In the five years since Alexey Navalny’s time as a Yale World Fellow, he has run for mayor of Moscow, emerged as President Vladimir Putin’s most recognized domestic antagonist and avoided prison time for criminal embezzlement widely viewed as the Kremlin’s political revenge.
And, just last week, Navalny snipped the electronic bracelet used by Russian authorities to keep an eye on his whereabouts, ending nearly 11 months of house arrest.
Navalny — who came to Yale in 2010 to conduct research on how to refine his anti-corruption message, according to Yale World Fellows Program Director Michael Cappello — was placed under strict house arrest last February under charges of corruption. The charges came after a second-place finish in the 2013 Moscow mayoral election.
“House arrest was a way to isolate Mr. Navalny from his political and anti-corruptional activities and of course affected his work,” Kira Yarmysh, Navalny’s press aide, wrote in an email to the News. “He was also prohibited from using Internet or phone or communicating with anybody except his family.”
On Dec. 30, Navalny’s brother, Oleg, who was also charged in the fraud case, was ordered by a Russian court to serve three and a half years in prison. The verdict the same day that Navalny himself first breached his house arrest to join an unsanctioned government rally.
Despite not being jailed for violating his house arrest, many view the brother’s sentencing as the Kremlin’s way of indirectly punishing Navalny while simultaneously preventing him from gaining respect as a jailed martyr.
“Jailing a brother to punish the culprit is, on the one hand, a sophisticated, ‘Stalinist’ way to inflict pain,” said Maxim Trudolyubov, the opinion editor of the Russian business newspaper Vedomosti and another world fellow. “On the other hand, it’s meant to prevent Alexey from getting any additional clout as a persecuted revolutionary because Alexey himself is not in jail.”
Cappello said other world fellows have lobbied in their home countries and submitted formal complaints to Russian embassies worldwide, demanding that Navalny receive just treatment under appropriate international standards. Vince Perez, a 2005 world fellow who said he has never met Navalny personally, said he wrote to the Russian Ambassador in the Philippines following Navalny’s first arrest in December 2011.
Yarmysh said the strictness of Navalny’s house arrest was softened in August when he was allowed to communicate with others besides close relatives, and he could begin meeting with work colleagues from home. The day of his brother’s sentencing, Yarmysh said Navalny was told he was spared jail time although he needed to remain under house arrest, which is illegal under Russian law. As a result, Navalny decided that his isolation was illegal and snipped his electronic bracelet.
“The court has since denied all police attempts to place Mr. Navalny under house arrest again,” Yarmysh said.
Yet, Navalny’s standing as the leader of Putin’s opposition movement has not come without its share of controversy. Rather, racist remarks and controversial endorsements he has made on the campaign trail have some asking, in the words of a July 2013 Atlantic article, “Is Alexey Navalny a liberal or a nationalist?”
For example, Navalny has participated in the annual Russian March, a nationalist mass demonstration in several major cities across Russia. Before his mayoral run, Navalny backed Stop Feeding the Caucasus, a nationalist-led campaign to cut financial support for the North Caucasus region. Navalny has come under sharp criticism for use of what some have characterized as racist slurs, including a derogatory term for Georgians that Navalny used during Russia’s war against Georgia in August 2008. He has also called on multiple occasions for the deportation of illegal immigrants.
“I find nationalist and anti-immigration rhetoric repugnant,” said Marijeta Bozovic, assistant professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures. “However, I admire Navalny’s courage in the present circumstances and his ability to rouse an opposition.”
Since the program’s inception in 2002, 257 Fellows have come to Yale representing 83 countries.