Exclusive: Russian opposition leader likely to infuriate Kremlin with letter dictated from behind bars
The jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has written from behind bars to urge western politicians to take meaningful action against global corruption and to impose personal sanctions against oligarchs “in the entourage of Vladimir Putin”.
Writing in the Guardian before the first anniversary of his poisoning on 20 August last year, Navalny lambasts western leaders for not doing more to tackle what he admits is a “tricky issue”. He says his own survival after being exposed to novichok was only down to incompetence and corruption inside Russia’s FSB spy agency.
In typically ironic style, Navalny begins: “Exactly one year ago I did not die from poisoning by a chemical weapon, and it would seem that corruption played no small part … When a nation’s senior management is preoccupied with protection rackets and extortion from businesses, the quality of covert operations inevitably suffers.”
Navalny argues that western leaders are reluctant to confront the problem of corruption when the person responsible is often standing next to them at a post-summit press conference. The theme needs to be promoted from a “secondary item” to what he calls the “big agenda”, together with war, migration, poverty and the climate crisis.
A meeting between world leaders and Putin on the issue would be “awkward”, he adds scathingly, writing: “The richest man in the world, who has fleeced his own country, is being invited to discuss how to deal with the problem of himself. Very tricky, very awkward.”
On Monday Navalny dictated the essay – also published by Le Monde and the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung – to his lawyers. He has been in jail since flying back to Moscow from Germany, where he spent five months receiving treatment for the effects of novichok poisoning.
The Russian authorities arrested him immediately on his return. He was accused of breaching conditions of his parole from an earlier criminal case and convicted. After a hunger strike in April during which he was treated in hospital, he is back in a correctional colony, No 3, in the Vladimir region, east of Moscow.
Navalny’s article is likely to further infuriate the Kremlin. He urges western governments to impose personal sanctions on oligarchs close to Putin. Unless this happens, “any anti-corruption rhetoric from the west will be perceived as game-playing and hot air”, he writes.
He adds: “There is nothing more frustrating than reading the latest sanctions list, replete with the names of intelligence service colonels and generals nobody has ever heard of, but meticulously cleared of the people in whose interests these colonels act. The west needs to free itself of a semantic mindset where the label ‘businessman’ acts as an indulgence, making it very difficult for them to figure on sanctions lists.”
In a lengthy post, Russia’s foreign ministry has given its own explanation for what happened a year ago when Navalny collapsed onboard a plane returning to Moscow from Siberia. It claims Navalny was not poisoned inside Russia but on the plane that evacuated him in a coma to Berlin.
It alleges Germany, the US and others were involved in a plot to discredit Russia. On Thursday Leonid Volkov, Navalny’s deputy, dismissed the allegation as nonsense. “This is a shame for our country. These bastards are doing irreparable damage to the international image of Russia,” he said.
Asked how Navalny was bearing up behind bars, Volkov added: “The good news is an absence of bad news.”