Russian Opposition Activist Alexei Navalny Investigates Prosecutor
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Alexei Navalny is the face of Russia's political opposition, however small that opposition may be. He's running for president against Vladimir Putin. He led protest rallies around the country and he investigated government corruption for years, publishing his findings on social media. This week, Navalny released a new investigation that's gone viral with almost 2 million YouTube views in two days and counting. Here's NPR's Lucian Kim from Moscow.
LUCIAN KIM, BYLINE: Alexei Navalny is a master of social media. The 43-year-old lawyer rose to prominence as a critic of President Vladimir Putin through his blog. He now posts investigations on YouTube that expose the unexplained, untold wealth of government officials. His latest target is Moscow's chief prosecutor who's leading the Kremlin's crackdown on anti-government protesters. In the video, Navalny is standing outside his apartment building in a drab Moscow suburb.
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ALEXEI NAVALNY: (Foreign language spoken).
KIM: He says he hasn't made any new videos in a long time because his offices keeps getting raided by masked law enforcement agents who confiscate everything. Navalny has come under increasing pressure following anti-government demonstrations this summer that were the largest in years. He and his allies are being fined for supposed damages incurred during recent protests. And Navalny's crowdfunded anti-corruption foundation is being accused of money laundering and has been branded a foreign agent. In his investigation this week, Navalny tries to show Moscow's chief prosecutor, Denis Popov, is the one with the real foreign interests.
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KIM: Navalny uses a drone to film luxury properties in Montenegro and Spain which he says are owned by the prosecutor's family.
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NAVALNY: (Foreign language spoken).
KIM: Navalny cross-references social media posts made by the family with local property records. His investigation raises serious questions about how a Moscow prosecutor could afford so much foreign real estate when he makes $12,000 a year. What makes this story even more provocative is that Putin personally appointed the prosecutor, which is probably why the Kremlin was quick to defend him, saying Popov has a clean record. Tatiana Stanovaya, a political analyst, says the Kremlin has no choice but to stick with its man.
TATIANA STANOVAYA: (Foreign language spoken).
KIM: She says the government's pressure on Navalny and his allies will only increase. Despite his success on social media, Navalny is still struggling to become a household name across Russia, in a large part because state television rules the airwaves. A poll conducted last month found only 9% of respondents have a positive view of him, while 25% are negative, 31% indifferent, and another 31% don't even know what Navalny does.
STANOVAYA: (Foreign language spoken).
KIM: Tatiana Stanovaya says authorities have not put Navalny in jail for good because that would turn him into a hero and help raise his popularity.
STANOVAYA: (Foreign language spoken).
KIM: She says what the Kremlin really wants is to make life so miserable for him that he finally goes into exile. But Navalny has said before that he plans to stay in Russia and keep fighting the regime. He's already followed up his video with a letter to Putin asking him to fire the Moscow prosecutor and have him brought to justice. Lucian Kim, NPR News, Moscow.
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