Russia's undaunted voice of dissent

FT News


The Russian activists Alexei Navalny has been a thorn in the side of President Vladimir Putin for a decade now. He's brave persecution. He's been imprisoned and yet he seems don't Klis correspondent Max. Seddon met him for lunch in a food court in Moscow recently league. Max is on the line now with me to discuss his impressions but first I'd like to open with a clip from the meeting. which gives a flavour of the character of the man? Another big Mac this my Russians rather rudimentary. What what he's saying here so we were wandering around the food court where he took me for lunch which is just across the street from his office in slightly out out of the way but rapidly gentrifying art a southeastern Moscow and this is the sort of place that even if it didn't exist in Russia they've had food around the world from your burgers ears Pasta Sushi to dahgestani dumplings and who's back Pilaf and other things and saying is a place like this that shows you in his mind that Russia As a whole could the really made it economically if it weren't for Putin and he described nisus glass ceiling that's more like a hideous moldy Soviet ceiling the Stop Russia from economically developing. Stick Landy Patillo. Then is a mere ski navy of the numbers suggest that he thinks that despite the huge spike in wealth in the first two years of Putin's rule which was mostly due to rising oil prices. He views the last two decades lost decades because he Says that so much has been stolen. That could have gone towards economic development and there are so many repressive rules and regulations that are holding it back. You've covered Russia for quite a while. Now these are quite strong and outspoken. Remarks how rat is it for a Russian activist to speak out like this. How brave is it to speak out like this I? I interviewed Navan nebout seven years ago in the thing. That is really remarkable about him when you speak to him as I've done many times sense. Sense is just how much breath of fresh air he is. Compared to your official Russian politicians who come from the Soviet bureaucratic addict tradition. They are very bad at talking to normal people in on manage settings you almost never see them give interviews to the independent media where they might says difficult questions. The volney grew up completely outside the system. He someone who was formed by the Internet and by the street and even compared to other people in the opposition and he's a very charismatic person. And this is what is really set them apart even amongst all the pressure that he faces to become the undisputed most popular challenger the Putin in the last few years ears. You say you've known him for a while you've covered rushing for awhile. Tell us how he entered politics. I mean what made him take on this role not only art Ukrainian on his father's side and he has relatives who live near Chernobyl outside Kiev in Ukraine for the first ten years his life up until the blast itself itself in Nineteen eighty-six. He will go and stay with his grandmother. Who lived in this village right near the nuclear power station and the aftermath of fat that we know so well the incompetent Soviet attempts to cover that were very big part of what shaped him because he doesn't have any of this nostalgia for the Soviet Union that Putin has been very big on a lot of people older than the volume has just forty three share? He was very much convinced by this early childhood experience that the system was wrong in the future. Russia's move away from it as far as possible more towards a European liberal democracy as he sees it the other thing. He told me that really shaped him was when he was already in his late twenties he he was working pro. Bono was a lawyer for an opposition party but it was official opposition party in Russia. There are the official parties. who were there to create a semblance of a real political system? They're really they facto controlled by the Kremlin the end. The parties themselves are run like Chiefdoms. Just like Putin's own party and the leaders are these many Putin's and he was working on Moscow City Council elections thousand five and ran against Russia's incredibly corrupt court system. Any said gradually just made him so furious that he became even activist. It's quite a story. I mean you say. He's not nostalgic for the Soviet Union. Interestingly he is though it seems something of a Russian nationalist. Can you talk us through who they send what influence it has on him. And how nationalist is he. Welna volley was actually kicked out of the Liberal Party that he was a member of in two thousand seven for his nationalist nationalist views. Of the sort that you would never hear discussed in polite company among liberals in Moscow and the US the express were very different from from the nationalism that you might think of associated with Putin which is more of the Soviet imperial stout in the Valdez was much more. Russian ethnic Chauvinism Virjee into race says. I'm against people. From the periphery of the Soviet Empire. So the caucasus-chechen Augustan and places in Central Asia Pakistan Cure Augustan Tajikistan stamp who provide millions of laborers who come and do construction jobs. And other things like that in Moscow the center of the Empire and he filmed in some pretty startling videos including one which showed him comparing people from the Caucasus. The cockroaches and mocking shooting them with a gun. He spent several years organizing organizing this annual nationals rally which was attended by all sorts of Neo Nazis and skinheads as well as other people at one of these rallies he used an anti Semitic blood libel trope to talk about Jewish guards. Did you talk about this of your lunch. Does he apologize for any of this. We did. This is something that the money is criticized for quite a lot even though no it's not really very big part of this program anymore. E only really says he wants if these regime for guests laborers from Central Asia but he has no regrets his explanation was that in two two thousand seven. There was this enormous gap between living standards in Russia's back Stan and millions of people were coming from Central Asia to work in Russia and it was a big political issue so the message disorder by rhetoric was a way of trying to get people interested. Max The interview you did with Nevada was for a weekly lunch with the F. T. Slot which normally unfolds in fanny a predictable lines could a swanky restaurant. Just two people the F. T. journalists and the interviewee this was rather different. You joined by someone feel interview view. Can you tell us about this weirdly enough. This is my third lunch with the F. T. that I've done in every single time I've been joined by someone who I don't expect to be there. And this time we were followed by the troll who apparently works for one of the fake news farms run by a Guinea per goes in the Kremlin caterer who runs the infamous Saint Petersburg troll factory. So you walked out of the office building. This guy yelled Alexei. Can you tell us where do you buy your okay involved. He told him to get lost. And the guy follow this rounds we wandered around the food court court and then when we bought our food then sat at the table across from us and watched us through the entirety. The two hour interview and you know all the said for the last six nine months or so ever since his foundation started investigating promotions catering contracts needs people who've been following him and his family around everywhere they go was he listening to you or oh just sitting there to be kind of threatening ish. It was more intimidation. I mean this was someone who was twenty five at most maybe younger and it's not being paid a lot of money to do this but the point is clearly just to harass him the entire time. He is trying to laugh about it he said. It's a good way the practice Zen but he came pretty close snapping a few times and it was obviously of your family's being harassed like that. He's accused promotion of being behind a physical assault assault with arm bar on husband one of his top aides. I mean the impression you get from this story and from other accounts in the valleys life is is that the pressure he faces is utterly relentless and he's been facing this for a long time how does he keep going one of the questions. I've asked many many times over the years. He always finds himself. Trying to explain is your. Why aren't you in jail? Why aren't you dead? And the answer is best as anyone until seem speed. The he's almost almost become too big to jail because when they tried to do it in twenty thirteen he was sentenced to

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