Building a movement around Putin’s jailed Alexei Navalny

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Perhaps the most important element of CNN’s new film, “Navalny” — which premieres Sunday at 9 p.m. ET on CNN and is about Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny — is his decision to return to Russia, after his poisoning, To face prison or death. ,

While Navalny is facing years in a Russian penal colony and is only sporadically able to communicate with the outside world, his chief of staff and others do his job, mainly with posts on YouTube.

I spoke to the head of the investigation, Maria Pevchikh As for Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, how the work continues, is it seen in Russia and why the word “politician” has a very different meaning.

Below are excerpts from our conversation edited for length and clarity.

What matters, One noteworthy point is Navalny’s willingness to sacrifice his freedom and security in order to return to Russia. It’s something that’s so foreign to so many Americans, I think. How do you explain that willingness to give of itself to Westerners living in more open societies?

Pewchikh: Well, “politician” means very different things in the Western world than in Russia …

American politicians that we see in movies or in culture or just in real people, in fact… sometimes these people sacrifice big corporate careers to become politicians, run for Congress or become members of parliament. So this is the Western understanding of “politician”, a person who may have made a career choice.

Whereas in Russia, a politician is like a warrior and a fighter and a person who has absolutely no notion of risk or threats and all that…

If you want to call yourself a politician in Russia, you can be poisoned with a chemical weapon.

If you want to be a politician in Russia, you can be shot on the bridge just outside the Kremlin, like (Boris) Nemtsov was in 2015.

If you want to become a politician in Russia, you have to be ready to go to jail, spend your time there. You need to be ready to have your family arrested and sent to jail because what do you do…

This is the price of calling yourself a politician in Russia. And Alexey is exactly the same …

He knew very well what was going to happen to him when he landed in Moscow … that he would be arrested. It was a conscious decision, a conscious choice that he made to stand by the principles to which he is committed, to stand by the words he was saying to the people as a statesman, To lead by example.

So I guess, I don’t know, it’s a language issue – and it’s two different words for “politician” in the Western understanding and the Russian understanding.

And Western audiences, whoever sees this film, have to admit that this breed of politician exists.

What matters: With Navalny in prison, tell us how his fight is going.

Pevichikh: We continue to work as hard, perhaps even harder, than he was when he was around, just to show a very clear message that imprisoning Alexey will not solve the problem. You can take that away from us, but that doesn’t mean our anti-corruption work will stop.

So maybe we’re doing a lot more than we were doing before imprisonment, and that applies to the anti-corruption investigations that we do.

And the same applies to our YouTube work. We just launched a new YouTube channel which mainly has news on the situation in Ukraine, and it has already got over a million new subscribers in six or seven weeks.

So we are trying not only to continue the time we were around Alexei, but also trying to broaden the scope of our work.

What matters: Watching the film, I was impressed by the large number of people who appear on the streets and at the airport to support Navalny. Are his supporters the same people we read about protest against war in ukraine,

Pevichikh: I think it’s pretty much the same people. It is these people who are probably the bravest people in the country who are willing to risk their freedom for something worthwhile, for a greater cause.

The story has changed a lot, as you have seen huge crowds in the film and it was probably the last mass protest in Russia. And these protests were dealt with violently.

All those people you saw in the movie spent 15, 20, 30 days in detention centres. And the people who organized those protests, like my colleagues, put some of them under house arrest for a year.

The situation has changed. I am sure that the same number of people still support the anti-war movement. But I don’t think we see them on the streets anymore because there are no more 15 days left in the detention center.

Now you risk 15 years in prison for your anti-war activity. This is a new law. The risk has increased dramatically for everyone willing to protest in the street, but they still do so.

You see from Russia when some very brave people – alone, alone – they walk into the square and stand there with a poster. So it still is. It is very frightening and it is too scary for people to protest right now.

What matters: Navalni is in jail. We saw this week another politician who was poisoned, Vladimir Kara-Murza, returned to Russia only to be arrested after speaking on CNN. How can the opposition movement communicate and develop under these circumstances?

Pevichikh: Well, I don’t think there is a recipe for it. The Russian opposition needs to grow and exist in spite of everything. I think it’s a crisis situation, when whoever has got any energy and strength and conviction left – you just have to scramble everything together and do at least something every day…

I don’t think all the instability at the moment (Russian President Vladimir) Putin will allow any kind of grassroots opposition to emerge. But that doesn’t cancel out the fact that we have to solve this darkest time in the best way we can.

And each of us, who considers himself in opposition, needs to invest this tiny little bit every day like a drop in the ocean which should theoretically one day turn into these big, collective efforts. So this is going to end this nightmare.

What matters: Free media has essentially shut down in Russia, where protesters are being arrested. It’s hard for us in the West to know what’s going on there. Are you able to talk to people in Russia? What do they tell you about life right now?

Pevichikh: (Here she explains that the Anti-Corruption Foundation plans to launch a political YouTube channel and now broadcasts nightly streams on Ukraine that are available in Russia with a virtual private network, or VPN, connection.) There was certainly a market left behind by the independent media outlets that were shut down. And we are trying to fill this void.

And even the media channels that have shut down are now reuniting in a way, and I can see them starting their new media outlets from abroad.

So I don’t think it is possible to turn off independent information completely. He who seeks, he will find…

one of the biggest goals we have when it comes to (it) The job is to break down this wall of hype… hopefully someone new is watching our show every day, and that someone new will probably bring a friend or two tomorrow who will join in and watch it – and that’s eventually something. Snowball will be necessary.

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