MOSCOW (AP) — Imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny marked the anniversary of a poisoning attack against him by urging global leaders Friday to put more attention on combating corruption and to target tycoons close to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
In an article published in three European newspapers, Navalny chided Western leaders for relegating the fight against corruption to a “secondary agenda” item and said that graft plays an essential part in policy failures, including in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“It is precisely the fact that the West ‘failed to notice’ the total corruption in Afghanistan – that Western leaders preferred not to talk about a topic they found embarrassing – which was the most crucial factor in the victory of the Taliban,” Navalny wrote.
Navalny was arrested in January upon returning to Moscow from Germany, where he spent five months recovering from a nerve agent poisoning that he blames on the Kremlin. Russian officials reject the accusation.
The politician and anti-corruption activist, who is Putin’s most determined political foe, received a 2 1/2-year prison sentence in February for violating the terms of a suspended sentence from a 2014 embezzlement conviction that he dismissed as politically motivated.
On Friday, British newspaper The Guardian, Germany’s Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and France’s Le Monde published Navalny’s article, in which he called corruption “the universal, ideology-free basis for the flourishing of a new Authoritarian International, from Russia to Eritrea, Myanmar to Venezuela.”
He challenged international leaders to show a stronger political will to track financial trails from Russia and other countries beset by corruption and to more resolutely target corrupt officials.
“Until personal sanctions are imposed on oligarchs, primarily those in the entourage of Putin – the role model for all the world’s corrupt officials and businessmen – any anti-corruption rhetoric from the West will be perceived as game-playing and hot air,” Navalny said.
In a separate Instagram post Friday, Navalny again thanked Russian pilots and ambulance doctors for saving his life after he fell into a coma while aboard a domestic flight from Siberia to Moscow on Aug. 20, 2020. He was transferred from a hospital in Siberia to a Berlin hospital two days later.
Labs in Germany, France and Sweden, and tests by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, established that he was exposed to a Soviet-era Novichok nerve agent.
Reflecting on his poisoning and recovery, Navalny also thanked his supporters with a note of his usual sardonic humor.
“Thanks to you all it all went fine, I survived and landed in prison,” he said on Instagram.
He added sarcastically that he also should thank Russia’s corruption for helping disable Russia’s secret services along with other sectors.
“The level of secret operations is on par with health care, education and municipal services,” Navalny quipped.
Russian authorities have insisted that the doctors who treated Navalny in Siberia before he was airlifted to Germany found no traces of poison and challenged German officials to provide proof of his poisoning. They refused to open a full-fledged criminal inquiry, citing the lack of evidence that Navalny was poisoned.
In a statement issued earlier this week, the Russian Foreign Ministry denounced Western accusations over Navalny’s poisoning as a “planned provocation” aimed at discrediting Russia.
Navalny’s arrest and jailing triggered a series of mass protests that challenged authorities, who responded with mass arrests of demonstrators and criminal prosecutions of Navalny’s associates.
In June, a court outlawed Navalny’s Foundation for Fighting Corruption and a network of his regional offices as extremist organizations, a verdict that barred people associated with the groups from seeking public office and exposed them to lengthy prison terms.
Russian authorities also blocked some 50 websites run by his team or supporters for allegedly disseminating extremist group propaganda, and opened a criminal probe against Navalny’s top allies, Ivan Zhdanov and Leonid Volkov, over a crowdfunding campaign.
Last week, Russian authorities also leveled new criminal charges against Navalny himself, alleging that his anti-corruption foundation infringed on people’s rights, a criminal offense punishable by up to three years in prison.
Navalny and his allies have linked the crackdown to Russia’s Sept. 19 parliamentary election, which is widely seen as an important part of Putin’s efforts to cement his rule before the country’s 2024 presidential election.