Leader of the Russian opposition. Anti-corruption activist. Survivor of an assassination attempt. Prisoner.
Alexeï Navalny’s crusade against the Kremlin has earned him many labels.
And with the eyes of the world now on Russian President Vladimir Putin amid his brutal invasion of Ukraine, Navalny’s message of resistance takes on new weight inside and outside Russia, even if he remains behind bars.
“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good people do nothing,” he says, featuring the famous quote of unknown origin, in CNN’s new film “Navalny,” which will premiere this Sunday, April 24 at 9 p.m. ET on CNN. “So don’t stay idle.”
Here’s what you need to know about Navalny’s political rise, assassination attempt and future in Russia:
Access to notoriety Navalny first gained visibility in 2008, when he began blogging about allegations of corruption at Russian state-owned companies. In 2011, he became one of the leaders of massive protests that erupted over allegations of parliamentary election fraud.
“Those who have gathered here can expel these ***** thieves from the Kremlin tomorrow,” Navalny said at a 2011 protest.
He posted his first video on YouTube, a step-by-step instruction guide showing how to build a “shaking cube”, a box-like tent structure with his image on the side, in July 2013. The clip has marked the beginning of the action of the Russian dissident. campaign to be elected mayor of Moscow, and the modest beginning of his YouTube revolution.
But his move was blunted when he was found guilty of embezzlement, just as he was about to run for mayor. Navalny denied the charges and called them politically motivated. A retrial in 2017 barred him from running for public office – this time for the presidency against Putin.
While Navalny is best known as an activist, it is his investigations that have been the biggest thorn in the side of some of Russia’s powerful. His videos of the apparent unexplained wealth of senior government officials have drawn particular ire from the Kremlin.
A video about former Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has attracted over 35 million views on YouTube.
But with increased outcomes came increased risks. In March 2017, this video ignited a spark during the biggest anti-government protests Russia has seen in years. Thousands of people have joined rallies in nearly 100 cities across Russia. Navalny himself was arrested and imprisoned for 15 days.
The following month, he was sprayed with an antiseptic green dye, damaging his vision in one eye.
“Look, I have something very obvious to tell you. You’re not allowed to give up. If they decide to kill me, that means we’re incredibly strong,” Navalny told his followers in the film. from CNN.
“We have to use this power, not give up, remember that we are a huge power that is being oppressed by these bad guys. We don’t realize how strong we really are,” he continued.
Poisoning and recovery In 2020, there were signs that the ground was shifting under Navalny’s opposition movement.
The Kremlin had taken a more publicly confrontational attitude towards its chief critic, culminating in charges of attempted poisoning in August of that year.
Navalny had started feeling unwell on a flight back to Moscow from the Siberian city of Tomsk. Loud moans can be heard in video footage apparently recorded of the flight he took. Other videos apparently recorded through the plane’s window showed a motionless man being taken by wheeled stretcher to a waiting ambulance.
Navalny was treated in a Berlin hospital and the German government later concluded that he had been poisoned with a chemical nerve agent from the Novichok group.
A joint investigation by CNN and Bellingcat Group implicated the Russian Security Service (FSB) in the poisoning of Navalny, piecing together how an elite agency unit tracked Navalny’s team throughout a trip to Siberia, when Navalny fell ill after being exposed to Novichok.
The investigation also revealed that this unit, which included chemical weapons experts, had followed Navalny on more than 30 trips to and from Moscow since 2017. Russia denies any involvement in the poisoning of Navalny. Putin himself said in December that if the Russian security services had wanted to kill Navalny, they “would have finished” the job.
Nonetheless, several Western officials and Navalny himself openly blamed the Kremlin.
“It’s impossible to believe it. It’s kind of stupid the whole idea of poisoning with a chemical weapon, what the fuck is this?” Navalny says in the new CNN film. “That’s why it’s so smart, because even reasonable people refuse to believe that they love, what? Come on…poisoned? Seriously?”
The news that Navalny had fallen gravely ill sent new shockwaves through Russian society, drawing disturbing parallels to some of the most brazen political killings in Russia’s recent past.
Western governments, independent researchers, and Russia watchers have noted a consistent pattern of Russian state involvement in assassinations both in Russia and abroad.
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Tune in tomorrow at 9 p.m. ET to watch the CNN movie “Navalny” on CNN.