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Alexei Navalny’s aide says his survival may depend on value to Vladimir Putin | Alexei Navalny

Alexei Navalny’s survival may depend on his value to Vladimir Putin as a future negotiating partner, his top aide said, warning that the opposition leader’s health was at risk after he was forced into indefinite solitary confinement.

Leonid Volkov, speaking during a visit to London, added that Navalny had lost access to his family and was permanently confined to an 8-by-12-foot cell after Russian authorities decided to isolate him last week.

Only Navalny’s lawyers were allowed to visit his prison colony on weekdays, and even then, Volkov said, “they’re not allowed to see him; they can only talk to him through opaque glass,” meaning they cannot determine his physical condition.

The politician’s aide said it was felt that Navalny previously enjoyed a degree of protection because he was able to regularly deliver his message from prison and thus maintain his profile inside and outside of Russia.

Allies maintain a Twitter feed, which consists of Navalny’s communications with his lawyers, but they worry that it could become rare or that his power could weaken and he would slowly fade from the public eye.

“Now the situation, I have to admit, is very bad, because now his communication with the outside world is very limited, and his health is threatened and his physical condition could deteriorate,” Volkov said, adding: “We have to keep talking about Suddenly.”

Navalny’s supporters believed that Putin would not want the opposition leader to die violently in prison, because the Russian president would be to blame for that. “The world was watching, he was kind of protected,” the aide said.

But the invasion of Ukraine in February changed their thinking. “Our assessment of how crazy Putin actually is was wrong,” Volkov warned, as it was clear that the Russian leader “doesn’t care about sanctions, about the international reaction.”

Still, despite that, the top adviser said he hoped Navalny would eventually survive, despite worsening detention, because of his value to the Russian president in any eventual negotiations to end the war in Ukraine.

“Putin is clearly out of touch with reality, but even he thinks about possible future scenarios.” In such circumstances, Navalny is a potential bargaining chip. This could also be important,” said Volkov.

Leonid Volkov with Alexei Navalny's wife, Yulia Navalna, in the European Parliament in September
Leonid Volkov with Alexei Navalny’s wife, Yulia Navalna, in the European Parliament in September. Photo: Stephanie Lecock/EPA

Navalny, Russia’s most prominent opposition leader, was first jailed in February 2021 after being detained a month earlier on his return from Germany, where he was recovering from an assassination attempt.

Russia’s FSB spy agency, Navalny said, tried to kill him by applying the Novichok nerve agent to the “inner seams” of the opposition leader’s underpants. After wearing them, he crashed on a flight in Russia and ended up receiving treatment in Germany, before deciding to return home.

Since his first incarceration, Navalny’s prison sentence has been increased, and then he was transferred to a maximum-security penal colony in the summer. He was placed in solitary confinement for 15 days, until last week his isolation became permanent.

The aide said it was right that Navalny chose to return from Germany. “He didn’t want to become another ex-exile politician,” Volkov said, arguing that “you have to be in the country” to be an active politician in Russia. “We always knew he would come back.” It was never up for debate.”

Volkov, based in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius, is Navalny’s chief of staff and executive director of the Politician’s Anti-Corruption Foundation. He was a top aide during Navalny’s 2018 presidential campaign and is calling for further sanctions on Russia to help end the war in Ukraine.

He was in the UK to meet with the Foreign Office to pressure London to impose economic sanctions on 6,700 of Russia’s second-tier leaders, including politicians, officials and ideologues. Volkov said he believes trade sanctions involving economic sectors have reached their limit and a change of tack is needed.

“Europe is stuck, they cannot introduce further sectoral sanctions, because every other sectoral sanction will really hit something very important.” [to a particular country]” he said, citing Belgium’s reluctance to support diamond sanctions and Greece’s concerns about further Russian oil sanctions.

Sanctioning second-tier individuals was an alternative that would harm Russia’s broader leadership, but not Western economies, Volkov said. “Personal assumptions can make Putin painful.” They do not lead to an increase in gas and electricity prices.”

He said British support was particularly helpful because “London has more than 50%, if not 80%, of the money stolen from Russian taxpayers,” and Volkov had the support of some conservative Conservatives such as Bob Seeley, the Speaker of the House of Commons. for the all-party group on Russia.

At the same time, Volkov argued that the sanctions should be easily reversible if the targeted individual renounces Putin: “What we are proposing is to sanction many more people, but also to give them an alternative, to say OK, there is a way out, condemn the war, cut ties with Putin, leave the country, stop working for him.”

As the war progresses, Volkov fears it will be harder for Kiev to maintain its recent success on the battlefield as Russia’s 300,000 mobilized troops dig in – meaning further economic sanctions could become more important.

“It was not so obvious” what would happen after the withdrawal from Kherson, Volkov said, adding: “I am not so optimistic about, say, possible Ukrainian military advances, although I hope they will be able to achieve something.”

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