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February 2024 – Hero of the Month: Alexi Navalny

We are constantly presented with images of heroism from Ukraine which is justifiably a focal point given the atrocities committed against the Ukrainian people almost every day and the brave and fierce resistance of their soldiers and truly all of the Ukrainian people who have endured such hardships and brutal treatment. This month, however, I would be remiss if I did not note and honor the sacrifice of Alexi Navalny. Navalny was murdered at the age of 47 after three years of imprisonment in solitary confinement by Putin and his thugs in the FSB this month after being sent to a remote and brutal gulag concentration camp once used to imprison Natan Sharansky.

Navalny and his courageous team did everything possible to oppose Putin, expose the massive corruption perpetrated by Putin’s inner circle (whom he famously labeled “the party of crooks and thieves”), stage large demonstrations to rally opposition, demand free elections, ran for Mayor of Moscow and tried to run for President in 2018 only to have those efforts blocked by Putin. He was simply the single greatest threat to Putin’s illegitimate government for the last decade (and especially after the murder of Boris Nemtsov by the FSB in 2015).

As many will remember, Alexi was poisoned by Putin and the FSB using their favorite nerve agent (Novichok) while on a trip to Siberia in support of dissidents there. Thanks to an unexpected (to the FSB) flight crew and emergency responders, his life was spared and he was eventually medically evacuated to Berlin as a result of pressure from the EU. It took him almost a year to recover and then after brilliantly exposing the perpetrators, he unexpectedly and courageously insisted on returning to Russia. As he got off the airplane, he was immediately arrested on ridiculous charges (for not reporting to his parole officer during his hospitalization and recovery in Germany, which in turn was based upon trumped up criminal charges of corruption).

Rather than provide details of a truly remarkable life, for those who are interested, I can recommend several sources of information about Alexi: Wikipedia has a very lengthy and well written summary of his life, there is an excellent biography by David Herszenhorn “The Dissident” (Hachett 2023), a fabulously documentary filmed while he was recovering in Germany by Daniel Rohr (which won the Academy Award in 2022 for the best documentary). 

Many questioned why he returned to Russia knowing that he could be imprisoned or killed. The simple answer was that he felt compelled to stand his ground to inspire his countrymen to openly resist Putin’s despotic regime and felt he could not be the legitimate leader of the resistance while living comfortably as an exile in Europe. His death is a tragic loss for his wife and children and a truly devastating loss for Russia, a country that will one day need people of his integrity in the post-Putin era to lead the country out of its spiral downward. At 47 to Putin’s 70, time would have been on his side.

The only remaining dissident with name recognition and stature is his colleague Vladimir Kara-Murza but regrettably he has also been imprisoned by Putin on trumped up charges.

Finally, I would recommend reading a deeply moving set of letters written by and between Natan Sharansky and Alexi in the final days of his imprisonment that have been translated and published by Bari Weiss on her website (The Free Press, February 19, 2024: “Navalny’s Letters from the Gulag”) commemorating his death (perhaps “murder” would be more appropriate under the circumstances).

What a loss for Russia, democracy, civil society and all of us. 

Please pray for his brave and dedicated wife Yulia and his two children.

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