Why Russia Killed Navalny

Author: Anne Applebaum Source: The Atlantic
February 20, 2024 at 18:11
Alexander Zemlianichenko / AP
Alexander Zemlianichenko / AP
Even behind bars, the dissident leader was a threat to the corrupt Russian dictator.

Produced by ElevenLabs and NOA, News Over Audio, using AI narration.

Alexei Navalny returned to Russia in January 2021. Right before he boarded the plane, he posted a film titled “Putin’s Palace: The Story of the World’s Largest Bribe” on YouTube. The video, nearly two hours long, was an extraordinary feat of investigative reporting. Using secret plans, drone footage, 3-D visualizations, and the testimony of construction workers, Navalny’s video told the story of a hideous $1.3 billion Black Sea villa containing every luxury that a dictator could imagine: a hookah bar, a hockey rink, a helipad, a vineyard, an oyster farm, a church. The video also described the eye-watering costs and the financial trickery that had gone into the construction of the palace on behalf of its true owner, Vladimir Putin.

But the power of the film was not just in the pictures, or even in the descriptions of money spent. The power was in the style, the humor, and the Hollywood-level professionalism of the film, much of which was imparted by Navalny himself. This was his extraordinary gift: He could take the dry facts of kleptocracy—the numbers and statistics that usually bog down even the best financial journalists—and make them entertaining. On-screen, he was just an ordinary Russian, sometimes shocked by the scale of the graft, sometimes mocking the bad taste. He seemed real to other ordinary Russians, and he told stories that had relevance to their lives. You have bad roads and poor health care, he told Russians, because they have hockey rinks and hookah bars.

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