Who is Alexei Navalny?
Born in Russia in 1976, Alexei Navalny studied law and finance before entering politics. He rose to fame as an anti-corruption blogger and activist, eventually emerging as a top opposition leader to Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party. Along with being arrested numerous times, Navalny survived an assassination attempt by poisoning in summer of 2020. Incarcerated after returning to Russia, he was sentenced to nine years in prison in March 2022.
Early Years and Education
Alexei Anatolievich Navalny was born to parents Anatoly Ivanovich and Lyudmila Ivanovna on June 4, 1976, in Butyn, Russia. The son of an army communications officer, he grew up in various military towns around Moscow and spent summers with his grandmother in the countryside near Chernobyl, Ukraine.
Navalny graduated with a law degree from Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia in 1998, before earning his master’s from State Finance Academy in 2001. In 2010, he spent a semester studying at Yale University as part of its World Fellows program.
Early Political Career
Around the time he began working as a lawyer in the late 1990s, Navalny joined Yabloko, the Russian United Democratic Party. He became deputy chairman of its Moscow branch, but butted heads with leadership over his nationalist views and was expelled from the party in 2007.
Navalny followed by launching Russia’s National Liberation Movement, which took a harder stance on immigration issues. He called for Georgians to be deported during the Russo-Georgian War of 2008 and created a pro-gun-rights video that showed him shooting an assailant wearing a traditional Middle Eastern keffiyeh.
In 2009, Navalny served as an adviser to Kirov Oblast Governor Nikita Belykh.
Blogger and Anti-Corruption Activist
Having already developed a sizable following with his LiveJournal blog, Navalny began using his platform to draw attention to crooked state business dealings. In November 2010, he published a report that alleged the theft of $4 billion from the oil-transport monopoly Transneft during the construction of a major pipeline. A few weeks later, Navalny launched the website RosPil.net, which invited users to submit publicly available government contracts for evidence of wrongdoing.
The following year, Navalny formed the Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) to examine the misuse of state funds. The results of these investigations were revealed in YouTube videos that often embarrassed officials in Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party. One video from 2017, which focused on the immense wealth accumulated by then-Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, garnered more than 40 million views.
The government eventually cracked down on the FBK, and it was disbanded after being formally designated an “extremist” group in June 2021.
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Opposition Leader and Arrests
Navalny emerged on the global stage in December 2011, when he was arrested for leading protests against the Russian elections. He rallied younger voters but also invited scrutiny by referring to United Russia as the “party of crooks and thieves.”
Navalny was indicted in 2013 on charges of embezzling $500,000 from a state-owned lumber company. Released on bail, he unsuccessfully ran for mayor of Moscow that summer, before being arrested again that fall, alongside his brother Oleg, for allegedly defrauding two more Russian companies. Navalny was given a suspended sentence, while his brother wound up in prison.
After his original criminal conviction was overturned by Russia’s Supreme Court in 2016, Navalny announced plans to run for president. However, his campaign was crippled when he was hauled back into court for a retrial of the 2013 charges and was handed another suspended sentence.
Arrested and briefly jailed again for leading more protests in July 2019, Navalny responded by launching the “Smart Voting” website to raise awareness of opposition leaders best suited to defeat United Russia candidates at the ballot box.
Assassination Attempt and Imprisonment
Navalny became seriously ill on board a flight to Moscow in August 2020, prompting an emergency landing in the city of Omsk. He was eventually permitted to receive medical care in Berlin, Germany, where it was determined he was poisoned with a Russian-developed Novichok nerve agent.
Following his discharge from the hospital a month later, Navalny teamed with news agencies and the London-based investigative group Bellingcat to pinpoint his would-be assassins from Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB). He even managed to get one such security agent on the phone and tricked him into admitting the nerve agent had been applied to the target’s underwear.
Navalny was immediately arrested upon returning to Moscow in January 2021 for violating the terms of his probation. After undergoing a hunger strike, he was sentenced to nine years in a maximum-security prison in March 2022 for embezzling funds from his Anti-Corruption Foundation.
Awards and Recognition
Navalny garnered a Nobel Peace Prize nomination in early 2021. Later in the year, he was awarded the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.
The activist was the subject of the 2022 documentary Navalny, which explores his recovery period in Germany following the poisoning and his return to Russia to face incarceration.
Wife and Children
Navalny met fellow student Yulia Abrosimova while they were both vacationing in Turkey in the late 1990s, and they were married in 2000. Now known as Yulia Navalnaya, she has developed her own profile as a devoted supporter of her husband’s stand against corruption. The couple has a daughter, Darya, and a son, Zakhar.