Meduza Photo Story – How Navalny became Navalny

Evgeny Feldman

On February 2, a Moscow court incarcerated Alexey Navalny, making him not only Russia’s most outspoken opposition politician and most serious opponent to Vladimir Putin but also the country’s most famous political prisoner. Drawing heavily on work by Evgeny Feldman, Meduza studied photo archives to recall how Navalny went from a young Moscow activist and blogger in the mid-2000s to the international figure he is today. His journey, which features arrests, political campaigns, criminal cases, assaults, and a near-fatal poisoning, hasn’t been easy.

Then the executive secretary of the “Committee to Protect Muscovites,” Alexey Navalny speaks in the summer of 2006 at a rally organized by the “DA!” movement in support of Moscow technical schools, which the city had decided to demolish and replace with residential and commercial buildings. Russia’s Federal Anti-Monopoly Service later overturned the city’s policy. The Committee to Protect Muscovites was founded in 2004 to combat illegal land development.
Alexey Navalny at the nationalist “Russian March” on November 4, 2011. Two years later, after participating in Moscow’s mayoral race, the politician who once called himself “a decent Russian nationalist” would decline to participate in further Russian Marches, saying he needed to “maintain the political balance” that had lifted his public profile.
Co-founders of the “Narod” movement (from left to right) Andrey Dmitriev, Zakhar Prilepin, Sergey Gulyaev, and Alexey Navalny hold a press conference on June 25, 2007, devoted to the creation of their organization. The group’s manifesto calls for “a new, nationally minded, and socially responsible government” in Russia. The liberal opposition party Yabloko previously expelled Navalny for “causing political damage to the party, in particular for nationalist activities.” Navalny says the real reason for his expulsion was his demand that Grigory Yavlinksy step down as the party’s leader.
Now a well-known politician, blogger, and the founder of the “Rospil” project (which exposed corruption in government contracts), Navalny addresses a crowd of demonstrators at a protest against fraud in Russia’s 2011 parliamentary elections. Roughly 5,000 people joined a rally at Chistoprudny Boulevard on December 5, 2011. Several hundred people were arrested.
On May 6, 2012, Navalny helps stage a mass protest at Moscow’s Bolotnaya Square against Vladimir Putin’s re-election and return to the presidency. In this photo, Navalny joins two of the demonstration’s other leaders, Boris Nemtsov and Ilya Yashin, in staging a sit-in. The rally ends in clashes with the police and dozens of criminal cases alleging riots and violence against the police. These investigations later became known collectively as the “Bolotnoye Delo.”
Navalny on May 8, 2012, after being arrested during the capital’s “public festivities” — the name activists used to describe protests in Moscow against the city’s crackdown on the May 6 demonstrators.
Alexey Navalny and his wife, Yulia, on July 19, 2013, at the Kirov regional court, following a judge’s decision to cancel his arrest (and the arrest of Petr Ofitsevov), a day after a lower court sentenced him to prison. Navalny is released until his prison sentence (which is later reduced to probation) takes effect.
Alexey Navalny at the Kirov regional court on October 16, 2013
Alexey Navalny and his wife, Yulia, on October 16, 2013, in the Kirov regional court, awaiting the judges’ verdict. The court changed prison sentences against Navalny and Petr Ofitserov in the so-called “Kirovles” case from prison time to probation. The two men were nevertheless convicted of embezzling property for buying products from the “Kirovles” firm and later reselling the goods at a premium. The Russian Supreme Court’s Presidium would later send the case for a retrial, following a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights that found the two defendants’ actions to be ordinary business activity. The court in Kirov only reconvicted them, however.
Alexey Navalny on August 25, 2013, during his mayoral campaign in Moscow, running on the “RPR-PARNAS” party ticket. In his campaign platform, he promised more transparent control over the city’s expenditures, expanded powers for local self-government, easier access to permits for public assemblies, and a revision of Moscow’s policy on migrant workers.
Alexey Navalny meets with voters during his mayoral campaign in Moscow. August 21, 2013
Another scene from Navalny’s summer 2013 mayoral campaign. His team was the first to deploy “pop-up cubes” around the city to draw voters’ attention.
Another moment during Navalny’s mayoral campaign on August 21, 2013, just two weeks before incumbent Mayor Sergey Sobyanin won and narrowly avoided a runoff election. Navalny got 27.2 percent of the vote.
Alexey Navalny and his brother, Oleg, on December 30, 2014, at a Moscow court after the verdicts are announced in the “Yves Rocher” case. Prosecutors claim that the two men mislead executives at “Yves Rocher Vostok” and provided the cosmetics company with transportation services at marked-up prices. Oleg Navalny insisted that it was a standard business contract, and Alexey denied any involvement in the business at all. The court nevertheless sentenced Alexey to three and a half years of probation. Navalny’s brother got three and a half years in prison. The European Court of Human Rights later determined that the Russian court’s ruling was “arbitrary and manifestly unreasonable.”
While under house arrest following the Yves Rocher case verdict, Alexey Navalny challenges the extension of his house arrest. On January 5, 2015, he publishes a photograph on Twitter showing that he’s removed his electronic tracking bracelet. He says he refuses to observe the terms of his arrest any further, arguing that his house arrest is illegal.
Navalny at a meeting held at the Anti-Corruption Foundation on February 14, 2017.
On February 27, 2016, Navalny joins a march in honor of Boris Nemtsov on the first anniversary of his assassination. At the demonstration, Navalny announces his intention to challenge Vladimir Putin in Russia’s next presidential election. He also releases a presidential platform advocating a system crackdown on corruption, an end to Russia’s confrontation with the West, higher taxes, and new efforts against social inequality.
Navalny and his wife during a flight to Yekaterinburg, where his presidential campaign is opening a local headquarters. February 24, 2017.
Alexey Navalny has a quick bite to eat during a campaign coordination conference in Tarusa on August 29, 2017.
Navalny campaigns for president in Kazan on March 5, 2017.
On March 20, 2017, before Navalny can attend the opening of his campaign office in Barnaul, a man attacks him and sprays green antiseptic in his face. Navalny’s chief of staff, Leonid Volkov, says the assailant fled in a car that escaped into the regional government’s compound.
On April 27, 2017, Navalny is attacked with antiseptic again, this time sustaining a serious eye injury. He blames the assault on men working for the Kremlin. One of the perpetrators is later identified as an activist from the right-wing “SERB” movement.
Navalny and his wife on February 24, 2017.
Navalny is arrested at a protest on March 26, 2017, against corruption. The nationwide demonstrators are inspired largely by an investigative report released by the Anti-Corruption Foundation about illicit financial schemes alleging involving then Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. City officials in Moscow denied demonstrators a permit to assemble in public, but Navalny nevertheless called on his supporters to “join him for a stroll.” The day ended with mass arrests.
The Anti-Corruption Foundation’s office in Moscow after a police raid on March 31, 2017. The group had recently live-streamed the nationwide protests against corruption. (The dust visible on the desk above is a powder used for fingerprinting.)
Navalny meets with voters in Khabarovsk on September 24, 2017.
Navalny and his wife on August 29, 2017, before a regional coordination conference in Tarusa for his presidential campaign.
Alexey Navalny on December 25, 2017, before visiting Russia’s Central Election Commission, which is due to rule on his eligibility for presidential candidacy.
Navalny and his campaign’s attorneys make their way to the Central Election Commission building in Moscow. December 25, 2017.
Russia’s Central Election Commission rejects Navalny’s presidential candidacy, arguing that his “criminal record” is not yet expunged. December 25, 2017.
The Navalnys with their son, Zakhar, in Moscow’s subway system. The family is en route to a rally against the mayor’s controversial renovations program. May 14, 2017.
Alexey Navalny reunites with his brother, Oleg, who is released from prison on June 29, 2018, after three and a half years behind bars.
On July 20, 2019, the Navalnys attend a protest against Moscow officials’ refusal to register more than a dozen independent candidates in upcoming local elections. Subsequent demonstrations end in a violent police crackdown and a series of felony prosecutions against activists that becomes known as the “Moscow case.”
On August 20, 2020, Alexey Navalny collapses aboard a flight from Tomsk to Moscow. The pilots make an emergency landing in Omsk, where Navalny receives emergency medical attention. After two days, he is loaded into an ambulance plane and transferred to Berlin, where experts determine that he was poisoned with a Novichok-class nerve agent. Navalny later pairs with investigative reporters at Bellingcat, The Insider, and other outlets to uncover evidence that agents from Russia’s Federal Security Service apparently carried out the attempt on his life. Russian officials deny these allegations and have refused to open a criminal investigation into Navalny’s poisoning.
Still unconscious, Navalny is loaded into an ambulance plane in Omsk to be transferred to a clinic in Berlin. August 22, 2020.
Navalny and his family at the Charité Clinic in Berlin on September 15, 2020.
Alexey Navalny boards a plane in Berlin to return home to Moscow, where he is arrested almost immediately. January 17, 2021.
Navalny’s arrest at Sheremetyevo airport after returning to Moscow from Berlin. During his recovery in Germany, Russian prison officials issued an arrest warrant for Navalny, claiming that he had violated the parole terms of his probation sentence in the “Yves Rocher” case. The authorities filed a lawsuit demanding that his probation be revoked and replaced with a prison sentence. Navalny is jailed for a month, pending the results of the hearing. January 17, 2021.
After his arraignment, Navalny is transferred to Moscow’s Matrosskaya Tishina prison until his trial in early February.
Moscow’s regional court hears Navalny’s challenge against the decision to jail him until his “Yves Rocher” parole trial. He teleconferences into the courtroom from jail. January 28, 2021.
On February 2, a Moscow court replaces Navalny’s probation sentence in the Yves Rocher case with prison time. Pending appellate rulings, Navalny will have to spend at least the next two years and eight months in prison. Pictured above: Navalny gestures to his wife in court.