The politics of poison: Alexei Navalny’s threat to the Kremlin

Alexei Navalny is a renowned anti-corruption activist in Russia and has been openly critical of Putin’s regime. On Thursday 20thAugust, Navalny fell ill on an internal flight in Russia. Due to the severity of his illness, the flight was forced to make an emergency landing. He has been moved to the Charité hospital in Berlin for treatment where it has since been announced that he is suffering from suspected poison ingestion.

Navalny has been an ardent figure in opposing the presidency of Vladimir Putin. Coining United Russia the “party of crooks and thieves”, Navalny is a rising force in denouncing the feudal politics of Russian governance. Whilst he is yet to oppose Putin on the ballot paper, Navalny’s public profile has given rise to unauthorised anti-Putin protests across Russia. 

With the extent of Navalny’s criticism towards the Kremlin, it is no surprise that following his suspected poisoning, the blame has been firmly placed with Putin and his government. The Kremlin has vehemently denied these accusations, yet Navalny’s supporters have proposed that he was poisoned whilst drinking a cup of tea at the airport in Tomsk. Putin’s spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, coined the allegations as “empty noise”, suggesting that any links to Putin’s involvement should not be taken seriously. 

This is not the first time Putin has made global news in connection with the use of poison, and this likely won’t be the last.

The poisoning of Alexei Navalny has put into question the fate of Putin’s enemies. Allies of Navalny have said that there is no doubt that this event is linked to his political activism and torment of the Russian government. Whilst the Kremlin have announced that there is no basis to investigate Navalny’s case, this suspected poisoning has further engrained political divides in Russia.

This is not the first time Putin has made global news in connection with the use of poison, and this likely won’t be the last. The poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal in March 2018 in Salisbury sparked global outrage. The Skripals were poisoned with the Novichok nerve agent and the British government placed the blame with Russia, accusing the Kremlin of attempted murder and enforcing a series of sanctions.

Navalny is being treated with atropine, the same substance used in the recovery of Sergei and Yulia Skripal back in 2018. Navalny’s condition has sparked global interest into the fate of Putin’s enemies in Russia, with a series of stories emerging regarding how other critics of Putin have been targeted. Vladimir Kara-Murza has openly spoken about the dangers facing Putin’s critics. He was allegedly poisoned twice by Russian security services, fearing for his life whilst suffering kidney failure in 2015. 

Navalny’s fate has demonstrated the inherent problems of the Russian political system.

Navalny’s suffering has invoked international political involvement, with many global leaders seeking to speak out against Putin’s leadership. Angela Merkel, in acknowledging Navalny’s activism as a political opponent, has called for a full investigation that upholds the need for transparency. Furthermore, Joe Biden announced that under his presidency the US would “stand up to autocrats like Putin”. 

The personal and international implications of this alleged poisoning cannot be ignored. Affecting international relations with the US, as well as questioning the very legitimacy of Putin’s governance, Navalny’s fate has demonstrated the inherent problems of the Russian political system. In this sense, the politics of poison is all too clear. With a rising toll of accusations, how much longer can the Kremlin withhold accountability? 

By Lydia Stroud

Image: by Michał Siergiejevicz via Flickr

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