Navalny affair complicates relations with Moscow

Editorial of the “World”. Asked about the fate of Russian opponent Alexeï Navalny, along with President Macron, in Brégançon (Var), Thursday, August 20, Angela Merkel did not mince words. Whatever the Kremlin procrastination and the circumstances “Not very clear” of the incident, the Chancellor said “Upset” and demanded “Explanations”. Providing medical assistance and protection to the opponent, Mme Merkel and Mr Macron called for full light to be shed on the discomfort that plunged Mr Navalny into a coma that very morning, shortly after drinking a cup of tea at Tomsk airport in Siberia.

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To political opponents in Russia, poison is a tragically familiar threat, and the Chancellor knows it. She also knows that the light is never shed on poisonings – except when victims have been poisoned abroad, where investigations can be properly conducted.

There are so many precedents that there is not enough space to list them here. Navalny himself has already been the target, in prison, a year ago; he also lost 80% of the use of one eye after being sprayed with a chemical. Opponent Vladimir Kara-Murza has been hospitalized twice for poisoning and now lives in the United States. Journalist Anna Politkovskaya survived a poisoning attempt on a plane, where she was served tea; she was shot and killed two years later in the stairwell of her apartment building. Boris Nemtsov did not go through the poisoning box: the charismatic opponent, former governor and minister of Yeltsin, was shot dead in 2015, a few steps from the Kremlin.

Weakness of a diet

Responsibility for these crimes is as seldom established as their circumstances. If it happens that henchmen are convicted, the sponsors remain in the dark. Regardless of the level at which the decision is made, this means used to silence political opponents speaks volumes about the weakness of a regime that orchestrates, or at least tolerates, such a system of repression and impunity.

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After Boris Nemtsov was eliminated, Alexei Navalny, 44, became enemy number one. Not only did he tirelessly roam the vast territory of Russia with his supporters, where he managed to weave a network of activists, prepared to participate in local and regional elections, well beyond the urban youth of Moscow and Saint -Petersburg to which caricature sometimes confines him. But also because the investigative journalism he led denounces the world of corruption with formidable effectiveness, through highly watched videos online. Barred from running in the presidential election, he was constantly harassed and regularly sent for short stays in prison, preferred to a heavy sentence that would have made him a martyr.

At a time when Chancellor Merkel, President Macron and President of the European Council, Charles Michel, are engaged in delicate talks with President Vladimir Putin, to find a way out of the pro-democracy protest in Belarus, where President Lukashenko is clinging in power, the poisoning of Alexey Navalny illustrates the difficulty of dealing with Moscow. Mr. Macron, in particular, has been trying for more than a year to establish a real dialogue with Russia and had promised Mr. Putin this summer to visit him. The Belarusian crisis and the Navalny affair require him, more than ever, to be clear-headed and firm in these contacts.

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