. On March 26, two thousand seventeen, Navalny coordinated a series of anti-organized crime rallies in cities across Russia. On March 27, he was fined twenty thousand rubles minimum for organizing an illegal protest and jailed for 15 days for resisting arrest. At least one thousand people were also arrested for participating in the rallies which the Kremlin deemed unlawful.
In August two thousand eighteen, Navalny exposed Viktor Zolotov for the theft of at least US$29 million from procurement contracts for the National Guard of Russia. Shortly after his allegations against Zolotov, Navalny was imprisoned for staging protests. On September two thousand eighteen a desperate Viktor Zolotov published a video message challenging Navalny to a duel.
On January 19, 2021, Navalny exposed President Vladimir Putin of using illegal funds to build a massive estate for himself near the town of Gelendzhik in Krasnodar Krai. Alexy Navalny dubbed Putin's fraud "the world's biggest bribe". Putin's estate featured many golden toilet brushes that cost around $824 each. The toilet brushes were the price of the average Russian pensioner's monthly income. This spurred protestors to start carrying toilet brushes to protests in defiance of the Kremlin. The toilet brushes symbolized Putin's out-of-control decadence. It made clear just how out of touch with the average Russian's reality Putin and his inner circle truly were.
The estate was first reported on in two thousand ten by Sergei Kolesnikov the co-owner of Petromed who was involved in the project. Kolesnikov has since fled Russia and has spoken out about Putin's inner circle which he calls a corrupt club. He says they have enriched its leader to the point where "money doesn't have any meaning anymore." Petromed performed legitimate functions manufacturing medical equipment and refurbishing operating rooms in a number of regional hospitals. Kolesnikov and his partner Nikolai Shamalov, now Bank Rossia's second-largest shareholder and on the sanctions blacklist, were called on to help divert public funds from hospitals. The funds were diverted through a complex network of companies and offshore accounts on behalf of "Mikhail Ivanovich" as Putin was known among his business partners.
According to Navalny, Putin's estate is 39 times the size of Monaco, with the Federal Security Service (FSB) owning 70 square kilometers of land around the palace, and the estate cost over $1.35 billion) to construct. The estate was built during a period of great financial strife for the average Russian citizen and public funds were used to fuel Putin's massive theft.
Navalny has increasingly come under attack by Putin's sycophants and the state apparatus through espionage, harassment, arrests, acid attacks, and even attempted assassinations through poisoning. In 2017, an attacker threw a green antiseptic liquid in his face, damaging his sight. He also was hospitalized in 2019 after a suspected poisoning while in jail. In 2021 the Russian government poisoned Navalny with Novichok nerve agent.
Navalny has a YouTube channel with 6.5 million subscribers which he uses to spread information ranging from the government linked organized crime activities to protest organizations. Through his Youtube Channel and network of activists, Navalny has taught the Russian public a new voting strategy called smart voting. Smart Voting is a tactical voting strategy to deprive the United Russia party of votes in regional and federal elections. The goal of "Smart Voting" is to consolidate the votes of those who oppose the United Russian party. People from different parties and political backgrounds vote as a single block for any candidate that comes up against Putin's allies.
Navalny first entered politics as part of a broader ethnic Russian nationalist movement. Which has earned him criticism for his endorsement of nationalist causes in the late 2000s. In 2012, Navalny pivoted to become part of a wider coalition of opposition groups that sought to lead protests against Mr. Putin’s decision to return as president after serving for four years as prime minister. Navalny has repeatedly stated in interviews that he doesn't regret his past comments or and suggested that an ability to engage both liberals and nationalists is necessary for politicians.
Navalny said, "The basis of my approach is that you have to communicate with nationalists and educate them... I think it's very important to explain to them that the problem of illegal immigration is not solved by beating up migrants but by other, democratic means: a return to competitive elections that would help us to get rid of the crooks and thieves getting rich off of illegal immigration."
Kremlin-linked media and online propagandists use Navalny's nationalist past to push a coordinated state-sponsored propaganda campaign to discredit Navalny to bury his investigations. Russian State TV has sought to discredit him as a neo-Nazi, and comparisons with Hitler have been shown to university students during lectures and broadcast on government channels. The views the Russian state apparatus is attempting to discredit Navalny for are relatively light in comparison to those held by Putin or his support base. Russia is a largely conservative country where the Russian orthodox church still exercises extreme influence over social and political life. While western audiences may find Navalny past statements concerning, western notions of pluralism, liberalism and left-wing rhetoric fall short in Russia when it comes to public approval, and any politician displaying these sentiments is unlikely to win.
A Russian court’s decision to imprison Navalny in early February two thousand twenty-one and the release of the Putin estate investigation sparked massive protests that stretched to every city in Russia. The protests involved a wide cross-section of Russian society, including middle-aged and middle-class Russians and hundreds of thousands of young people. Street demonstrations were largely called off in the face of extreme police violence and the detention of thousands countrywide. Protestors continue to demonstrate against the Kremlin but in smaller numbers to avoid mass arrests.
The Kremlin has suppressed opposition activities, stopped the freedom to protest on the street or online, and has legally barred Kremlin critics from participating in the political process. The recent financial strain from oil prices collapsing in two thousand twenty and the Covid-19 lockdown measures have worsened the economic prospects of Russians, many of whom are now demanding more political freedoms as Putin secures the opportunity to run for the presidency once more.
The Russian government under Putin is moving towards labeling all support of Alexei Navalny or his organizations an act of extremism. Navalny is currently serving a two-and-a-half-year prison sentence in a penal colony. His health is quickly deteriorating and his allies fear he will die in custody. In May two thousand twenty-one during a court appearance, Navalny called President Putin a "king with no clothes", who was "robbing the people" and depriving Russians of a future.
"Russians are being turned into slaves" said Navalny.