Home / World / Poisoned Navalny plots his return, but Russian opposition activists wonder who might be next

Poisoned Navalny plots his return, but Russian opposition activists wonder who might be next

It is not just Navalny who has been attacked.

Just a day after he emerged from an induced coma, at least three volunteers linked to his team were targeted in their office in Novosibirsk, Siberia.

Two masked men were caught on security cameras as they broke into the office of the “Novosibirsk 2020 Coalition”, which is also the headquarters of the local Navalny team.

One of them threw a bottle containing an unknown yellow liquid – described on CNN as a “pungent chemical”, “unbearable” by witnesses – to volunteers who were there for a conference on the upcoming local elections, before running away.

The Kremlin has denied having anything to do with the attacks, but analysts are skeptical.

“Russia has a history of sudden deaths among Kremlin critics: Anna Politkovskaya, Alexander Litvinenko and Boris Nemtsov, to name a few,”

; says longtime Russian analyst Valeriy Akimenko of the Conflict Studies Research Center, a research group independent. “If this wasn’t a murder plot or an assassination attempt, it was an act of intimidation.”

Which raises an important question: What immediate danger is Navalny in, if and when will he return to Russia?

“I don’t think the words safety or protection apply to anyone from the opposition in Russia,” says Vladimir Kara-Murza, a Russian opposition politician and president of the Boris Nemtsov Foundation for Freedom, who has been poisoned twice in the past five. years.

“I can have all the protection I want, but I have to touch the door handles and breathe the air,” he says. “The only real precaution I could take was to take my family out of the country.”

The Kremlin has denied any involvement in one of the attacks on Kara-Murza, although his wife directly accused the Russian government of taking responsibility.

Even the inner circle of Russian President Vladimir Putin denied any involvement in the Navalny poisoning, but Akimenko points out that the language coming from the Kremlin in the following weeks was not at all reassuring, given the near death of a prominent politician.

“Look what came out of Russia,” he says. Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov says Putin doesn’t need to meet Navalny; Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov says there are no legal grounds for a criminal investigation; Duma spokesman Vyacheslav Volodin speaks instead of an investigation into a possible foreign provocation; and on state TV, relentless attempts to muddy the waters by blaming everyone but the Russian state. ”

As if being an outspoken opponent of the government wasn’t a sufficient risk to Navalny, other critics of Putin believe that what is seen as a failed assassination attempt, in order to scare opponents, could be counterproductive.

“Now that Alexey Navalny has survived, this could prove to be a spectacular miscalculation that only authorizes the opposition and Navalny,” says Bill Browder, a leading financier who became a thorn in Putin’s side after leading the push for an act. of US sanctions is named after Browder’s attorney, Sergei Magnitsky, who died under suspicious circumstances in a Russian prison.

Kara-Murza points out that precisely in the area of ​​Siberia where the attack on the electoral office took place, Navalny’s allies obtained advantages against United Russia under Putin’s government in last weekend’s elections.

“When the Russians have a real choice, they are very happy to show how sick they are of Putin’s government alone,” he told CNN.

Whenever he returns to Russia, the risk for both him and his supporters is likely to remain very high; Has this affected the morale of the opposition?

“Putin rules by symbolism,” says Browder. “Taking the most popular opposition politician and poisoning him with a deadly nerve agent is meant to scare the less popular into submitting.”

So, will it work?

Kara-Murza says Putin critic Boris Nemtsov, assassinated near the Kremlin in February 2015, just days before taking part in an anti-government protest in Moscow, used to tell his allies: “We must do what must and must come that. that it can. Sure, we understand the dangers, but we are determined, not frightened. ”

Regional elections in Russia are a serious test for the pro-Kremlin party

And while Akimenko says: “If Russian opposition leaders are not worried, they should be,” he adds that: “They have been fearless in both the personal physical attacks against Navalny and the persecution disguised as an accusation.”

The Navalny incident revealed to the world the dangers of political opposition in Russia.

But for those actively involved in that struggle, he simply pointed out the threat they already knew existed, says Kara-Murza.

“I’ve been poisoned twice,” he said. “I’ve been there both times [a] coma. Both times the doctors told my wife that I had a 5% chance of living. Boris Nemtsov had 0% when he was shot in the back. But it’s not about security; it is about doing the right thing for our country. It would be too big a gift to the Kremlin if those of us who oppose it surrender and run away. ”

CNN’s Mary Ilyushina contributed to this report from Moscow

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