Putin’s Biggest Rival Dies: Lawyer To Anti-Corruption Activist, Chronology Of Navalny’s Dire Fate

A possible Kremlin plot to kill Alexei Navalny, a fierce critic of Vladimir Putin and Russia’s leading opposition figure, has sparked widespread rumours of a political murder.

A lawyer who became an anti-corruption activist in the late 2000s, Navalny, 47, believed that Putin’s regime was based on cronyism and graft.

He was one of the first to be detained during the anti-Putin protests of 2011-12. After his release, he kept challenging Putin, and in 2013, he ran for mayor of Moscow. Despite the lack of media attention and the competition from Putin’s ally Sergey Sobyanin, he won over 27 per cent of the vote but was later banned from running for office.

Navalny remained a popular figure in Russia and a respected voice in the West. In 2013, he started his YouTube channel where he made witty videos mocking Putin and revealing the lavish lifestyles of Russia’s elite. His channel has over 6.2 million subscribers, and he continued to produce viral anti-Kremlin content, even after his 2021 arrest.

Hounded by the Kremlin The Kremlin tried to paint Navalny as an “extremist” and a “CIA stooge”.

In August 2020, Navalny became sick on a flight from Siberia to Moscow. He survived and was taken to Berlin, where he received treatment for Novichok, a nerve agent made in the Soviet Union, and a favourite tool of Russian spies.

He came back to Russia in 2021, where he was arrested for breaking his parole. He had been in jail ever since. In August 2023, he was given a 19-year sentence on charges such as creating and funding an extremist group and “glorifying Nazism”, as well as “involving a minor in illegal acts” (because some of his supporters were under 18).

Navalny, however, denied any wrongdoing, saying that the charges were made up to silence him. Amnesty International called him a “prisoner of conscience” — a term for people who are imprisoned for peacefully expressing their beliefs.

Shipped to Arctic jail

In December 2023, he was transferred to the IK-3 penal colony, also known as the Polar Wolf colony, about 1,900 km northeast of Moscow, and within the Arctic Circle.

It is one of Russia’s harshest penal colonies, where “prisoners face long, dark, cold winters and swarms of mosquitoes in the summer,” The NYT reported. He also spent more than 280 days in solitary confinement, his spokesperson Kira Yarmash said last month.

Navalny was the last of Putin’s critics to stay in Russia. The others have either left the country or met with mysterious deaths. In 2015, opposition leader Boris Nemtsov was gunned down on a Moscow bridge, near the Kremlin. In August 2023, Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin died in a plane crash, shortly after leading a rebel uprising.

Putin is set to win the elections next month, with no real opposition, as he aims to rule till 2030.