The prisons are full. The authorities struck hard in an attempt to quell the protests which gathered tens of thousands of Russians across the country: 4,000 people arrested on the first weekend, then 5,700 during the second and finally 1,500 on February 2, according to figures from the Russian association for the defense of human rights Memorial. These massive roundups targeted demonstrators often under the age of thirty. Around 100 journalists were also arrested. At the origin of the mobilization: the opponent Alexeï Navalny, a 44-year-old lawyer who returned to the country after being poisoned in Novichok by the FSB, the Russian secret services, and treated in Germany.
Arrested when he got off the plane, the slayer of elite corruption sparked a scandal with the broadcast of a video describing a luxurious palace owned by President Vladimir Putin. A film of almost two hours, seen 100 million times. Since then, Navalny has been behind bars, sentenced to three and a half years in prison following the revocation of a suspended sentence. According to his staff, the objective is no longer to call for demonstrations. It is now a question of engaging in the preparation of the legislative elections scheduled for September by contributing to the defeat of the candidates for power.
Vladimir Achourkov, 48, executive director of the FBK anti-corruption foundation in Navalny and a refugee in London, deciphers the latest events.
What is Alexeï Navalny’s state of mind?
Vladimir Achourkov : We do not have direct communication with him. Only his lawyer visits him once a day and gives him information. He was the subject of a grim verdict, but he seemed in a good state of mind. We all saw the way he said goodbye to his wife.
How do you judge the authorities’ methods of repression during the demonstrations?
I knew that such a level of repression was possible, but I thought the power would be smart enough to avoid it. Because he does not understand that by doing so, he arouses deep anger among the citizens and contributes to his downfall. These events herald an era of instability and disorder. Some lines have been crossed by the authorities, others will be. There is great excitement at the top.
How to keep the movement alive without Alexeï Navalny?
We have over 200 people working for us across the country. There is therefore no question of leading the movement from abroad. It is true that our main officials are in prison or under house arrest. But this is not the first time that we have been deprived of Alexei. In 2014, he was placed under house arrest for almost a year and we managed to work. Of course, it’s a big blow, but the situation was not entirely unexpected. We prepared for it.
Do you think that his wife, Yulia Navalnaya, could take the head of the organization?
It’s up to Yulia to decide, but I don’t think it’s on the agenda. Having said that, he is a brilliant person and a pillar for Alexei.
Are you going to continue to advocate “smart voting” in the next elections, that is to say to call to vote for the best placed candidate, whoever he is, likely to beat the representative of power?
There will be no change. This strategy can be deployed from anywhere and at any time. It goes through instructions given during the electoral campaign.
You have written to US President Joe Biden asking him to draw up a sanctions list against 35 close to Vladimir Putin. Are the sanctions already in place not working?
It’s not to say they don’t work. There is no magic recipe for changing Putin’s attitude overnight. Sanctions are one of the very few levers available to Western countries. But for now, they mainly affect individuals who have little to lose. People who do not have property abroad or who do not travel, for example representatives of the security apparatus. We must target the oligarchs and Putin’s friends. If you attack this circle, it is a warning and a deterrent to the few thousand people in the upper administration who are taking advantage of this corrupt system. We suggest names of people who have never been worried. But it’s up to Western governments to get involved. Maybe something will happen this time around.
After the video on Putin’s palace, do you plan to release any other material?
Yes, it is planned. Our job is to constantly investigate. Even though Alexei is not in it, we have a whole team of less famous people, but also famous people who can portray them.
Are the Russian elite united behind Putin?
No, the business community and the political elite suffer from the discredit of the country on the world stage, the devaluation of assets, the lack of access to international financing, the general weakness of the economy. There is real discontent.