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Navalny: The disciple who 'laid down his life' to fight Putin

by Will Hobbs
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A Christian historian and analyst of Russia told Premier that the death and courageous example of Putin-opponent Alexei Navalny are impacting even those "who are sympathetic to the Putin narrative" in Russia.

Navalny, who was 47 and a professing Christian convert from staunch atheism, was announced dead on Friday, having died in a penal colony in the Arctic Circle.

His mother and lawyer have been stopped from seeing his body, while his widow Yulia claims he was poisoned with Novichok by the Kremlin.

Navalny survived an FSB Novichok attack in 2020, becoming unwell after getting on a plane in the Siberian city of Tomsk for a flight back to Moscow.

Five months after falling victim, he decided to return to Russia and was arrested on arrival.

Speaking on Premier's Inspirational Breakfast, historian Martyn Whittock said Navalny's legacy would be one that enables other Christians to stand up to Putinism in Russia, despite the Orthodox church's official support for the leader.

"Although we know that many people within the official Orthodox community have backed Putin, you know, from the top downwards, there are many, many Russian Christians who are not happy with this Putin narrative, who may have concerns about the West having everything right, but nevertheless feel that Russian civic society, including Christians within it, and there are many, many Christians within it, must be free to express themselves openly as part of civic society."

"So not only is it a reminder that the Orthodox Church, although officially in lockstep with Putin, does not mean that all its members are. We must not assume every Russian is a Putin supporter."

Whittock, a prolific author covering themes such as the interaction of faith and politics, the USA, and the Russian invasion of Ukraine, says the bravery of Navalny as a figure in Russia would mean his memory cannot simply be snuffed out by the government.

"He could now be running the opposition from a think tank in Prague, or Berlin, or Paris, or London. But he went back to Russia.

"And I think he is significant because he shows that a patriotic Russian is willing to take on Putin and lay down his life for the cause. And that is quite extraordinary.

"I think had I been him, I would not have gone back in 2021...his death has underscored his courage, and it's just not going to be ignored. It will not be swept under the carpet.

"This would have shocked many Russians, even those who are sympathetic to the Putin narrative."

Navalny's courage, says Whittock, has exposed the vulnerability of the appeal of the Putin worldview, an upheaval of which, the writer claims, must come from within the nation.

"Putin's view is that the world is bad, except for those who support him. He is right. And he alone represents true Russia.

"But clearly, that's putting Russian patriotism under extreme strain, as they have to sign up to even people who are patriotic Russians, the Putin narrative, and it just rolls on and rolls on. And Navalny challenged corruption, he challenged illegality. And in the end, he laid down his life for that challenge. Now, that is extraordinary."

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