Profile: Alexei Navalny, Russian anti-corruption activist

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(Original post at Tremr)

Alexei Navalny, a lawyer, activist, and prominent figure in the Russian anti-corruption movement, was one of over 1,000 people arrested for protesting the Kremlin on Monday. The Russia Day rally escalated after a location change; Navalny reported that no company would rent the protesters a stage or sound equipment after orders from the mayor’s office, and moved the rally to Moscow’s main Tverskaya street.

Although most have been released, several protesters including opposition leader Ilya Yashin have been sentenced to 15 days in prison. At least two protesters have been charged with assaulting police officers, offences which carry a maximum sentence of 10 years.

Navalny himself has been sentenced to 30 days in prison for organising the protests. The lawyer was arrested outside of his flat before he could reach the Moscow protests, and tweeted a picture of officers outside his apartment with the caption “Happy Russia Day!”

A member of the Russian Opposition Coordination Council and the Leader of the Progress Party, Navalny has organised large scale protests against corruption to promote democracy in Russia.

The tech-savvy activist is known for his appeal to young Russians, financial activism, and publication of potentially incriminating documents.

Navalny’s anti-corruption activism began in 2008, when he purchased stocks in major Russian oil and gas companies. As a minority shareholder, Navalny probed potential corruption in the companies and promoted transparency.

Since 2010, Navalny has published the financial documents of several prominent Russian organisations and politicians on his LiveJournal blog and personal website, navalny.com. The materials have indicated potential corruption in the construction of the Eastern Siberia-Pacific Oil pipeline , in real-estate dealsbetween the Russian and Ukrainian governments, and of prominent officials such as Igor Shuvalov and Alexander Bastrykin.

In 2011, Navalny criticised Vladimir Putin’s party United Russia in a now notorious radio interview, deeming it “a party of crooks and thieves.” The slogan was popularised during the 2011 Russian legislative election, in which United Russia lost 77 seats in the State Duma but retained its absolute majority with 238 seats.

Navalny created the Anti-Corruption Foundation in 2011, marking a shift from financial activism to political activism. Navalny is also the founder and leader of Progress Party, which stands on a platform of decentralised power, a reduction in presidential powers, and ending censorship.

In 2013, Navalny came second in the Moscow mayoral election with 27.2% of the vote. He was beaten by incumbent Sergei Sobyanin, an ally and appointee of Vladimir Putin, but Navalny’s support exceeded expectations despite a lack of media coverage.

Navalny’s activism has not been without personal cost. On several occasions, charges have been brought against Navalny in an apparent attempt to smear him, with little evidence available to justify them. His brother Oleg was  sentenced to three and a half years in prison in 2014, a move that Navalny interpreted as a form of psychological warfare. Navalny himself was given a suspended sentence for the same duration.

In April 2017, Navalny suffered a chemical burn to his eye after zelyonka, a dye otherwise known as brilliant green, was thrown in his face. Russian authorities are yet to find the anonymous culprit, but brilliant green has been used against other prominent anti-Putin critics such as Andrey Yurov and members of the band Pussy Riot.

In recent months, Navalny has once again proved a formidable opponent to Vladimir Putin and United Russia. On March 26th , Navalny organised a series of rallies across Russia to protest corruption, in which over 1,000 people were arrested.

The Anti-Corruption Foundation launched the campaign  He is Not Dimon To You against Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev in March 2017, accusing the former President of corruption.  The video produced by the campaign amassed a million views within two days of its upload, and now has over 23 million hits.

Navalny has announced his intent to run for the Russian Presidency in 2018, but is likely to be obstructed due to the embezzlement charge against him. Vladimir Putin has not yet announced his candidacy, but is expected to run for a second six year term.

Liberals should not, however, embrace Navalny’s politics without further examination.

The activist described himself as a “nationalist democrat” in 2011, and his potential links to ethnic nationalism are well-documented. Until 2012, Navalny participated in the Russian March , an event that unites Russian nationalists of all political persuasions.

Since 2013, Navalny has downplayed his nationalist politics; that Navalny could simultaneously be heralded as a defender of liberalism whilst such links exist is testament to the paradoxes at the heart of Russia. What is clear, however, is that Alexei Navalny has the potential to radically reshape the Russian political landscape.

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