Alexei Navalny Left Germany to Return to Russia, Even Though It Meant Imprisonment

Alexei Navalny's death came on quite suddenly, just days after he appeared via video conference at a trial.


Feb. 16 2024, Published 10:48 a.m. ET

Alexei Navalny appearing at a trial via video from his prison cell.
Source: Getty Images

The news of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny's death has made international headlines and led to widespread speculation about the circumstances surrounding his death. Even as many continue to speculate about what role, if any, the Kremlin may have had in his passing, though, some are wondering why Navalny chose to return to Russia from Germany in 2021.

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Alexei was staying in Germany as he recovered from an attempt on his life in 2020. In 2021, he chose to return to Russia, even though he understood that it would likely mean that he would be falling into Vladimir Putin's hands. Here's what we know about why Navalny chose to return to Russia anyway.

Alexei Navalny in a courthouse with two officers behind him.
Source: Getty Images
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Why did Alexei Navalny leave Germany?

Navalny was detained upon landing in Russia and immediately arrested. He has been imprisoned ever since on charges that he claimed were trumped up, and that were widely seen by experts as politically motivated.

In an Instagram post from a few days before his return to Russia in January of 2021, Navalny explained his rationale, saying that living in exile from Russia was never an option for him.

“The question ‘to return or not’ never stood before me,” he said. “Mainly because I never left. I ended up in Germany, having arrived in an intensive care box, for one reason: they tried to kill me.”

Vladimir Ashurkov, an associate of Navalny's, said that the two discussed the idea of Navalny continue to work in opposition from abroad, but Ashurkov said that they set the idea aside almost immediately.

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“But when we started talking, I understood this was not an option. His fight is in Russia and he did not do anything wrong," he explained.

Navalny had been in Germany after he was poisoned with Novichok while on a flight out of Russia. After being pulled out of his medically induced coma, Navalny immediately accused Putin of poisoning him, but the Kremlin had continued to deny any involvement in his poisoning, and will likely deny any role in his death as well.

Source: Twitter/@juliamacfarlane
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Yulia Navalnaya, Navalny's wife, has already called out Putin.

Following the news that Navalny had died, his wife, Yulia Navalnaya, spoke out at the Munich Security Conference, accusing Putin of being behind the act.

“I want them to know that they will be punished for what they have done with our country, with my family, and with my husband,” she said of Russia's current leaders, and Putin in particular.

“They will be brought to justice and this day will come soon," she continued.

Navalny's death came just days after he appeared in court via a video link, and seemed to be feeling well enough to make jokes about running short on money while in prison.

According to a statement from the prison service, Navalny felt unwell following a walk on Feb. 16, and went unconscious shortly afterwards. By the time medical professionals were called, he was already dead at just 47 years old.

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