When the opposition leader Alexei Navalny returned to Russia last month after surviving a poisoning widely attributed to Kremlin intelligence agents, many observers watched with apprehension: This act of defiance seemed sure to end badly. And, as soon as he landed in Russia, the authorities arrested him, which set off massive protests around the country.
Navalny—who received a sentence Tuesday of more than 2½ years imprisonment based on allegations that have been widely discredited, including by the European Court of Human Rights—gave a rousing speech to the court, accusing Vladimir Putin of direct responsibility for the August poisoning, in which the nerve agent Novichok was smeared on the dissident’s underwear. Below is an excerpt of his remarks to the court.—The Editors
The explanation is one man’s hatred and fear—one man hiding in a bunker. I mortally offended him by surviving. I survived thanks to good people, thanks to pilots and doctors. And then I committed an even more serious offense: I didn’t run and hide. Then something truly terrifying happened: I participated in the investigation of my own poisoning, and we proved, in fact, that Putin, using Russia’s Federal Security Service, was responsible for this attempted murder. And that’s driving this thieving little man in his bunker out of his mind. He’s simply going insane as a result….
It turns out that dealing with a political opponent who has no access to television and no political party merely requires trying to kill him with a chemical weapon. So, of course, he’s losing his mind over this. Because everyone was convinced that he’s just a bureaucrat who was accidentally appointed to his position. He’s never participated in any debates or campaigned in an election. Murder is the only way he knows how to fight. He’ll go down in history as nothing but a poisoner. We all remember Alexander the Liberator [Alexander II] and Yaroslav the Wise [Yaroslav I]. Well, now we’ll have Vladimir the Underpants Poisoner…
The main thing in this whole trial isn’t what happens to me. Locking me up isn’t difficult. What matters most is why this is happening. This is happening to intimidate large numbers of people. They’re imprisoning one person to frighten millions.
We’ve got 20 million people living below the poverty line. We have tens of millions of people living without the slightest prospects for the future. Life is bearable in Moscow, but travel 100 kilometers in any direction and everything’s a mess. Our whole country is living in this mess, without the slightest prospects, earning 20,000 rubles [$265] a month. And they’re all silent; they try to shut people up with these show trials. Lock up this one to scare millions more. One person takes to the streets and they lock up another five people to scare 15 million more.
I hope very much that people won’t look at this trial as a signal that they should be more afraid. This isn’t a demonstration of strength—it’s a show of weakness. You can’t lock up millions and hundreds of thousands of people. I hope very much that people will realize this. And they will. Because you can’t lock up the whole country.
The only thing growing in [Russia] is the number of billionaires. Everything else is declining. I’m locked up in a prison cell, and all I hear about on TV is that butter is getting more expensive. The price of eggs is rising. You’ve deprived these people of a future.
Everything I’m saying now reflects my attitude toward the performance you’ve staged here. This is what happened when lawlessness and tyranny become the essence of a political system, and it’s horrifying.
But it’s even worse when lawlessness and tyranny pose as state prosecutors and dress up in judges’ robes. It’s the duty of every person to defy you and to defy such laws.
I am fighting as best I can and I will continue to do so, despite the fact that I’m now under the control of people who love to smear everything with chemical weapons. My life isn’t worth two cents, but I will do everything I can so that the law prevails. And I salute and thank the staff at the Anti-Corruption Foundation who have been arrested and all the honest people across the country who aren’t afraid and who take to the streets. Because they have the same rights as you. This country belongs to them just as it does to you and everyone else. We demand proper justice, decent treatment, participation in elections, and participation in the distribution of the national wealth. Yes, we demand all this.
I want to say that there are many good things in Russia now. The very best are the people who aren’t afraid—people who don’t look the other way, who will never hand our country over to a bunch of corrupt officials who want to trade it for palaces, vineyards, and aqua-discos.
I demand my immediate release and the release of all political prisoners. I do not recognize your performance here—it’s a deception and completely illegal.