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Russian exiles orphaned by Navalny

Photo: Agence France-Presse Alexei Navalny's face appears under flowers placed by supporters in front of an improvised memorial installed near the Russian consulate in Frankfurt, Germany.

Andrea Palasciano – Agence France-Presse in Berlin

February 22, 2024

  • Europe

For the many Russian opponents who had to flee their country, Alexeï Navalny gave the la. After the shock of his death, they tried to reorganize and continue with his widow, Yulia, the mobilization against the power of Vladimir Putin.

“We will cry in our rooms, in our bathrooms, but publicly, we will obviously continue to fight against the regime, with all the means at our disposal,” Evgueni told AFP Nasyrov, coordinator of Navalny's movement in Germany.

“It’s Putin’s goal that we lose our motivation and disperse,” adds the activist, who left Russia shortly before the invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022.

Largely exiled, this opposition continues to do what it can: for the Russian presidential election from March 15 to 17, it called on those who vote against Putin to all go to the polling stations at noon on March 17, while the authorities crack down fiercely any form of criticism.

“Even those who don’t vote, even if they are not Russian, we want to gather crowds,” says Mr. Nasyrov, who says he tirelessly reaches people in Russia to talk to them about the war in Ukraine.

Beyond these actions, the cohesion of this opposition poses a problem. So far, only Navalny's organization forms a structured current, having succeeded in building a credible anti-Putin movement before being wiped out by repression. But this group stands alone against an assembly of disparate personalities whose only common point is to be against the invasion of Ukraine and the Russian regime.

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“Youlia changed everything”

Among these figures, Marat Guelman, a renowned Russian gallery owner and critic of the Kremlin, describes an emotional roller coaster since the death of the opponent in prison. “At first I thought that you should stop thinking about Russia, concentrate on your work, think about how to organize a new life. »

Then hope returned, notably thanks to the shock announcement from Yulia Navalnaïa, three days after the death of her husband, who said she was ready to take up the torch.

“Youlia changed everything,” says Mr. Guelman, now based in Berlin, who even assures that Mrs. Navalnaïa will be able to bring together even more than her husband.

She is, according to him, the woman for the job. “Putin’s machismo works well against men, but against a woman it no longer works. The face of anti-war Russia must be that of a woman. »

“Youlia can count on my support. I hope that this tragedy will mark a turning point so that we all coordinate our opposition activities together,” former opposition MP Dimitri Goudkov, who is traveling across Europe to establish contacts with the authorities of the continent.

Energy and humor

Mr. Gudkov hopes that Russians will follow the “Noon against Putin” initiative en masse. “We cannot influence the results of the elections, but if we can show crowds going to the polls at noon, it can undermine Putin's legitimacy,” assures the opponent, who remembers attending the couple's wedding Navalny and for leading demonstrations alongside them in Russia.

The opponent's lieutenants are, however, not expected at a meeting planned for Saturday and Sunday in Vilnius, Lithuania, with other activists against Russian power.

Direct allies of Mr. Navalny or not, all try to draw on the energy and humor that this adversary of Putin displayed in all circumstances.

The opponent imprisoned in Russia Vladimir Kara-Mourza on Thursday called on Russians not to “give in to gloom and despair, that’s exactly what they want. We have no right to do this, we owe it to our fallen comrades.”

“Alexei said: don’t give up. It is impossible to give up,” added this long-time friend of Alexeï Navalny from his prison in Siberia.

Sergei Guriev, a former economic adviser to the Russian government exiled in France, where he is director of training at Sciences Po Paris, says he spoke with Alexei Navalny before his transfer from a prison in the Moscow region to the remote penal colony of 'Arctic where he died. Above all, he retains “his conviction that Russia should be and will be a democratic and peaceful country”.

Activist Yevgeny Nasyrov recalls a meeting in 2017 during the opening of an office of Navalny's movement in Chelyabinsk, eastern Siberia.

“He came with only one bodyguard and I asked him if he was afraid for his safety. He replied jokingly: “You’re going to defend me, aren’t you?”

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116