'The West falls into Putin's elementary trap over and over again': Alexei Navalny gave an interview to American Time - ForumDaily
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'The West falls into Putin's elementary trap over and over again': Alexei Navalny gave an interview to American Time

For several months, Alexei Navalny has been exchanging letters with TIME while in Russian Penal Colony No. 2, sharing his thoughts on life in prison, the future of the opposition movement, and the recent diplomatic standoff between the US and Russia. Time.

Photo: Shutterstock

It has been a year since Alexei Navalny, the leader of the Russian opposition, returned to Moscow after recovering from a poisoning attempt that nearly cost him his life. He was arrested immediately upon his return and spent the last year in prison.

Life in a shoebox

The very first question to Alexei about the conditions of his imprisonment was how the oppositionist adjusted his life in prison.

“A prison within a prison. I think this is the most accurate description of my reality. There are 13 people in my squad (this is the name given to a separate group of prisoners living in one room). Of these, literally one is allowed to talk to me. The rest can only communicate in monosyllables. Not really. Basically, everyone is always silent - they don’t want to blurt out too much. There are video cameras everywhere, plus the employees never, under any circumstances, communicate with me without a video recorder,” says Alexey.

The windows in his barracks are sealed. Literally. White paper. It lets light through, but you can't see anything through it. This is the only barracks with the windows covered, and everyone understands that this is so that he does not see what is happening outside. Sometimes Alexey feels like he lives “in a shoebox.”

When there was a hunger strike and immediately after, a rather curious method of psychological influence was applied to him, as he says.

“Two prisoners always follow you at a distance of 1,5 meters. All day. From rise to release. In the barracks, on the street, in the local area, in the washbasin, in the toilet. They don't say anything, don't even look at you. They won't answer if you yell or chase them away. But they won’t leave,” says the oppositionist.

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“You are physically stronger and after a couple of days all your mental strength must be spent on not hitting one of them, trying to drive them away. After all, the video will show exactly what the administration wants: you attack a person who is just standing next to you for no reason. And besides, I know that they don’t follow me voluntarily, they were forced. It’s a good exercise in endurance,” he says.

“There is no doubt that even the simplest decisions about my life are made here in the Kremlin, and on important issues, like the admission of doctors, by Putin himself,” adds Alexey.

The USA is a “schoolboy who was bullied by a high school student”

“The West falls into Putin’s elementary trap over and over again. He puts forward some crazy, ridiculous demands like the current ones - that he and Biden should sit down in a cigar room and decide the fate of Europe, as if it were 1944. And if the United States does not agree, then he “will arrange something,” Navalny says about the negotiations between the United States and Russia.

The oppositionist says that instead of ignoring this nonsense, the United States accepts Putin's agenda and runs to organize some kind of meetings.

“Just like a terrified schoolboy who was bullied by a high school student. And they say: “If you arrange something, we will introduce tough sanctions,” he says.

Navalny adds that such “two-movers” are elementary and obvious, but it’s simply breathtaking how Putin spends them with the American establishment over and over again: threat of escalation - trade - rollback, threat of escalation - trade - rollback.

“When I watch this, it seems that this is not US foreign policy, but an O. Henry story in which a cunning swindler (Putin) deceives a village simpleton who considers himself very smart (US State Department),” says Alexey.

“In Russia, we are all tired of rolling our eyes” at ineffective sanctions

“I soberly assess the possibilities of international pressure on the Kremlin. In particular, I remember the story of Liu Xiaobo, a Chinese dissident who died in prison despite significant efforts by the international community to free him and even a Nobel Peace Prize,” says Navalny.

He would prefer that in his case and in the case of his organization, which Russia recognized as extremist, the West defended not them, but itself: firstly, it sought the implementation of the decisions of the ECtHR, and secondly, it opposed the export of corruption, Putin’s buying of foreign leaders (under type of membership in the Board of Directors), a hybrid war waged through the unsystematic creation of chaos and the impact on the sore points of Western society - from migration in Europe to the split of society in the United States.

“Biden is still the president of the United States, not Russia,” Navalny says of the Biden administration’s response to his arrest. “I didn’t have naive thoughts that he would deal with the international agenda and my poisoning/imprisonment to the detriment of internal affairs. And I generally understand how politics works in the United States - the president (and this is good, not bad) cannot instantly accept and implement everything he wants.”

What Alexey sees now, rather gives him hope.

“On issues of combating corruption, there is powerful leadership in Congress - they have formed a special bipartisan caucus, and in the Biden administration everyone is no less determined, understanding the main thing: corruption is the basis of most international problems (from Afghanistan and Iraq to Ukraine and Putin), which American presidents spend 60% of their time and American taxpayers spend trillions out of their pockets,” he says.

Above all, he hopes that “simple and easily accessible pressure mechanisms will finally be used wisely.”

“In Russia, we are all tired of rolling our eyes, seeing how the United States puts on the sanctions lists some colonels and generals who don’t even have money abroad. These are simple executors of Putin’s will,” adds the oppositionist.

“Putin is without a doubt the richest man on earth”

Alexey is thinking about ways to influence Putin. He says it's "simple."

“Putin is without a doubt the richest man on earth. The source of his money is power and corruption. And the basis of power is lies, propaganda and falsification of election results. If you want to influence Putin, influence his personal money. They are right next to you. Everyone knows the names of the oligarchs and friends of Putin who are holders of his money. We know those who finance his yachts and palaces. Those who support his second and third families. Most of these oligarchs are needed to split Putin's elites. To give them a signal that the regime now installed in Russia will not be an eternal paradise for them, where they can combine the opportunity to rob people inside Russia and easily and freely spend this money in Europe and the United States,” he says.

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“Putin is selling this consensus to the economic elite: “Support me always and in everything, and I will provide you with both money and the opportunity to spend it in Aspen. No matter what all sorts of US presidents talk, they will never risk introducing serious sanctions against the ruling class of Russia. And if they start talking about this, we will immediately turn everyone’s attention to security issues like interference in elections or the threat of an invasion of Ukraine, as is happening right now,” adds Navalny.

He says it's important to get some of the elites to finally realize that Putin's regime is a problem for their emotional well-being more than a benefit. And that their open participation in corrupt deals will not go unnoticed or unpunished.

"I knew I'd be back"

Navalny says that the issue of return was not discussed at all. There were no conversations with friends, “no emotional conversations with my wife, like in the movies.” This issue was not even on the agenda. From the moment he opened his eyes and realized who he was, he knew he would return. “I was lying in a coma, and Yulia knew that if I survived, we would return,” he says.

“It’s one thing to risk yourself, it’s another thing to make such a decision for someone else, even if he is your child. Forcing them to share risks with us, which are no longer completely ephemeral, will be dishonest to them,” says Alexey.

Therefore, they decided that for some time it would be better for them to stay in those places where “it is more difficult to smear door handles with chemical weapons.” By this time, daughter Dasha had already entered Stanford and was studying in the USA, and son Zakhar, who went to a German school, at first simply because he ended up in Germany, remained there.

"At the training stage, 50% of programmers want to emigrate"

“Putin surprised me with how much damage he is willing to do to the entire country, to its future, for the sake of solving one political problem, albeit an important one,” says Navalny.

He says that everyone, including Putin, understands that the collateral damage is huge and clearly more than the benefit that Putin received.

“A cross on foreign investment, a cross on the prospects for economic growth. New wave of emigration. So I read the news that even at the training stage, 50% of programmers want to emigrate,” he says.

Navalny says that the government's policy has also hit Putin himself and his ratings.

"The creeping work to seize power"

Navalny says that anything can happen in Russia, from mass unrest due to falling living standards (and incomes have fallen for the 8th year in a row) to a “palace coup.”

“I see my main goal as achieving fair general elections. Well, then I will take the place that the voters will determine,” he says.

“And not like Yeltsin - once honestly, and then censorship and falsification. Russia urgently needs at least 4-5 cycles of fair elections under the control of an independent judiciary in order to finally break the vicious circle of the revival of authoritarianism and forever determine that a change of power at any level now occurs only this way,” he adds.

In reality, as Navalny says, Putin's rule only increases the risk of sudden events, upheavals, including those associated with violence, only increases.

“There are already several groups around him that are in irreconcilable hostility. Creeping work to seize power “after Putin” is underway. Almost everyone who is not part of Putin’s closest circle considers those who are idiots who cannot even steal normally. And they are waiting for the moment to take away the fattest pieces from them,” says the oppositionist.

Worst of all, he adds, Putin's actions greatly increase the likelihood of the country's collapse.

“His efforts to centralize power, money, and powers in Moscow cannot but lead to an increase in centrifugal tendencies when the pendulum swings in the other direction,” he adds.

"Emotional decision"

Navalny considers his arrest “an emotional decision by Putin.”

“At first I didn’t die from poisoning, then I didn’t turn into a vegetable, as the doctors feared, then I had the audacity not only to return, but also, while already in Russia, to release an investigation into Putin’s personal corruption,” says Alexey.

“It was precisely according to the logic of “not showing weakness”, discarding rational calculation, that he acted. So what have you achieved? Well, I live in a box with taped-up windows and wear boots and a peacoat. AND? Sitting in boots, giving an interview to TIME magazine, and our “Smart Voting” drowned his candidates in all major cities. Plus a wave of emigration. Plus the bitterness of society. Plus, my only friend now is Lukashenko. And such a country will not receive investment. This means there will be no economic growth. But inflation is already 10% according to official data. Realistically – 15,” says the oppositionist.

“And now, instead of a huge nuclear Singapore or at least USSR 2.0 with yachts and Mercedes, you are standing on the parade platform and your only foreign guest is the President of Tajikistan. And instead of technology and growth, there is computer animation about mythical new weapons,” Navalny continues. — This is probably why we don’t know a single politician in history who would be good after 10 years of sole power. They just stop seeing the big picture and start acting up and acting out emotionally.”

“However, I’ll be honest, even if a sober analysis showed that everything that was happening would make it worse for me, and not for the Putin regime, I would still return. I just knew I had to do it,” the oppositionist concluded.

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