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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 shoe box

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 detachment (this is the name of a separate group of prisoners living in the same room). Of these, literally one is allowed to speak to me. The rest can only communicate in monosyllables. Well no. Basically, everyone is always silent - they don’t want to blurt out too much. There are video cameras everywhere, plus 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 transmits light, but nothing is visible through it. This is the only barrack with sealed windows and everyone understands that this is so that he does not see what is happening outside. Sometimes it seems to Alexei that 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 convicts follow you all the time at a distance of 1,5 meters. All day. From rise to fall. In the barracks, on the street, in the “lokalka”, in the washbasin, in the toilet. They don't say anything, they don't even look at you. They will not answer if you yell or drive them away. But they won’t leave,” says the oppositionist.

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“You are physically stronger and in a couple of days all the moral strength must be spent on not hitting one of them, trying to drive it away. After all, the video will show exactly what the administration wants: for no reason, you pounce on a person who is just standing next to you. And besides, I know that they do not follow me voluntarily, they were forced to. Good endurance training,” he says.

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

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 in a cigar room and decide the fate of Europe, as if it were 1944. And if the US does not agree, then he will "arrange something," Navalny says of the talks between the US 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 frightened high school student bullied by a high school student. And they say: “If you arrange something, then 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, the impression is that this is not US foreign policy, but the story of O. Henry, in which a cunning swindler (Putin) deceives a village dupe who considers himself very smart (US State Department),” says Alexei.

“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 the 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 reaction to his arrest. – I did not have naive thoughts that he would deal with the international agenda and my poisoning/imprisonment to the detriment of domestic affairs. And I generally understand how politics in the United States works - the president (and this is good, not bad) cannot instantly accept and implement everything he wants.

What Alexey sees now, rather gives him hope.

“There is a powerful leadership in the Congress on the fight against corruption - 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.

First of all, he hopes that "simple and easily accessible mechanisms of pressure will finally be used wisely."

“In Russia, we are all tired of rolling our eyes, seeing how the United States puts on the sanctions list some colonels and generals who have no money abroad. These are simple executors of Putin's will,” adds the oppositionist.

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

Alexei reflects on ways to influence Putin. He says that "everything is 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 forgery of election results. If you want to influence Putin, influence his personal money. They are at your side. Everyone knows the names of the oligarchs and friends of Putin who are the holders of his money. We know those who finance his yachts and palaces. Those who support his second and third family. Most of these oligarchs are needed to split Putin's elites. Send them a signal that the regime now established in Russia will not be an eternal paradise for them, which combines the ability 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 the US presidents talk about, they will never risk imposing serious sanctions on the Russian ruling class. And if they start talking about it, we instantly turn everyone's attention to security issues like interference in elections or the threat of an invasion of Ukraine, as is happening right now, ”Navalny adds.

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 would 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,” there was. This issue was not even on the agenda. From the moment he opened his eyes and realized who he was, he knew he would be back. “I was 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 another, even if he is your child. Forcing them to share risks with us, which are no longer completely ephemeral, will be dishonest towards 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 that time, daughter Dasha had already entered Stanford and studied in the USA, and her son Zakhar, who went to a German school, at first simply because he ended up in Germany, stayed there.

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

“Putin surprised me with how much harm he is willing to inflict on the entire country, 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.

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

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

“A creeping job to seize power”

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

“My main goal is to achieve fair general elections. Well, there I will already take the place that the voters will determine, ”he says.

“Not like Yeltsin—once honestly, and then censorship and falsification. Russia badly needs at least 4-5 cycles of fair elections overseen by an independent judiciary in order to finally break the vicious circle of resurgent authoritarianism and forever determine that the change of power at any level is now the only 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 can't even steal normally. And they are waiting for the moment to take away the fattest pieces from them,” the oppositionist says.

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

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

"Emotional Decision"

Navalny considers his arrest "Putin's emotional decision."

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

“Just according to the logic “do not show weakness”, rejecting rational calculation, he acted. So what did you achieve? Well, I live in a box with sealed glass and go in boots and a pea coat. AND? I'm sitting in my boots doing an interview with TIME magazine, and our "Smart Vote" drowned its candidates in all major cities. Plus a wave of emigration. Plus the anger of society. Plus, the only friend now is Lukashenka. And such a country will not receive investments. This means there will be no economic growth. But inflation is already 10% according to official data. Realistically – 15,” argues the oppositionist.

“And now, instead of a huge nuclear Singapore, or at least the USSR 2.0 with yachts and Mercedes, you are standing on the podium for the parade and your only foreign guest is the President of Tajikistan. And instead of technology and growth, computer animation about mythical new weapons, Navalny continues. - Probably, that's 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, acting emotionally.”

“However, to be honest, even if a sober analysis showed that everything that happened would have made me worse, and not the Putin regime, I would still have returned. I just knew that I had to do it,” concluded the oppositionist.

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