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Honoring Navalny
With Alexei Navalny and Zhanna Nemtsova. (Credit: Author)

Honoring Navalny

Francis Fukuyama on Alexei Navalny and how Americans can honor his legacy.

Francis Fukuyama

Just when you thought that American politics could not get any more degraded, we had a spectacle over the weekend of a series of Republican politicians going on TV to condemn Russia for killing Alexei Navalny, criticizing President Biden for being too weak in response to Russian brutality, and then going on to deflect blame away from Donald Trump and his statement the previous week encouraging Russia to do “whatever the hell they want” with NATO allies that didn’t pay up.

If today you are an American interested in honoring Alexei Navalny’s legacy and pushing back against Putin, you would support immediate passage of the $60 billion standalone aid package to Ukraine that is currently stuck in Congress. This is something Republican hypocrites like Tim Scott, Lindsey Graham, and Tom Cotton have refused to do. This is the single most potent source of leverage we have both to preserve a democratic Ukraine and to weaken a tyrannical Russia. The Ukrainian army was forced over the past few days to evacuate Avdiivka, a key prize in the battles over the Donbas, simply because they were running out of ammunition. This shortfall of American support threatens a much broader collapse that will shamefully remind Americans of what Afghanistan looked like when we pulled out.

I appeared on a panel with Alexei Navalny in Warsaw hosted by Zhanna Nemtsova back in October 2019; he then invited me to do a similar talk with him in Moscow that was scheduled for mid-March 2020. This event never happened because of Covid; Alexei went on to be poisoned with Novichok on his way to Siberia and the rest is history.___STEADY_PAYWALL___

Many people have wondered why he chose to return to Russia after he had recovered from the poisoning in Germany. He was allowing the Russian regime to slowly torture him to death by putting him in frigid prison camps and denying him medical attention. 

I think the reason he returned is that he was a Russian patriot who felt he could not advocate for a democratic Russia from outside the country. While his situation may have looked hopeless, Putin over the long term is more vulnerable than he seems, and the regime could come crashing down at any moment. Were that to happen, Navalny would emerge as the unquestioned leader of a more democratic Russia, just as Nelson Mandela went from prison on Robben Island to the South African presidency in the blink of an eye. I suspect it was fear of this scenario that led Putin to have Navalny killed.

I’ve been honored to serve on the external board of the Navalny Foundation for the past few years, and will continue to do what I can to support those Russians who hope for a very different and more democratic Russian future. But as an American, the most effective thing I can do is to support aid to Ukraine, and work to keep these Republican hypocrites as far away from power as possible. Trump himself does not even bother to be hypocritical, being openly supportive of Putin and saying not a critical word about Russia or Navalny’s murder. Some of the most important decisions affecting Alexei Navalny’s legacy in Russia and Europe as a whole will be made this year here in America.

Francis Fukuyama is chairman of the editorial board of American Purpose and Olivier Nomellini Senior Fellow and director of the Ford Dorsey Master’s in International Policy program at Stanford University’s Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies.

Eastern EuropeDemocracyFrankly FukuyamaUkraineU.S. Foreign PolicyRussia