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The Inside Story - The Death of Navalny | Episode 132 TRANSCRIPT

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The Inside Story: The Death of Navalny

Episode 132 – February 22, 2024

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Unidentified Narrator:

This week on The Inside Story…

Russia's best-known opposition leader dies while imprisoned.

And his family says Russian President Vladimir Putin is responsible.

President Biden agrees and promises more sanctions as punishment.

All as Russia’s war with Ukraine nears its third year.

Now... on The Inside Story... The Death Of Navalny.

The Inside Story:

ELIZABETH LEE, VOA Correspondent:

Welcome to the Inside Story. I’m Elizabeth Lee in Washington.

After 15 years of ringing what he saw as rampant Russian government corruption to light, opposition leader and Putin critic Alexey Navalny (Nuh-VUL-nee) dies in prison.

And in neighboring Ukraine, a grim anniversary as Kyiv prepares to mark the beginning of its third year of fighting back against a Russian invasion.

All this on today’s Inside Story

The United States lames Moscow for the death of Russian opposition figure Alexey Navalny in a snow-covered Russian prison. Navalny had been serving a lengthy sentence on charges that included extremism, which was widely seen as punishment for his years of criticism of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Navalny’s influence extended beyond internal politics within Russia to America where political parties are at odds about polices towards President Putin and aid to Ukraine.

We begin with White House Correspondent Anita Powell.

ANITA POWELL, VOA White House Correspondent:

These two men have entered the chat [entered the discussion] about the U.S. presidential election.

The death of opposition figure Alexey Navalny in a Russian prison has sharpened U.S. political rhetoric around Russian President Vladimir Putin and his invasion of Ukraine, exposing a clear divide between President Joe Biden and his top challenger for the job, Donald Trump.

Biden has been quick to lay blame and threaten stiff sanctions over Navalny's death in an Arctic penal colony, which Russian officials attriibute to “sudden death syndrome.”

President Joe Biden:

The fact of the matter is, Putin is responsible. Whether he ordered it, he's responsible for the circumstances they put that man in. And it's a reflection of who he is. It just cannot be tolerated. I said there will be a price to pay.


The Kremlin said the allegation is unfounded” and “insolent,” and authorities have denied Navalny’s mother access to his body.

Trump and his Republican Party have taken a different line, with Trump saying he would not support NATO as strongly as Biden has. And, in a recent event with Fox News, he cast himself as a victim of political persecution, like Navalny.

Donald Trump, Former US President:

It's a horrible thing, but it's happening in our country, too. We are turning into a communist country in many ways. And if you look at it, I'm the leading candidate. I get ... I never heard of being indicted before. ... I got indicted four times, I have eight or nine trials, all because of the fact that — and you know this — all because of the fact that I'm in politics.


Trump was vague on how he’d end Russia's war on Ukraine — instead saying that if he had been president, Putin would never have invaded.

Republicans have questioned why they should fund the conflict. Russian forces recently captured a key city, which the White House points to as proof that Ukrainian forces need urgent help.

Some Republicans are confident they will pass the stalled $95 billion aid package. Most of it is for Ukraine.

Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, Republican:

I think the slow response from Europe and the United States, of course, that hurts Ukraine. And that's why we can't let this happen, why we’re going to get something done.


Meanwhile, the war has taken on greater significance.

Peter Pomerantsev, Johns Hopkins University:

This has become about America. Will America continue to play the role of a power that keeps his promises, that respects its alliances and that is capable of projecting strength? Or is America over as a serious power? That's the question now. It's no longer about Russia or Ukraine.


Moscow and Washington are nearly 8,000 kilometers [5,000 miles] apart.

But as the U.S. hurtles toward November, their fates are more intertwined than ever.

Anita Powell, VOA News, Washington.


Russian authorities have been detaining people mourning the loss of Navalny. As the crackdown continues, world leaders and Navalny’s loved ones are reacting to the opposition leader’s death, laying lame on Putin. VOA’s Arash Arabasadi has more.


Across the world, demonstrators mourned dead Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny.

From the Russian embassy in Washington…

To the embassy in London, protesters carried signs denouncing Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Chanting “Putin is killer” outside the Russian embassy in Berlin.

They marched and lit candles outside the Eifel Tower.

With Barcelona protesters carrying signs simply reading, “murderers.”

Throughout Russia, authorities detained mourners for laying flowers in Navalny’s honor.

Independent Russian media and human rights group OVD-Info reported roughly 400 detentions at events across dozens of cities after news of Navalny’s death broke late last week.

Navalny had been a longtime critic, broadly of the Kremlin and specifically of Putin.

Russia resisted global calls to return Navalny’s body, including from his widow and mother.

But independent Russian news outlet Mediazona published footage it says showed an official convoy leaving the prison where Navalny was said to have died.

Mediazona says the footage could show Navalny’s body en route from prison to the morgue.

Russia officially blames Navalny’s death on an undisclosed illness at the Arctic penal colony where he was serving a 19-year sentence.

His family isn’t buying it.

Yulia Navalnaya, Widow of Russian Opposition Leader Alexey Navalny:

Vladimir Putin killed my husband, Alexey Navalny. Putin killed my children’s father. Putin took away the most precious thing I ever had. The closest and most loved man.


Navalny’s widow, Yulia Navalnaya, says the 47-year-old was poisoned on Putin’s order, a charge Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov dismissed as “unfounded” and “insolent.”

His mother, placing flowers at a memorial for her son, called on the president to release Navalny’s remains.

Lyudmila Navalnaya, Mother of Alexey Navalny:

The authorities don’t give me his body, and they don’t even tell me where it is. I’m turning to you, Vladimir Putin… Let me finally see my son. I require that Alexy’s body be immediately given so that I can bury him humanely.


The White House announced a major sanctions package against Russia to come by week’s end as punishment for Navalny’s death.

While in Berlin, a spokesperson for the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the office summoned the Russian ambassador citing inhumane prison conditions in Russia and the ongoing crackdowns of dissent.

At a recent visit to Greek parliament, European Parliament President Roberta Metsola opened with a message on Navalny.

Roberta Metsola, European Parliament President:

I want to right away pay tribute to democracy’s fallen warrior, Alexey Navalny. First, they took his freedom. Then, they took his life. But his legacy and his struggle will live on in people in Russia and in all of us.


And at the Cinema for Peace gala in Berlin, anti-Putin activist and punk band Pussy Riot co-founder, Nadya Tolokonnikova, said the fight for a different Russia must go on despite Navalny’s death.

Nadya Tolokonnikova, Pussy Riot Co-Founder:

I know that if Navalny was here, he would want us to continue fighting, and he would want us to never give up. So, I guess our role is to carry his torch and do whatever we can – every one of us – to bring the beautiful new Russia of the future into reality. It’s a dream Navalny gave us.


At a recent meeting in Munich, foreign ministers from the Group of Seven leading industrialized nations observed a minute of silence in memory of Navalny.

And as supporters left flowers and notes at memorials around the world people in Moscow did the same… calling Navalny “a hero” who “fought for freedom.”

Arash Arabasadi, VOA News.


In a 2022 clip from the documentary named after him, Navalny predicted his own death saying, “in case I am killed, don’t give up.” It was Navalny’s insistence on holding Russian Government officials accountable that made him such an irritant to Putin’s Russia.

In 2015, Navalny presented a tangled we of allegations linking the sons of Russia’s top prosecutor Yuri Chaika to a violent criminal gang who conducted business together.

Chaika himself told Interfax that the allegations were “a hatchet jo... deliberately falsified and has no basis in fact.”

In 2017, Navalny and his team revealed the sprawling mansion of former Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev. The property was alleged to be part of a real estate portfolio worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

Navalny’s investigation accused Medvedev of paying for the property using charitable funds to collect “donations” from oligarchs, and that one of the mansions was a gift from Russian oligarch Alisher Usmanov.

Usmanov later sued Navalny for libel and won in a Moscow court.

Navalny alleged that Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Prikhodko had spent time on a yacht with Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska and logger Nastya Ryka.

That trip on the mega yacht was in effect a rie, according to Navalny.

Deripaska denied the allegations and sued. Russia locked Navalny's website after he refused a court order to remove information about the investigation.

The final Anti-Corruption Foundation probe featuring Navalny’s direct participation was released after his return to Russia and arrest.

The probe alleged that an enormous, $1.3-illion luxury mansion was constructed for Putin in a town on Russia’s lack Sea coast.

Navalny revealed building plans and digital illustrations of the palace’s ornate interior and amenities — including an “aqua disco” and casino.

Arkady Rotenerg, a close associate of Putin, later claimed to own the property.

Navalny’s investigations and the subsequent legal actions taken against him for publishing them resulted in a cumulative 19-year prison sentence he was serving when he died.

When Russia invaded Ukraine, the Kremlin stepped up restrictions on independent reporting, imposing new laws on coverage and forcing news outlets to close.

Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich has been jailed in Russia for nearly a year. He is one of two American journalists held there. The other is Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty editor Alsu Kurmasheva, who has been in custody since October.

By the time you see or hear this, Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine may already e in its third year, with the grim anniversary on Feruary 24. Ukrainians say with intense fighting on the eastern front and daily shelling across the country, they are in dire need of global material and financial support. Meanwhile, the U.S. Congress is holding up much needed aid. VOA’s Eastern Europe Bureau Chief Myroslava Gongadze reports from Kyiv.

MYROSLAVA GONGADZE, VOA Eastern Europe Bureau Chief:

Days before the second anniversary of Russia's full-scale invasion, Ukraine decided to withdraw from Avdiivka, a city in the Donetsk region.

In the U.S., the White House blamed the move on Congress’ failure to provide additional aid, saying that "Ukrainians continue to fight bravely, but they are running low on supplies."

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy spoke to the Munich Security Conference on the day of the withdrawal.

Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Ukrainian President:

Do not ask Ukraine when the war will end. Ask yourself, why is Putin still able to continue it?


Ukrainians in Kyiv are taking it hard and bracing for the prospect of a prolonged war.

Kyiv Independent editor Olga Rudenko was at her desk when the Russian invasion began in February 2022, when her online publication was just months old.

Olga Rudenko, Kyiv Independent Editor:

It was a heavy news day, as you can imagine. Antony Blinken said that the invasion of Ukraine is going to start before dawn. And that was the moment when it suddenly became very real.


When Russian President Vladimir Putin finished his speech on the eve of the invasion, she was ready.

Olga Rudenko, Kyiv Independent Editor:

We prepared a news item, saying Putin announced war against Ukraine, and when he stopped speaking, we published it. And around that time, we heard explosions.


After two years of continuous war coverage, The Kyiv Independent became the main English-language publication reporting developments on the ground in Ukraine. Its goal is to help the world understand what Ukrainians are fighting for.

Olga Rudenko, Kyiv Independent Editor:

It is very frustrating to be here in Ukraine and to watch all the news coming out about the [U.S.] Congress not being able to vote for the aid package for Ukraine because, for them, maybe it is just a number. But for us, it's about real lives and real people.


Volodymyr Omelyn, a major in the Armed Forces of Ukraine, once served as Ukraine’s minister of infrastructure. Standing in Kyiv's central square, he reflected on Ukraine's state of mind.

Volodymyr Omelyn, Ukraine Armed Forces Major:

We become much stronger by arms, by people. And definitely, it's not a kind of pleasant cruise. And it's not that war will be over in two or three weeks or very soon. It will take a while, unfortunately, but morale is still very high. If there is no will, there is no victory, and in our case will is strong.


In Kyiv, people hope the war will end


I want to see my mother and father, they are abroad. I am here because I can't go to them.


We are scared every day, every night. We want peace in our country. Stop Putin and return our territory.


This will be a long war. I feel terrible, Ukraine will not be able to win over this big animal without the international community.


The Ukrainians who spoke with VOA said that if drafted, they would join and defend their country. They also said that they hope the world understands they are fighting for common democratic values, and that they need help.

Myroslava Gongadze, VOA News, Kyiv, Ukraine.


A new regulation in Russia would allow authorities to confiscate the property of Russians convicted of deliberately spreading what the Kremlin calls fake news about the country’s armed forces. If signed into law, it would also allow the state to seize the property of Russian emigrants who criticize the war in Ukraine. Kateryna Besedina has the story, narrated by Anna Rice.

ANNA RICE, VOA Correspondent:

Russian President Vladimir Putin is expected to sign into law a bill that would allow the government to confiscate the property of people whom it convicts of deliberately spreading false news about Russia’s military.

Vyacheslav Volodin, Russia State Duma Chairman:

This law is about scoundrels and traitors. About those who spit at the backs of our soldiers, who have betrayed their motherland, who send money to the country that is at war with us, or if they are abroad, get revenue by renting out their Russian property!


Other offenses that could lead to asset confiscation include failing to comply with an order, deserting the military, calling for sanctions to be imposed on Russia, and participating in the activities of an undesirable organization.

Dmitry Gudkov, Russian Opposition Leader:

They’ve adopted a very versatile law that can be interpreted however they want to. It allows authorities to make all sorts of decisions regarding property confiscation. This is done to make sure people are afraid to gather in front of embassies, afraid to rally, afraid to vote for anyone but Putin or take part in protests against Putin’s rule.


Former Duma deputy and opposition leader Dmitry Gudkov is now a wanted man in Russia for criticizing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Gudkov, who has not lived in the country for several years, says he got rid of his property in Russia. But other anti-government-minded people were not so lucky.

Dmitry Gudkov, Russian Opposition Leader:

When the war started, so many people left the country — journalists, political activists, public figures, celebrities who disagree with the authorities, who disapprove of the war. And it’s obvious a lot of them haven’t had time to sell their property in Russia – and they are the ones who’ll be targeted.


According to OVD-Info, an independent Russian human rights media project, about 830 people have had cases brought against them for their anti-war position in Russia. About one-third of these cases involve charges of spreading false information about the army.

John Herbst, senior director of the Atlantic Council's Eurasia Center, says the measure is just an attempt to hide the truth about Russia’s war crimes.

John Herbst, Atlantic Council:

The Russian government wants to project a myth about the Russian Army’s activities in Ukraine. They want to deny the war crimes. They want to hide the failures. And so, they will punish people who break those myths.


Andrew Wood, an expert on Russian policy at London-based Chatham House, says it's important that the authorities create an illusion of mass support for Putin.

Andrew Wood, Chatham House:

The opinion in Russia of the futile achievements they had from the war and the reasons that it started, the complaints of people who have relatives or husbands on the front against what is being done … it’s increased! And I think Putin himself is a bit more conscious of the fact that his hold is not as big as it has been on the Russian population.


Experts like Herbst and Wood say mass property confiscation is unlikely, but they expect the government to target individuals who criticize the war.

For Kateryna Besedina in Washington, Anna Rice, VOA News.


During the years since Russia invaded Ukraine, Ukrainian Railways became the country's key means of transportation. With over 22,000 kilometers of track, the state-owned network keeps moving despite constant damage from shelling. Ukraine's railways evacuate people from front-line cities, transport world leaders, and move cargo and troops for the Ukrainian Army. Lesia Bakalets has a story from Kyiv.

LESIA BAKALETS, VOA Correspondent:

Right after Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, Kyiv’s central railway station [the Kyiv-Pasazhyrskyi railway station] became a place of pain and fear as Ukrainians fled the capital ahead of the Russian army advance.

Ukrainian Railways conductor Oleg Kobetskyi was on vacation in western Ukraine when Russia launched its full-scale invasion. He decided to return to Kyiv.

Oleg Kobetskyi, Conductor:

I was shocked but realized I had a job to do. The people needed to be evacuated. Honestly, it was so scary to see all these people on the platform: children screaming, parents screaming. We went to the west. You know, when you get into a carriage, and it's more than full – there were about 180 people in each.


Kobetskyi then traveled to the east and south, close to the front line, evacuating civilians and transporting the wounded on a special medical train. He says he always tries to offer the best service for Ukrainian soldiers.

Oleg Kobetskyi, Conductor:

I try to make their trip as comfortable as possible. I can even cook for them right inside the carriage. My son is fighting; all my nephews are fighting. And I do what I can.


Over the past two years, Ukrainian Railways officials say, they have evacuated at least 4 million people. Kobetskyi, along with his fellow workers, never refused to go close to the front lines. Their bravery has earned them a nickname: “Iron People.

Oleksandr Shevchenko, Ukrainian Railways Head of Communications:

We don't have any cases where a conductor, train manager, steward or station worker refused to go to work. In front-line stations, on tracks.


Since the war began, the Russian army has constantly shelled the railways. During that time, about 600 railway workers have been killed and more than 1,500 wounded — either on the job or as a mobilized soldiers, according to the railway company.

Oleksandr Shevchenko, Ukrainian Railways Head of Communications:

From the first day of the full-scale invasion, we have tried to deliver the message: the railways will not stop. We haven’t canceled a single trip without a serious war-related reason.


Since air traffic has been suspended because of the war, world leaders and delegations have relied on the railway for travel into Ukraine.

Oleksandr Shevchenko, Ukrainian Railways Head of Communications:

For diplomatic trips, we have special algorithms for how to travel during a missile threat or other alarm. We always have backup routes. We can disguise our transportation.


A lot of top-level guests buy souvenirs in the railway gift shop, which opened last year.

Oleksandra Vitoha, Store Manager:

Boris Johnson bought and immediately wore our signature hat. Sean Penn and Orlando Bloom have our hoodies. Ursula von der Leyen came to us as well.


The most popular item in the store is a sweatshirt with the route schedule to the cities still under occupation.

And on the tracks is the Train to Victory: rail carriages painted to represent each occupied region. The plan is for it to be the first train in service in these areas when Ukraine regains control.

Lesia Bakalets, VOA News, Kyiv.


Thanks for watching I’m Elizabeth Lee in Washington.

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For all of those behind the scenes who brought you today’s show, thanks for being here.

We’ll see you next week for The Inside Story.