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Alexei Navalny, a prominent figure in the Russian political landscape, has passed away. In recent days, countless words have been spoken about him, and articles in the specialized press have substantially contributed to shaping the image of a hero of modern times. His loss is undoubtedly a tragedy, and the world is witnessing a turning point in Russia’s recent history.

However, amidst the avalanche of opinions and analyses, perhaps the most authentic way to pay tribute to Navalny is to express our thoughts in a balanced and objective manner about his life and actions. In the course of 2021, I attempted to outline a modest portrait of Alexei Navalny, relying on translations and information brought to light by the Western press. Alexei Navalny, though now departed from this world, remains a controversial and fascinating figure in contemporary politics. Today, in a gesture of personal tribute to Navalny we will republish this article, originally published in 2021, in the Romanian language section of our online platform.

It is an expression of our belief that the most authentic tribute we can pay to an individual is to express our opinion in a balanced manner and encourage objective and informed debate about the person and their political and social legacy.


Nationalist blogger

He started his career as a nationalist blogger. Super nationalist. So nationalist that back in 2007, when Chechens were protesting, Navalny suggested they were cockroaches. In this video he says that they are, because of their dark skin, like cockroaches, and that while cockroaches can be squashed, in the case of Chechens he recommends a gun. In the short skit he stages in the studio where he filmed his YouTube intervention, one such rebel appears and Mr Navalny pretends to shoot him!

It’s very interesting that even the New York Times, where the reference to Navalny’s pompous film first appeared, is of the opinion that it’s not an alternative ideological project that has brought Navalny to the forefront of the young public’s preferences, but his innate histrionics and ability to use social media. Interestingly, Navalny does not represent a liberal, progressive or left-wing alternative to Putin. In other words, when it comes to human rights, Navalny proposes, for example, with subject and predicate, to treat the Chechen rebels’ plight as you treat the cockroach problem. Moreover, he has never distinguished himself by promoting the progressive agenda, integration of ethnic minorities or respect for gender equality. If European progressives and liberals imagine that Navalny’s pleasant face necessarily means progressivism they might wake up from this dream with a major surprise. Navalny describes himself as a democratic nationalist. He is one of the co-organisers of the Russian March, a march that brought together a whole host of nationalists under the slogan “it’s our country” in 2006.  Also, Radio Free Europe, in a tellingly titled article, Is Navalny the Hope of the Nation or the Nationalists, describes how he championed a highly controversial “Stop Feeding the Caucasus” campaign calling for the suspension of support for the Caucasian republics. In 2014, after the annexation of Crimea, Navalny called for even more sanctions against Moscow and those close to Putin. But curiously, asked in an interview what he thought about Crimea, Navalny said that although it was illegally annexed, Crimea is not some kind of sausage sandwich to be given and taken back and that now “Crimea is ours“! Obviously, should he be elected president, Navalny said he had no intention of giving Crimea back. Also in 2014, he wrote an article on his blog about Russia’s initiative to build a mosque in Moscow. The article was titled “Where the orgy of tolerance is taking place” in which he said: It is now very appropriate to remind everyone that Europe is being forced to accept Muslim migrants – the wave of thousands is gushing across sea and land borders and it is impossible to stop them except by executions.

Political activity

As for political activity, Navalny ran for mayor of Moscow. Remarkably, he managed to mobilise a network of 20,000 volunteers and receive donations of almost $2 million. He won 21% of the vote. It was his most notable electoral performance. In 2018, when he wanted to run again, he carefully prepared his candidacy. The year before, in 2017 he held anti-corruption rallies in over 95 Russian cities and four European cities. In April 2017 he was attacked and had a toxic substance thrown in his face that left him almost blind in his right eye. He was jailed on charges of participating in unannounced protests in July 2017, October 2017 and January 2018. In the 2018 elections he was banned from participating on the grounds that he was convicted in a corruption case which we will discuss later.

Adventures in justice

The first corruption case Navalny was involved in happened in 2012. He was charged with embezzlement and allegedly participating in a criminal group designed to steal timber from a state-owned enterprise, Kirovles. He was arrested and released. Then in 2013 he was sentenced to five years in prison for embezzlement, accused of stealing $500,000 worth of state assets. The judge read the prosecutors’ indictment word for word, the only difference being that he sentenced him to five, not six years. So, according to The Guardian, a judge in the provincial town of Kirov in northwest Moscow sentenced Navalny to five years in prison. The case was seen as an attempt to prevent Navalny from running in the elections. The sentence was commuted to a suspended sentence in 2013 but the conviction was an obstacle to his political career. In 2016 the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Navalny had been denied his right to a fair trial. Also in 2016 Russia’s Supreme Court of Justice overturned the Kirov city court’s decision and sent Navalny’s case back to judges in that city. However, in 2017, the lower court in Leninsky region upheld the original verdict and gave him a five-year suspended sentence!

Another high-profile case is related to the Yves Rocher cosmetics company. In 2008 Oleg Navalny, Alexei’s brother, proposed to Yves Rocher Vostok to accredit the Glavpodpiska company to be a supplier of the cosmetics company’s products. In a 2014 BBC article, journalist Juri Wendik helps us understand exactly what happened. So the Navalny brothers allegedly cheated Yves Rocher’s Russian subsidiary out of 26 million rubles, according to investigators. In December 2007 the two brothers, Alexei and Oleg, set up an offshore company in Cyprus, Alortag Management Limited. They put Maria Zaprudskaya in charge. They then registered a company in Moscow, Gladpovpiska, where 99% of the shares were held by the offshore company in Cyprus and 1% by Maria Zaprudskaya’s father, who was also the company’s accountant.  According to the British publication, at the time Oleg Navalny was working for the Russian Post Office, and was head of the department that handled domestic mailings at the automated sorting centre. From this key position, Oleg Navalny also knew that the Russian state postal service was not coping with deliveries and it seems that he even thwarted these deliveries so that the Russian subsidiary of Yves Rocher had to call in the rescue delivery services of the private offshore firm Gladpovpiska. Investigators accused Oleg of taking advantage of his position to deliver the products at a surcharge. In their defence, the Navalny brothers said there was no overcharging and prices were even lower. In addition, the only one who complained about the business arrangement was Sergei Shustov of a subcontracted firm, but he allegedly learned that he had been cheated out of 3.8 million rubles by investigators.  In short, the Navalny brothers had what we call “a condo firm” in an offshore Cyprus. They hired a subcontractor, the firm AutoSaga. They asked Yves Rocher for 55 million rubles, allegedly gave AutoSaga 29 million rubles, and pocketed the rest of the money through fictitious payments to the company owned by their parents.

In December 2014 the two brothers were sentenced to 3 1/2 years suspended sentence and payment of 500,000 rubles compensation.

In 2017 the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the sentence was unjust and that the trial was arbitrary and unfair.


In August 2020 Navalny became ill during a flight from Tomsk to Moscow. The plane landed and Navalny was admitted to a hospital in Omsk where the plane landed in an emergency. In an interview in Der Spiegel Navalny makes some very interesting statements. He was filmed screaming on the plane. But, he says, he was not screaming in pain. The feeling of imminent death, which he felt even though nothing hurt, made him scream. Then he says he didn’t drink the poison, but he allegedly touched a bottle that had the poison on it and absorbed it through his skin. That’s why he didn’t have the feeling of imminent death on the spot.  At the hospital in Omsk he was treated with atropine and that would have saved his life. Then something very interesting happened. A German plane sent by German activists came to pick Navalny up from Omsk hospital and treat him in Berlin. The activists who sent the plane represent the Cinema for Peace International Foundation. A very interesting fact is that this foundation has former Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev as its honorary president. Russian doctors claimed that if he had been poisoned with Novichok this poison would have been absorbed immediately. But German doctors said he was poisoned. In January 2021, Navalny returned to Russia, although he had been warned he would be arrested for violating his parole by leaving the country. Having been given a suspended sentence, he was not allowed to leave Russia. Navalny was therefore well aware that he would be arrested.

Shortly after his arrest, a video of a luxury palace allegedly belonging to Putin appeared on social media. The video has been viewed over 100 million times. Putin has denied on public television that the palace belongs to him. Meanwhile, major Russian cities have seen major protests demanding that Navany, who is serving a 30-day sentence for violating his parole, be released immediately.


It is very important to have informed and nuanced perspectives on political events and figures. As a rule, we should avoid black and white portrayals of politicians. If we read the headlines of Romanian press articles – I won’t give the source because I don’t want to give them a rating – we see a bombastic and insubstantial style that focuses exclusively on black and white, extremely simplistic views. Here are some examples: Putin’s palace. The history of the world’s biggest bribe, Moscow’s subservient media tries to create confusion in the Navalny case, Vladimir Putin passionately pursues Alexei Navalny. Yet this is exactly the kind of presentation that throws out captivating headlines beyond which information or balanced debate hardly emerges.

In the last edition of the podcast Baricada hosted on 31 January, Sofia University philosophy professor Todor Todorov said that the main problem in Russia today is that there is a lot of frustration but no real ideological and political competition to Putin. In other words, the anti-corruption campaign unveiled by Navalny is not holding up solutions. Alexei Navalny’s success is mainly due to his popularity on social media and his ability to make himself palatable to a new generation of young people. Thomas Piketty co-authored a study published in 2019 showing that the wealth Russian oligarchs have managed to dose through tax havens and offshore is equal to the wealth of Russians at home! In Russia, according to the latest statistics, 20 million people live below the poverty line. Navalny is not their representative. He is the representative of a class of young people for whom Putin represents the past. If we look closely at what he writes, the solutions put forward by Navalny are far removed from what European liberals might imagine. His positions on the Muslim minority are absolutely mind-boggling. It is very important to look at things lucidly and not to get drunk with cold water. Navalny is an engaging and charismatic man with a lot of appeal to the social media consuming public. His anti-corruption agenda, is essentially limited – we want no more corruption. Good. And then what? Give Crimea back? No way! You promote integration policies in Chechnya? No way! The gun is the solution for them. When we look at the picture of Navalny with his wife caught on the plane taking him back to Russia – even though he knew full well he would be arrested – and see him as a puppy ready to be crushed by its harsh master, we should re-read his blog. We should also read the articles written by the BBC, New York Times and Guardian journalists that I have quoted here to get a clear impression of the situation. True, Todor Todorov said that protests are good because they force the authorities to make progress, keep them in check and force them to come up with solutions. But Navalny, no matter how brilliantly he may package himself using his social media skills, is not the peaceful, liberal, multiculturalist leader we might be tempted to imagine. He attacks Putin from a right-wing nationalist position wrapped in much anti-corruption glitter and social media showmanship.


Article published initially in 2021 in Romanian here



BBC News. 2021. Alexei Navany: Russia’s vociferous Putin’s Critic. BBC NEWS, January 22.

Berry, Ellen. 2011. Rousing Russia With a Phrase. New York Times, 9 December.

Bidder, Benjamin and EschRussian, Christian. 2020. Opposition Leader Alexei Navalny on His Poisoning “I Assert that Putin Was Behind the Crime”. Spiegel International, 1 October.

Coalson, Robert. 2013. Russia’s Aleksei Navalny: Hope Of The Nation – Or The Nationalists?. Radio Free Europe, 28 July.

Dolgov, Anna.2014. Navalny Wouldn’t Return Crimea, Considers Immigration Bigger Issue Than Ukraine, The Moscow Times, 16 October.

Elder, Mirriam. 2013. Russia: Alexei Navalny found guilty of embezzlement. The Guardian, 18 July.

Medusa. 2019. The top 1% controls a third of the wealth, and the poor are getting poorer. How Russia became one of the most unequal places on Earth. Medusa, 23 January.

Navalny, Alexei. 2015. Where is the orgy of tolerance taking place, Navalny.com, 16 November.

Novokmet, F., Piketty, T. & Zucman, G. From Soviets to oligarchs: inequality and property in Russia 1905-2016. J Econ Inequal 16, 189-223 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10888-018-9383-0

Reuters newsroom. 2020. Germany activists say they are sending plane to pick up Navalny, Reuters, 20 August.

Wendik, Juri. 2014. the essence of the Ives Rocher versus Navalny brothers case. BBC News, 29 December.

Elder, Mirriam. 2013. Russia: Alexei Navalny found guilty of embezzlement. The Guardian, 18 July.

Medusa. 2019. The top 1% controls a third of the wealth, and the poor are getting poorer. How Russia became one of the most unequal places on Earth. Medusa, 23 January.

Navalny, Alexei. 2015. Where is the orgy of tolerance taking place, Navalny.com, 16 November.

Novokmet, F., Piketty, T. & Zucman, G. From Soviets to oligarchs: inequality and property in Russia 1905-2016 J Econ Inequal 16, 189-223 (2018).


Reuters newsroom. 2020. Germany activists say they are sending plane to pick up Navalny, Reuters, 20 August.

Wendik, Juri. 2014. the Essence of the Ives Rocher and Navalny Brothers Case of the Ives Rocher versus Navalny Brothers. BBC News, 29 December.

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