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A Tortoise File


Russia’s opposition leader Alexei Navalny was poisoned, then imprisoned, by the Kremlin. But as millions spread his message online, what next for “Navalnyism’?


First published
Monday 8 March 2021

Last updated
Sunday 7 March 2021

Why this file?

Just months ago, Alexei Navalny was in a coma after Kremlin secret agents inserted a deadly poison into the seams of his underpants in a Siberian hotel room. It was the stuff of Hollywood, and it seemed that perhaps the opposition leader’s time had come. He had been, after all, a credible threat to Vladimir Putin’s rule – his most vociferous critic, lauded widely as a hero, and supported by increasing numbers of young Russians. But Navalny survived. And then, he fought back. In just a few short months since his rehabilitation, he has released a remarkable YouTube video revealing Kremlin corruption and directly ridiculing Putin. It has inspired thousands of Russians to march in the streets. We have entered a new era of Russian opposition – one that exists and thrives online, and feeds on meme culture. In this Tortoise File, we investigate the spread of digital “Navalnyism”, and we ask: will his imminent imprisonment do anything to dampen this movement for change?

Basia Cummings, Editor