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Opinion: Navalny's spirit and legacy live on

Alexei Navalny in Berlin in 2020, surrounded by his wife and two children.
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Alexei Navalny in Berlin in 2020, surrounded by his wife and two children.

Maybe the plane crash in which Yevgeny Prigozhin died last summer, after he led an uprising against Vadimir Putin, really was an accident.

Maybe Boris Nemtsov being shot to death in February 2015, just two days before he was to lead an opposition rally in Moscow, was a random crime.

Maybe Sergei Magnitsky's death in prison, after he'd helped uncover tax fraud in the Russian government, really was just the kind of heart attack anyone can suffer.

And maybe it was a stranger who spiked Alexander Litvenenko's green tea with polonium, which killed him in 2006.

There at least a dozen opponents of Vladimir Putin and his policies who have somehow been shot, poisoned, or fell out of windows to their deaths.

Alexei Navalny survived a poisoning in 2020 — agents smeared the powder in his underpants — as he flew to Moscow from Siberia, where he had been doing opposition work against the Putin regime. Doctors in Germany saved his life; but he didn't stay there safely, with his family, and become a high-priced pundit. Alexei Navalny returned to Russia, where he was immediately arrested and charged.

"This is how it works," he told the court. "They put one man in prison to make millions scared...

"(A)ll of this, the National Guard, this [defendant's] cage. It's a show of weakness, just weakness. ... You can't lock up millions and hundreds of thousands of people. And I very much hope that people will be more and more aware of this. And when they're aware, a moment will come when all this will crumble.

"My life probably isn't worth a penny," Navalny said.

"And I want to say that there are many good things in Russia now, and the best are these very people who are not afraid, who don't cast their eyes down at the table, and who will never give up our country to a bunch of corrupt officials who have traded our motherland for their own palaces, vineyards, and aqua-discos."

The courtroom speech of Alexei Navalny. He was 47 years old. He leaves behind his wife, Yulia, a daughter, Daria, and their son, Zakhar.

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Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.