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Navalny’s top collaborator says Putin was ‘stupid’ to put him in jail because it turned him into a symbol

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny and his main collaborator Leonid Volkov. Mikhail Svetlov / Getty Images

  • Navalny’s top adviser Leonid Volkov said Putin was “stupid” to put the opposition leader behind bars.

  • Navalny’s imprisonment has made him a symbol behind which people rally, Volkov said.

  • Volkov came to Washington ahead of Biden’s much-anticipated summit with Putin.

  • See more stories on the Insider business page.

WASHINGTON, DC – Russian Vladimir Putin made a mistake in putting Alexei Navalny in jail because it turned him into a symbol, allowing him to gain worldwide attention, according to Leonid Volkov, chief of staff to the chief of the Russian opposition.

When Navalny was being treated in Germany after being poisoned in Siberia last August, his aides discussed what might happen to the anti-corruption activist’s return to Moscow and concluded that it was likely he could be arrested and jailed. . But they also thought it would be “foolish” of Putin to go down this route, Volkov told Insider Thursday during a meeting with reporters during a visit to Washington, DC.

It would have been smarter for Putin to place Navalny under house arrest, Volkov said, which would not have caused a “wave of compassion and national and international concern” while “preventing him from exercising his political office” .

“Well, Putin preferred the stupid path,” Volkov said.

Before Navalny was jailed, he was the “political leader” of a vast network in Russia that largely focused on investigating and exposing corruption, Volkov said, but now that Putin has thrown him behind bars , he becomes a “symbol” that offers leadership. ”Volkov said Navalny had a particularly strong appeal among young voters in Russia, stressing that Putin was losing the war to defeat this demographic.

After being arrested on his return to Moscow in January, Navalny was sentenced to two and a half years in prison for violation of parole – including while under treatment in Germany – following a conviction for embezzlement in 2014 that human rights groups denounced as being politically motivated.

Navalny’s imprisonment has led to mass protests across Russia in recent months, with young protesters flooding the streets of major cities.

Protest by Alexei Navalny

People clash with police during a protest against the imprisonment of opposition leader Alexei Navalny in St. Petersburg, Russia on January 23, 2021. Dmitry Lovetsky

Currently living in exile in Lithuania, Volkov came to the United States this week to voice concerns about Navalny’s movement ahead of the highly anticipated summit between Putin and President Joe Biden in Geneva, Switzerland, on June 16. Tensions between the United States and Russia have escalated dramatically in recent years, and the Biden administration has paid particular attention to Navalny – by far Putin’s most prominent critic.

In March, Biden imposed sanctions on a number of Russian officials for the poisoning of Navalny. It is widely believed that Putin ordered the poisoning and that it was an assassination attempt, although the Russian president scoffed at the allegations. Many opponents of Putin have died in violent and suspicious ways during his two decades in power.

Former US officials and experts expressed skepticism about what Biden can achieve at the meeting, and warned the president risks giving the Kremlin a victory by bolstering Putin’s image on the international stage and in him. granting legitimacy without any guarantee that the summit will generate results favorable to the US. The Biden administration countered these criticisms by saying that meeting adversaries is essential to overcoming differences.

Just a week before the Biden-Putin summit, Navalny’s political network was officially banned in Russia on Wednesday after a Moscow court declared it “extremist.” This sent a clear message to Biden that the Kremlin is not swayed by criticism and American pressure on Putin’s remarkable crackdown on dissent.

Putin has already used the Geneva summit to fuel his national propaganda machine, Volkov said, presenting himself to the Russian people as an important and respected international actor.

When asked if Biden played Putin’s game by offering the summit, Volkov told Insider: “I don’t want to judge in advance. Let’s see what’s going on there in Geneva. feeling that our message is resonating. We have a feeling that the administration is considering what to get from Putin, what concessions it could actually get. “

While in Washington, Volkov held a series of meetings, including with prominent lawmakers like Senator Bob Menendez (Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee), Republican Senator Mitt Romney and Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen. , among others.

Volkov calls on the United States to work with the United Kingdom in particular to impose sanctions on oligarchs and Russian officials closest to Putin, noting that the network has compiled a list of 35 people in this regard. The network said the existing sanctions were not having enough impact because they were not targeting the right people.

There is no reset button with Putin, Volkov said, he only understands “the language of the force”.

Read the original article on Business Insider

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