How Alexei Navalny exposed Russian corruption
25 Aug 2020

By Ilya Lozovsky, OCCRP, 21 August 2020

OCCRPAlexei Navalny, a fierce opponent of Russian President Vladimir Putin and the country’s most prominent opposition figure, is lying in a coma in a Siberian hospital after an apparent poisoning.

As the world reacts in shock to what looks like an attempt on Navalny’s life, there’s a side to his career that risks being overlooked. Though he’s best known outside the country as an opposition politician, his most enduring legacy may be as the producer of an unorthodox, but highly effective, brand of investigative journalism.

No one would claim that Navalny is in any way impartial. He’s the one, after all, who coined the epithet “party of crooks and thieves” to describe Putin’s United Russia. And he’s had a long career in Russian politics: He has worked with the liberal opposition party Yabloko, co-founded the now-defunct right-wing Narod movement, run a spirited but ultimately unsuccessful campaign for mayor of Moscow, and attempted to challenge Putin for the presidency in 2018.

But his presidential ambitions ended with a politicized disqualification, and it has become clear that Putin’s carefully managed system, which uses the trappings of democracy as a fig leaf for muscular authoritarianism, will never allow him to break through using retail politics.

In these circumstances, Navalny has made anti-corruption activism a key — and wildly successful — plank of his political work.

In so doing, he has become one of the country’s best investigators, using painstakingly documented proofs and slickly produced videos to expose the corruption at the heart of the Putin regime. Whether or not Navalny ever holds public office, it is this exposure of modern Russia’s rotten underpinnings that may end up being his most enduring contribution to the country.

His video investigations are exemplars of the genre, deftly employing drone footage, high-quality animations, and wry humor to make complex schemes clear and understandable to ordinary people.

Navalny’s best productions also manage to turn the investigative process itself into a compelling story. In perhaps the best-known example, his investigation into former Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev’s wealth begins by explaining how a purchase receipt for a pair of expensive Nike sneakers, matched to a publicly released photo, led his researchers to an address that ended up revealing a real-estate empire.

It’s no surprise that Navalny’s top five investigative stories alone have racked up over 82 million views on YouTube.

For specialists and those looking to delve deeper, the films are accompanied by lengthy, multi-part texts that painstakingly explain the underlying documentation. Beyond simply stating the facts, the texts are wrapped in explanatory language that highlights how unearned wealth underpins the corrupt system Putin has built.

Read more at OCCRP

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