After surviving an attempt to poison him—almost certainly the work of the Kremlin’s intelligence agents—the Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny decided to return to his native country from Germany. He was arrested immediately upon his arrival in Moscow, sparking demonstrations across Russia, as well as in Europe. Bari Weiss discusses Navalny’s struggle with Natan Sharansky, who spent nine years in Soviet prisons for the crime of wanting to immigrate to Israel.
On [Israeli] radio, I was asked: isn’t [Navalny] a stupid man to go back to Russia? If your aim in life is to live a little bit longer, to guarantee that you are safe, then of course it’s very stupid [to return]. But if the aim of your life is to unmask the real face of this regime and you are ready to fight it—even risk your life to fight it—then it is a brilliant move.
I’ll give you an example from my own life. Three years before I was released—and of course I didn’t know if it would be three years or 30 years—the Americans reached what they believed was a very good deal with the USSR. The [latter] said: we’ll release Sharansky if he asks to be released on humanitarian grounds, because of his poor health.
The Americans wanted me to accept, Many Jewish leaders also wanted me to accept. And they were very angry at me for refusing it, and with Avital, my wife, for refusing to pressure me. But it wasn’t a question for a moment whether I would accept this deal.
Why? Because this was a global struggle. The struggle was to unmask the real nature of this regime. The moment that they are perceived as caring about humanitarianism, you lose. It’s not a struggle of how to get out of prison. The struggle is how to defeat them. It’s a moral struggle.
I’m sure, already long ago for Navalny, that his is not a struggle for his physical life. His address is all of Russia and the rest of the world. If he were to remain in exile, he would be one more respectable person in exile, writing his articles and so on. He can keep explaining the regime like I can do now to you over the phone. But he was put by history in this place to mobilize the Russian people and to reveal the nature of the Putin regime to the world.