After Navalny’s death, can widow Yulia Navalnaya lead Russia’s opposition against Putin? – DollarJob

After Navalny’s death, can widow Yulia Navalnaya lead Russia’s opposition against Putin?

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But with Navalnylexei now gone, she may have felt she had little choice. 

Navalnaya began her video Monday with, “Hi, this is Yulia Navalnaya” — a throwback to the signature way Alexei used to start his videos. That symbolism did not go unnoticed, as the video racked up more than 2 million views in just four hours. 

“You saw how strong she is. She’s the obvious candidate to lead this charge,” the former U.S. ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul, told Andrea Mitchell on MSNBC on Monday. Her address in Munich was “electrifying,” he added. McFaul called Navalnaya “smart, charismatic, principled and fearless” in another interview with NBC News in 2021, saying that she had “all the credentials” to become an opposition leader in her own right. 

Navalny himself had said that his wife shares his political views, and was even more radical than him in some ways.

More than a symbol?

While there are other figures who could stake a claim to lead Russia’s opposition — most of them in jail themselves — few have the symbolic weight or global profile of Navalnaya.

In that sense, she has been compared to Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who was surprisingly allowed to run for president in the country’s 2020 election after her husband, opposition blogger Sergei Tikhanovsky, was jailed. The incumbent strongman, Alexander Lukashenko, went on to win, sparking mass protests that were violently suppressed and forced Tsikhanouskaya to seek exile in the West, where she remains the nominal opposition leader but has little influence inside Belarus. 

“The same risk awaits Yulia: They will meet with her, give honors, but she may never become a player, not having serious support within the country,” said Tatiana Stanovaya, a nonresident scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the founder and head of the political analysis firm R.Politik.

Navalny in court
Navalnaya was a regular at her husband’s court hearings, offering a smile in support.Alexander Nemenov / AFP via Getty Images file

But a lot depends on what she will have to offer, Stanovaya said in a post on Telegram. “Not as the widow of an outstanding politician who was tortured to death, but as an independent figure,” she added. 

It remains unclear what Navalnaya may have in mind — whether she will seek to return to Russia, risking the same fate as her husband, or continue his anti-corruption efforts from afar.

Born and raised in Moscow, Navalnaya graduated from the Plekhanov Russian University of Economics with a degree in international relations. She worked at a bank before marrying Navalny and, since his political career took off, has been taking care of their two children, Daria and Zakhar. 

Her partnership with Navalny came in stark contrast to Putin, who has kept his family largely hidden from the public eye throughout his more than two-decade rule. 

That’s not the case with the Navalnys, who traded cheeky declarations of love on their social media channels and posted about the pain of being apart after he was jailed.

Still, she said, she never tried to talk Navalny out of his political path. She accepted the Oscar in Los Angeles last year for best documentary, “Navalny,” sending him a message: “Stay strong, my love.” 

Navalny’s last post from prison was a Valentine’s Day message to his wife.

One of the lasting images of the couple is on the plane back to Russia in early 2021, Navalany having decided to return home and face certain arrest after recuperating from his poisoning in Germany.

Navalny Plane Poisoning
The pair’s flight back to Russia after the poisoning was captured by the world’s press.Kirill Kudryavtsev / AFP via Getty Images file

On a plane packed with journalists following their every move, the couple quietly watched the cartoon ‘Rick and Morty’ while sharing a pair of headphones. 

It was one of their last moments together while Navalny was still a free man. 

“To live is to risk it all,” he said in court a month later, reciting a quote from the show. In the wake of his death, his wife may have reached the same conclusion.

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