Alexei Navalny - Russia's New Hope
Opposition leader Alexei Navalny made headlines last month when he was poisoned on a flight in Russia and was later sent to Berlin to receive proper medical care. Upon his return, he was immediately arrested by Russian police. But even after being sentenced to multiple years in prison, his supporters are not giving up hope in his movement.
Sergei Maximishin Valentinovich, Deputy Chief Physician of the Department of Anesthesiology and Resuscitation of the Emergency Hospital in Omsk, Assistant Professor at the Department of the State Medical University in Omsk, Ph.D. medical science and also the attending physician to Alexei Navalny, died suddenly on Friday, February 4, at the age of 55. The hospital did not comment on the cause of the sudden death.
Maximishin was present at the outpatient clinic at the time of Navalny's hospitalization, and as one of the most qualified doctors, he took care of him and placed him in an artificial coma. This information was confirmed to the CNN station by Leonid Volkov, a member of Navalny's staff.
"He knew everything about Alexei's condition, so in the event of his death, we cannot rule out a dishonest game. However, I doubt that his death would be investigated in any way" said Leonid Volkov.
However, Volkov also stated that the Russian healthcare system is weak, and that death is not uncommon for doctors of Maximishin's age.
Navalny was hospitalized at the Omsk Hospital on August 20, 2020, after an emergency landing of a plane heading from the Siberian city of Tomsk to the Russian capital, Moscow. In Siberia, Navalny appealed to voters before the regional elections to support candidates who would weaken the power of the ruling United Russia party. After the emergency landing, he was unconscious and was immediately transported to the intensive care unit, where they ruled out the possibility of poisoning. The diagnosis was that it was a metabolic disorder and that no barbiturates, strychnine, or poisons or synthetic poisons causing convulsions were found in his body.
After two days in a coma, the Russian opposition leader was flown to the Charité hospital in Berlin on February 22, where, after entrance tests, he was diagnosed with nerve paralytic poisoning from a group of poisons known as Novichok.
"At the instigation of the Berlin Charité Clinic, a special laboratory of the German army also performed a toxicological analysis of Alexei Navalny 's samples. Here, beyond any doubt, the poisoning with a nerve-paralytic substance from the group of Novichok was confirmed, "said the German government.
The finding of this substance was also confirmed by the Organisation of the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in October.
The Russian agent, Konstantin Kudryavtsev, a member of the elite toxicological team of the Russian FSB Secret Service who allegedly took part in watching Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny and the operation of poisoning and subsequent erasing of his tracks, unknowingly revealed in a 45-minute phone call that the Novichok toxic substance had been thrown into his underwear. Navalny himself made this seemingly incredible revelation after calling the agent from a number that was remarkably similar to the number used by the FSB. Navalny introduced himself as a senior official of the Russian Security Council, who is investigating the reasons for the failure of the operation. This was reported by the American television station CNN, which refers to a recording of the interview, which was provided to it by a server ran by the Navalny team itself on the investigative journalism website Bellingcat.
However, the Russian FSB has told the local media that this is a fraud. "This is a planned provocation that wouldn´t have been possible without the technical and organizational support of foreign secret services," he adds.
The fact that Russian President Vladimir Putin, even at the urging of other world powers, has repeatedly refused to launch an investigation into Navalny's poisoning does not do much to support this theory.
After almost five months of convalescence in Germany, Alexei Navalny returned to his home country on January 17, 2020. Hundreds of supporters were waiting for him at Vnukovo Airport, where Navalny’s plane was to land. Here, the police arrested dozens of people, including a lawyer and project manager of the Navalny Anti-Corruption Fund, and a member of the editorial board of the independent newspaper "Novaya Gazeta". The plane was meanwhile diverted to Sheremetyevo Airport, where he was arrested immediately after arrival during passport control.
The day after his return to Russia, a court ordered him to be detained for 30 days.
He was subsequently sentenced by a Moscow court on February 2, 2021 to three and a half years in prison. The sentence includes his time in house arrest. He will therefore spend a total of 2 years and 8 months in prison.
Navalny appeared in court in connection with a case in which in December 2014 he received a suspended sentence of 3 and a half year in prison for alleged embezzlement of 26 million rubles (at that time approx. 552,000 euros or 749,000 dollars) from the Russian branches of the French cosmetics company Yves Rocher. The prison service and the prosecutor's office required the court to send the opposition leader to prison for violating the terms of the sentence. The defense argued that Navalny could not go for the required check-up because he was being treated in Germany for poisoning with a substance from a group of Novichok. Navalny claims that he is politically persecuted. He also argued that the European Court of Human Rights had cleared Navalny of wrongdoing and that Russia had already paid him compensation for an unjust conviction. According to AFP, Yves Rocher acknowledged in November 2014 that it had not suffered "any harm".
The entire trial, including the delivery of the judgment, took approximately 8 hours, during which no live transmission from the courtroom was allowed. According to a TASS correspondent, Navalny tried to smile while hearing his verdict, while his wife Julia cried.
The guard did not let her go to the defendant, the Kommersant server described. Navalny's wife refused to comment in any way on the court's decision. His team immediately called for more demonstrations.
The Russian opposition leader called the court the revenge for surviving his death and still publicly pointed to his "murderers" through the media. According to him, this verdict should also be a warning to like-minded people.
"Our whole country lives without the slightest prospects. It attempts to obscure such exemplary lawsuits. But above all, I hope that people will not see this process as a signal that they should be afraid. All this is a sign of weakness. You cannot shut down millions of people. And the moment will come when people will realize that, because they live in a very rich country, but they have none of it", Navalny said in the courtroom.
"Despite the seriousness of his crime, the court showed unprecedented leniency against Alexei Navalny by imposing suspended sentences on him. However, despite this humanity, Navalny continued to violate the rules of suspended sentence” the court applicant said.
Strict security measures have been put in place around the court. Among other things, the police closed several streets and introduced strict controls, including at the nearest metro station, Russian media reported. Significant law enforcement was concentrated at the courthouse itself, including an operational regiment designed to quell mass riots, and increased security measures were not only in the capital's center, the TASS news agency said. Moscow's Echo Radio reported in the late afternoon that police had completely closed Red Square adjacent to the Kremlin. Metro stations in this area were also closed, trains were not even allowed to make stops there, and only passed through the stations. Demonstrations are taking place not only in Moscow, but also in St. Petersburg, Izhevsk, Omsk, Chelyabinsk, and other Russian cities, which saw thousands of people be arrested.
Western states have unilaterally condemned the Kremlin's actions against Navalny.