Navalny critiques Putin, propaganda in interview

By Sophie Boulter, World News Editor

Russian dissident Alexei Navalny gave his first interview from jail on Aug. 25. Speaking with the New York Times, he claimed that Russian authorities have attempted to indoctrinate him and other inmates.

Navalny, a prominent critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s leadership, is being held in Penal Colony No. 2, a maximum security prison near Moscow. 

Each day, prison authorities force Navalny to watch eight hours of state propaganda. This new propaganda program for political prisoners replaced hard labor. 

Inmates who try to distract themselves by reading, writing or sleeping during the propaganda are reprimanded by guards.

“You have to sit in a chair and watch TV,” Navalny said.

Navalny explained that prisoners watch propaganda films that situate Putin within a state-glorifying conception of Russian history.

 “We watch films about the Great Patriotic War,” Navalny said, referring to World War II.

“I most clearly understand the essence of the ideology of the Putin regime: The present and the future are being substituted with the past,” Navalny said.

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Navalny hopes to challenge Putin for the presidency. If indicted for fraud, he will be jailed until after 2024, the year of Russia’s presidential election.

According to Navalny, political prisoners are put through psychological pressure and are constantly monitored. Prison guards employ tactics to induce prisoners to turn on each other and distrust other inmates.

“They won’t beat you — quite the opposite. With continual provocation, they will put you in a position where you have to beat up somebody else, hit somebody, threaten somebody,” Navalny explained.

Guards utilize this culture of mistrust to manipulate inmates into fighting and committing crimes against each other.

“There are video cameras everywhere, and the administration with great pleasure will open a new criminal case against you on charges of assault, adding a few years to your sentence,” Navalny said.

Navalny compared his conditions to Chinese labor camps.

“Everybody marches in a line and…video cameras are hung everywhere. There is constant control and a culture of snitching,” he said. 

Navalny continues to recuperate from being poisoned with Novichok nerve agent last year. Most Western intelligence agencies agree that the Federal Security Bureau (FSB) — Russia’s security agency and the successor to the Soviet-era KGB (Committee for State Security) — poisoned Navalny.

After receiving medical treatment in Germany, Navalny returned to Russia to continue his activism against the Russian state. He was arrested in January and then was sent to Penal Colony No. 2.

In February, Navalny was sentenced to nearly three years in prison after a Moscow court turned a suspended prison sentence for fraud from 2014 into a longer sentence due to a parole violation.

Earlier this month, Navalny was charged with inciting protests against the Russian state. This additional charge could add more time onto his jail sentence.

If he is found guilty, he may not emerge from jail until after 2024, the year of Russia’s next presidential election. Navalny plans to challenge Putin for the presidency.

In his interview, Navalny expressed his distaste for the Putin regime.

“We clearly have to deal with a person who has lost his mind, Putin. A pathological liar with megalomania and persecutory delusion. 22 years in power would do that to anyone, and what we’re witnessing is a classic situation of a half-mad czar,” he said.

Navalny is still optimistic for Russia’s future.

“The Putin regime is a historical accident, not an inevitability. Russia will move on to a democratic, European path of development,” Navalny said.