Alexei Navalny - A Fearless Democrat

Alexej Nawalny

Alexej Nawalny

© picture alliance / AA | Sefa Karacan

Navalny has just died in Putin’s prison. After poisoning, labor camps, and torture, this was foreseeable. Navalny has thus become a symbol of the courageous fight against Putin’s murderous regime. Putin cannot escape unpunished

Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger

On December 5, 2011, in Moscow, many people took to the streets to protest against massive electoral fraud in the Duma elections, and Alexei Navalny was one of the leaders. The lawyer, born in 1976, was arrested and therefore could not participate in the even larger protest that took place six days later. This was when his meteoric rise began, making him one of the most important opposition politicians and activists in an increasingly authoritarian and repressive Russia under Putin's rule. However, he was not a newcomer to politics; since the turn of the millennium, he had been active in various forms, including eight years in various positions within the liberal "Yabloko" party.

Exposing cases of corruption quickly became his hallmark and made him popular. When he publicly attacked the highest officials of Putin’s regime and published numerous pieces of evidence of their personal enrichment, he struck a chord with many people affected by the pervasive corruption throughout the Russian state. This set him apart from many opponents who were primarily involved in parties and NGOs. Alexei Navalny always aimed to reach a broader segment of the population than other opposition forces. Additionally, he had the confidence and courage to aspire to the highest offices and to organize structures to support him. He was able to lead campaigns along with his circle of followers, a significant achievement in a repressive environment that increasingly limited political criticism and opposition. Navalny was also an active blogger who reached many people, especially the youth.

Between Patriotism and Democracy

His political positions have evolved beyond some fundamental pillars. He was repeatedly criticized for his proximity to nationalist currents and his comments on immigration, and not without reason. The alliances he attempted to forge repeatedly included forces that held positions contrary to liberal values. In the context of Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine, he sharpened his positions on Russian statehood and Ukrainian sovereignty, now unequivocally demanding the recognition of the 1991 borders, including the return of Crimea to Ukraine. At the same time, his strong patriotism is undeniable: he wanted a better Russia because he loved Russia. Sometimes, however, he crossed boundaries, especially in evaluating non-Russian ethnic groups, to positions that liberals can no longer accept.

Thus, the most important aspect of his political evaluation was his commitment to democracy and the rule of law, to the transparency of state actions, and to the fight against endemic corruption in Russia. Above all, his political visions for the future presented a clear counterpoint to Putin’s Russia and his accomplices. He outlined these visions a year ago in his 15 theses on Russia’s future after Putin: a state governed by the rule of law with peaceful power transitions through democratic elections was his vision. Russia does not need territorial expansion but needs to solve its internal problems. Along with the complete withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukrainian territory, Navalny also demanded the punishment of war criminals and compensation payments to Ukraine.

Alexey Navalny auf dem von der Stiftung unterstützte Boris Nemtsov Forum 2019 mit Zhanna Nemtsova und Francis Fukuyama

Alexej Navalny auf dem von der Stiftung unterstützte Boris Nemtsov Forum 2019 mit Zhanna Nemtsova und Francis Fukuyama.


Navalny sought to place himself in positions of political power to realize his values with determination, even against the skepticism of many who did not believe in a realistic opportunity. Contrary to many expectations, he managed to participate in the Moscow mayoral elections in 2013. Although he lost to Putin’s candidate, he secured second place with approximately 27% of the votes. His presidential campaign for the 2018 elections was initially hindered by the rulers and later blocked by his exclusion from the elections. The instruments were fabricated accusations and judicial processes deemed by the European Court of Human Rights as unfair criminal proceedings. Despite all the setbacks, he managed to mobilize supporters across the country.

At the same time, he continued his relentless work to expose and combat corruption, producing films and publications with revelations viewed millions of times.

A Life in the Struggle for Democracy and Human Rights

It is not surprising that the rulers in Russia took increasingly harsh measures to limit him as a dangerous political opponent in his actions and ultimately eliminate him: the usual methods of public discreditation, harassment of his environment, and constant pressure from security forces. In August 2020, Alexei Navalny was the victim of a poison gas attack whose potentially fatal consequences were treated in Germany. Despite the evident dangers and numerous warnings, he returned to Russia in early 2021 and was immediately arrested. He was sentenced to nine years in prison and disappeared into the Russian penal system.

At one point, nothing was known about his whereabouts; occasionally, his lawyers managed to maintain contact with him. Even during his imprisonment, he remained steadfast and defended his political positions. He believed in a democratic future for Russia, after Putin’s regime.

On February 16, Alexei Navalny passed away in the depths of the inhumane Russian prison system. Those who long for a democratic, stable, and prosperous Russia remember him. He was a patriotic democrat, a defender of the fundamental values of the rule of law and transparency, and a fierce opponent of the power structures suffocating his country, Russia. His voice will be missed, but his exemplary courage and fearless dedication will endure.