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Following Navalny's death, mourners are arrested and dissent is not tolerated

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

There are questions swirling around the death of Russia's most prominent opposition figure, Alexei Navalny, but there's no space to demand answers. A Russian rights monitor says more than 400 mourners were arrested by police in more than 30 cities after they turned out for vigils just to mourn Navalny. And since his death in an Arctic prison colony, family and friends have been searching for his body. They insist he was murdered, an accusation the Kremlin calls, quote, "rabid." To talk about what all this means for Russia's future, we're joined by Sergey Radchenko. He's a professor of Russian history at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, and he joins me now. Good morning.

SERGEY RADCHENKO: Morning to you.

FADEL: So after Navalny died, you wrote that hope for Russia died with him. Why do you believe that?

RADCHENKO: Well, this was in a piece for The Spectator, a British magazine, in which I analyzed the future of the Russian protest movement. Navalny was a prominent figure among the protests or the activists in Russia. He certainly was the most prominent. Now most others are in exile. I think pretty much everybody is either in exile or has been arrested by the regime. And that really paints a bleak picture for Russia's future.

FADEL: So basically, what you're saying is there is pretty much no opposition without him in Russia to President Vladimir Putin?

RADCHENKO: Well, hope dies last, but we have to remember that Putin has basically broken up the Russian opposition movement such as it existed. In the last two years, Navalny's movement was basically dismantled. Its leaders were chased out of Russia. And now, of course, we have had just today Yulia Navalnaya, Navalny's wife, pledge that she will continue his struggle. But the question for me is how they will be able to do that inside an increasingly authoritarian Russia, where even protesting outside with a placard, you know, or attending a vigil to Navalny could land one in prison.

FADEL: I mean, as you pointed out, hundreds of mourners have already been arrested. Could this extreme intolerance, though, for dissent in Russia actually backfire in any way?

RADCHENKO: Well, no, because today's Russia, Putin's Russia, is different from the Soviet Union in the sense that those people who really find it difficult to put up with this regime are free to leave, by and large, for now, and many have. Many have fled Russia. The people who would normally be opposed to Putin are now in Europe, elsewhere in the world. And many of those who remain in Russia would say the vast silent majority of Russians are seemingly politically apathetic and do not want to rise up against the regime. That is the brutal reality, unfortunately, that we have to deal with.

FADEL: Can an opposition from outside of Russia be effective?

RADCHENKO: I think there are very limited options there, simply in the sense that, you know, Russia has become a brutal police state. And even, you know, challenging the regime from the inside certainly would - could land one in prison for many, many years. But doing it from the outside is just simply - it's very difficult. And also, the question then becomes, how do opposition leaders outside of Russia relate to those who are on the inside? That has been a profound question for many opposition leaders. And that's - by the way, that's the reason why Navalny went back to Russia to begin with. Remember, he was poisoned. He was in Germany, and then he went back because he felt as a Russian politician, he had to be back in Russia. Well, look what happened.

FADEL: Now, to be clear, how he died is disputed. Russia denies killing Navalny. Much of the world accuses Russia of being behind it. Is there any question in your mind about what happened to Navalny?

RADCHENKO: Well, I'm - you know, I tend to think that the regime is responsible for his death. But even if it was an accident, which I just don't believe for a second, but even if it was, of course the regime is still ultimately responsible because he was locked up on fake charges. And he was taken up north, you know, locked up in a gulag and died. So what can we say?

FADEL: Sergey Radchenko is a professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. Thank you for your time and your insights.

RADCHENKO: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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