From Russia with death

EYES WIDE OPEN - Iris Gonzales - The Philippine Star

Moscow was, as some said, the most beau–tiful mistress a man could ever want, but never cross her.

I came across this quote about Moscow many moons ago, between Rody Duterte’s visit to Russia and the siege of Marawi, while I was there chasing the then president during his official visit to the world’s largest country, way back in May 2017.

It was very apt, I thought as I stood in awe in the middle of the sprawling and jaw-dropping Red Square, staring at the Kremlin, Russia’s seat of power.

All the city’s major roads and nooks and crannies radiate from this famous central square, a perfect metaphor to the kind of one-man rule that exists in Russia today.

No doubt Russia is beautiful not just for its towering buildings and architecture reminiscent of the Slavic pagan era but also for its neoclassical art, literature and its people.

But Russia, I dare say, is also a society that is stuck in the dark ages and which has now become several shades darker with the death of opposition figure Alexei Navalny, a man who, as CNN’s Nathan Hodge described, “once represented an alternative future for Russia: an optimistic, forward-looking place, free of the one-man rule of Russian President Vladimir Putin.”

Indeed, you cross Russia’s leader and you may soon face death, as what might happen if you cross your scorned mistress.

As we’ve seen, Russia is not without repressive tactics. In fact, Russian courts have recently handed jail terms to dozens of Navalny mourners, with 154 people sentenced in St. Petersburg alone, according to the Associated Press.

Navalny died on Feb. 16 in an Arctic prison colony where he was being held after years of protesting Putin’s oppressive rule, a death that triggered protests and an outpouring of grief.

His death comes ahead of elections next month, where Putin is widely seen securing another six-year term in the Kremlin.

Putin himself was silent about the death of his archenemy, whose name he would not dare mention.

CNN’s Hodge summed it well: “It would be hard to overstate how profoundly Navalny symbolized Putin’s relentless drive to erase the last remnants of political opposition from Russia. During his many years of activism, Navalny and his supporters saw their protest rallies shut down by riot police; their offices raided and countless arrests that landed activists in jail, or forced out of the country.”

Navalny had brushes with death even before he breathed his last. In 2020, he survived a near-lethal poisoning by Novichok, a nerve agent developed in the Soviet Union and Russia, during a visit to the Siberian city of Tomsk.

He was advised not to return to Russia but defiantly did, choosing it over a life in comfortable exile in Berlin where he was brought for medical care after he was poisoned.

Navalny practically flew to his arrest upon landing in Russia in 2021.

‘Your king is naked’

What followed was a parody of criminal justice, as Russian prosecutors heaped on charges against Navalny, who continued to rail against Putin. In one court appearance by video link, a gaunt Navalny – emaciated by a hunger strike – heaped scorn on the president, saying, “I would like to say that your king is naked, and more than one little boy is shouting about it – it is now millions of people who are already shouting about it…” Navalny said. (CNN’s Hodge, Feb. 17, 2024).

“But even during a brutal tour of Russia’s penal system, Navalny maintained his composure – and his extraordinary sense of humor. In a post on Telegram in January, he joked about the ghastly music of the pro-war pop-star Shaman being blared over prison loudspeakers at the IK-3 penal colony in Kharp in the Yamal-Nenets region, CNN also reported.

On Navalny’s Instagram account, the last post was on Valentine’s Day, showing a photo of Navalny with his wife Yulia.

“Baby, everything is like in a song with you: between us there are cities, the take-off lights of airfields, blue snowstorms and thousands of kilometers. But I feel that you are near every second, and I love you more and more.”

Putin, who has been in power since New Year’s Eve 1999, heads for a fifth term in office as the world mourns Navalny’s death.

What happens to Russia after this remains to be seen.

For sure, Navalny’s fight was not an easy one and for it, he paid a very high price – his life.


But every man who stands up against an oppressive regime brings the fight closer to victory.

May the death of Navalny remind freedom fighters not just in Russia but elsewhere in the world that each battle that is waged for freedom is never a lost cause, no matter how long and arduous it may be.

Here in our nation of 114 million, whatever freedom we enjoy today was fought and won by our forefathers – the revolutionaries, the Katipuneros, the journalists and the statesmen who occupied what used to be an honorable legislative chamber.

May we continue to honor the death of fighters like Navalny in the lives that we live and by striving to build a better and freer world for our children and our children’s children.

As Navalny once famously said: “Everything will be alright. And, even if it won’t be, we’ll have the consolation of having lived honest lives.”

*   *   *

Email: [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @eyesgonzales. Column archives at EyesWideOpen on FB.

vuukle comment


  • Latest
  • Trending
Are you sure you want to log out?

Philstar.com is one of the most vibrant, opinionated, discerning communities of readers on cyberspace. With your meaningful insights, help shape the stories that can shape the country. Sign up now!

Get Updated:

Signup for the News Round now

or sign in with