Last year a nationwide vote has confirmed constitutional reforms proposed by the Russian president, Vladimir Putin. With a 68% turnout, 78% of those taking part voted in favour of the changes, according to Russia’s Central Electoral Commission (CEC).
The vote – which ran from June 25 to July 1 – was originally scheduled for April 22, but was postponed due to the COVID 19 crisis. Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered amendments to the current constitution that would allow him to remain in power until 2036 to be put into the Russian Constitution after voters approved the changes during a week-long plebiscite. Apart from outlawing same-sex marriages, the referendum paved way for a lot more controversial steps. Whilst we talk about Russia and Vladimir Putin, the conversations are never complete without the mention of Alexie Navalny.
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Who is Alexie Navalny?
Alexei Navalny is a Russian opposition leader, politician, lawyer, and anti-corruption activist. The 44-year-old blogger has millions of Russian followers on social media – many in their early 20s or younger. His rise as a force in Russian politics began in 2008 when he started blogging about alleged malpractice and corruption at some of Russia’s big state-controlled corporations.
One of his tactics was to become a minority shareholder in major oil companies, banks and ministries, and to ask awkward questions about holes in state finances.
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What is Novichok?
The name Novichok means “newcomer” in Russian and applies to a group of advanced nerve agents developed by the Soviet Union in the 1970s and 1980s.
They were known as fourth-generation chemical weapons and were developed under a Soviet programme codenamed Foliant.
Novichok’s existence was revealed by chemist Dr Vil Mirzayanov in the 1990s, via Russian media. He later defected to the US, where he published the chemical formula in his book, State Secrets.
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Novichok was the chemical weapon which nearly killed former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury, England, in March 2018. A local woman died later from contact with Novichok. Alexei Navalny was alleged to be poisoned by the deadly poison. After which Putin was widely criticised and as per a report Putin on one of his calls was recorded saying ‘Had he wanted to finish Navalny, the job would have been completed’ .Navalny collapsed on a flight over Siberia and was rushed to hospital in Omsk. That emergency landing saved his life. He went into a coma and a German-based charity persuaded Russian officials to allow him to be airlifted to Berlin for treatment.
Eventually, on 2 September, the German government revealed that tests carried out by the military found “unequivocal proof of a chemical nerve warfare agent of the Novichok group”.The Kremlin has denied any state role in the attack on Navalny.
What Is happening Right Now?
The 44-year-old anti-corruption investigator who has steadily become an increasingly large opposition was arrested on January 17 upon his return from Germany, where he spent five months recovering from poisoning with the deadly Soviet-era nerve agent Novichok. He says the attack took place in Russia, on Putin’s orders – an allegation the Kremlin has denied.
Tens of thousands of Russians took to the streets for the second weekend in a row to demand Navalny’s release and condemn Putin’s rule. An independent monitoring group said more than 5,400 people were detained by the police, including several journalists. Videos posted online appeared to show police beating several protesters. Navalny’s arrest and the mass-arrests of his supporters on the streets have drawn intense criticism from the United States and EU leaders.
Navalny has also been routinely harassed by Russian authorities, sentenced to a series of short prison sentences for involvement in unapproved protests against Putin, his allies and widespread corruption. He has also been handed longer terms in jail for alleged embezzlement; charges he and human rights groups have dismissed as fabricated and politically motivated. In July 2013 and December 2014, Navalny was convicted of two separate embezzlement charges and handed suspended five and three and a half-year prison terms, respectively.
In 2014, he was placed under house arrest and prohibited from communicating with anyone other than family members. Despite the continued harassment, Navalny has continued to work on uncovering corruption by the government and oligarchs linked to the Kremlin.
(With inputs from multiple sources)