This essay is about Alexey Navalny, the 44 year old critic of Russian president Vladimir Putin. It appears, at the time of writing, that Navalny was poisoned, and after delay, sent to Germany for treatment.
Navalny is certainly a thorn in the side of Putin. His father is from central Ukraine, and his parents own a basket-weaving factory outside Moscow. Alexey Navalny graduated with a law degree from People’s Friendship university – which is a higher education university in Moscow for mostly 3rd world students. His graduate studies were at what used to be called the Moscow Institute of Economics & Finance, but which has changed its name more than once. In 2010 he received a scholarship to Yale in their ‘World Fellows Program’.
It’s interesting in the history of mankind that if you can’t abide criticism and disagreement there’s always the alternative of murder. It’s happened here too – think JFK, Garfield, McKinley, Lincoln.
Putin has quite a record on these methods. In a parallel way that Trump resorts to insults and claims of ‘lies, fake’ for anyone opposing him, so Putin, under the umbrella of the Kremlin, has been suspected as the driving force in the poisoning of the investigative journalist Anna Polikovskaya in 2004 (she was then actually shot to death 2 years later); the former KGB officer Alexander Litvinenko fatally poisoned in 2006 after he accused Putin of ordering her death; Russian Intelligence officer Sergei Skripal and his daughter in 2018 in Salisbury, England (Skripal, highly critical of Putin, has since recovered and is thought to be living in New Zealand under a different identity). There are more victims: the one-time deputy prime minister and physicist Dr Nemtsov was fatally shot from the back on a Moscow bridge while walking with his girlfriend in 2015. Interestingly, Nemtsov was the author of at least 26 publications in quantum mechanics and thermodynamics, and had left physics for politics, joining the liberal party Yabloko. Nemtsov was elected to the Congress of People’s Deputies, soon being appointed (1997) Deputy Prime minister for energy under Yeltsin. When Putin became President in 1999 he quickly found himself being criticized by Nemtsov. It should be added here that 5 Chechens were found guilty of the shooting.
Navalny too was a strong critic of Putin, accusing him and his prime minister Medvedev of corruption and embezzlement, and has referred to Russia’s ruling party as a party of “crooks and thieves”. He uses open-source data to expose corruption and has found government contracts that favor vast amounts of money for Putin cohorts [ref.1]. He is very popular and when he was imprisoned in 2013 Muscovites came out in the streets for mass demonstrations, which got him freed.
In 2018 Navalny tried to run for president, but was barred by Russia’s Electoral Commission. His popularity remains high, and it is well-known that Putin is apprehensive of him.
However, westerners should not be immediately anxious to see Navalny in power, for he is an ultra-nationalist, and has also been accused of expressing antisemitic sentiments. Actually, the far better choice would have been the wide-thinking physicist Nemtsov, but, as mentioned, he’s already dead.
1. “The Suspected Poisoning of Alexey Navalny”, Masha Gessen, New Yorker, 8/20/2020.
David Nightingale is an Emeritus Professor of Physics at SUNY, New Paltz, where he taught for 31 years.
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