A Stunned Russian Opposition in Exile Considers a Future Without Navalny

By John Mercury February 19, 2024

The death of Aleksei A. Navalny, Russia’s main opposition leader, has stunned Russian dissidents. But it is also spurring some hope that in its desperate moment, the opposition to President Vladimir V. Putin will be able to unite like never before.

Doing so will be a challenge, given the often aloof approach of Mr. Navalny’s movement and the disparate assembly of other leading opposition Russian figures: nearly all of them in exile, and none with his broad national appeal.

Among them is Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a former oligarch who fell out with Mr. Putin, spent 10 years in prison and in London became one of his most prominent opponents in exile. Then there is Maxim Katz, a YouTube influencer and a former poker champion, who is based in Israel. There is also Ilya Yashin, a longtime liberal politician who is serving an eight-year sentence for publicizing Russian atrocities in Ukraine.

Beyond these figures who are trying to speak for the whole of Russia is a plethora of small antiwar groups focused on particular Russian regions, social issues or ethnic minorities. Some of their demands — like a reckoning with Russia’s imperial history — have clashed with the more conservative position of Mr. Navalny, who had flirted with Russian nationalism in order to gain a broader following.

Many operate their own YouTube channels, or use other social media like Telegram and podcasts, to beam their messages to millions of viewers in Russia despite the Kremlin’s tightening its control of information.

But looming over all of them will be Mr. Navalny, even after his death in a Russian prison on Friday. As of Sunday, Mr. Navalny’s family has still not been able to locate his body, according to his team.

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