Poisoned Navalny prepares for return, but Russian opposition activists wonder who could be next

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It wasn’t just Navalny who was attacked.

Just a day after coming out of his medically induced coma, at least three volunteers linked to his team were targeted in their office in Novosibirsk, Siberia.

Two masked men were recorded by security cameras, breaking into the office of the “Novosibirsk 2020 Coalition”, which is also the headquarters of the local Navalny team.One of them threw a bottle containing an unknown yellow liquid – described to CNN as a “pungent chemical”, “unbearable” by witnesses – at volunteers who were there for a conference on the next local elections, before to escape.

The Kremlin has denied having anything to do with the attacks, but analysts are skeptical.

“Russia has a history of sudden deaths among critics of the Kremlin: Anna Politkovskaya, Alexander Litvinenko and Boris Nemtsov, to name a few,” says Valeriy Akimenko, longtime Russian analyst at the Conflict Studies Research Center , an independent research group. “If it wasn’t a murder plot or an attempted murder, it was an act of intimidation. ”

Which raises an important question: How much immediate danger is Navalny, if and when he returns to Russia?

“I don’t think the words safety or security apply to anyone who is the opposition in Russia,” said Vladimir Kara-Murza, a Russian opposition politician and chairman of the Boris Nemtsov Freedom Foundation, which has been poisoned twice in the past five years. years.

“I can have as much protection as I want, but I have to touch the doorknobs and breathe some air,” he says. “The only real precautionary measure I have been able to take is to get my family out of the country. ”

The Kremlin has denied any involvement in any of the attacks on Kara-Murza, although his wife has directly accused the Russian government of being responsible.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle has also denied any involvement in the poisoning of Navalny, but Akimenko points out that the language coming from the Kremlin in the weeks that followed was hardly reassuring, given the impending death of one. leading politician.

“Look at what is coming out of Russia,” he said.

And while Akimenko says: “If the Russian opposition leaders are not worried, they should be,” he adds: “They have been fearless in the face of both the personal physical attacks on Navalny and to persecution disguised as prosecution. ”

The Navalny episode exposed the dangers of political opposition in Russia to the world.

But for those actively involved in this fight, it only underscored the threat they already knew existed, says Kara-Murza.

“I have been poisoned twice,” he says. “The two times I was [a] coma. Both times the doctors told my wife that I had a 5% chance of living. Boris Nemtsov had 0% when he was shot in the back. But it is not a question of security; it is about doing the right thing for our country. It would be too great a gift for the Kremlin if those of us who oppose gave up and fled ”.

CNN’s Mary Ilyushina contributed to this report from Moscow

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