Connect with us

Politics & Security

Why Did Alexei Navalny Risk His Life Returning to Russia?

The author believes anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny returned to Russia knowing that his death would have a greater impact than if he were killed abroad.



People walk towards the Borisovskoye cemetery during the funeral of Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny in Moscow, Russia, March 1, 2024. (©REUTERS/Stringer)

In a new series, Japanese author Nanae Hasegawa shares her keen insights into Russia's domestic landscape and international relations. Notably, Hasegawa predicted the Ukraine invasion four months before it happened. In part one of this series, she presents her analysis of why prominent Russian political dissident Alexei Navalny made the daring choice to return to Russia.

First in a series

A Man Who Would Not Run

Alexei Navalny was once poisoned in Russia. He was transported to a hospital in Germany and survived the attempt on his life.

After receiving treatment and regaining his health, Navalny remained in Germany for several months. During his stay, he continued his activism against Russian President Vladimir Putin's regime. A notable example was the video he posted online of Putin's sprawling villa. 

In 2021, news broke that Navalny had openly boarded a plane back to Russia and was arrested upon arrival. When I heard this, I wondered about his true intentions.

At the time, it struck me as odd that he would choose to return to Russia. After all, criticizing Putin would have been easier from the safety of Germany. He surely knew that he would most likely be arrested, imprisoned, and, eventually, assassinated.

Sure enough, on February 16, the Kremlin announced that Navalny had died of "natural causes" in prison. He was 47.

Law enforcement officers detain a person near the Borisovskoye cemetery during the funeral of Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny in Moscow, Russia, March 1, 2024. (©REUTERS/Stringer)

Dying for the Cause

Following his death, Russians and Westerners took to the streets in protest against Putin. They believed, as I do, that the Russian authorities were responsible for his death. Mourning for Navalny spread across Russia and the rest of the world. 

Almost simultaneously, there were news reports of another Russian who had died under highly suspicious circumstances. A Russian pilot who had defected to Ukraine and had later moved to Spain was found dead there. His body was riddled with bullets. 

I suddenly recalled that Russian government agents have assassinated several vocal Putin critics who have fled abroad.

At that moment, I felt as though Navalny himself had told me why he had resolved to return.  

In other words, while in Germany, he realized that Moscow was out to kill him. Whether in exile in Germany or in the United States, he knew the Russian secret police would eventually get him. 

Navalny may have seen an essentially public assassination back in Russia as having a more potent effect on Russians. It would do more to expose Putin than dying in the shadows in exile. 

I believe that is why he went back. 

Arrest and assassination on Russian soil would be more powerful than a million anti-Putin speeches broadcast from other countries. Navalny could preach the dangers of accepting Putin's regime to his fellow Russians more effectively. 

So he knew that sooner or later, he would probably die at the hands of the Russian authorities. Before he died, he left a message to the world. He said, "You’re not allowed to give up."


A Martyr for Democracy

And so Navalny died a martyr to all Russians who long for democracy. Jesus Christ died on the cross around 2,000 years ago but lives on in the hearts of Christians as God. So, too, will Navalny live on as a saint of democracy. Though his life on earth has ended, his memory will carry on in the hearts of democracy-loving Russians.

After the death of the 20th-century Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, the world condemned him. Though it may take ten years, the same criticism awaits Russia's current dictator, President Putin, upon his death. 

When that time comes, I believe we will see how profoundly Navalny's death has influenced the Russian quest for democracy.

Coming: Second Part: Nanae Hasegawa on Russia's Domestic Affairs


(Read the article in Japanese.)

Author: Nanae Hasegawa

Our Partners