Watch | 12. Apr 2022

The Other Face of Russia

So many of us talk about "The Russians" these days when discussing the war going on against Ukraine. And I have to say: Since the numbers of Valdimir Putin´s followers in Russia grew up to over 70 percent since he started his attacks on a free country and its innocent civilians, I am talking like that, too, now and then.

But then - there is one guy who shines a light on all those other women and men within Russia who do NOT AT ALL agree with Putin´s politics and risk their freedom and their lives to express that resistance.

Alexey Navalny had been obviously poisoned on behalf of Vladimir Putin in 2020. He was brought out of the country by German supporters, his life was saved in Berlin´s Charité hospital. He had been offered to stay in Germany - or many other Western countries for that matter - but chose to get back to his homeland to continue his fight.

And was arrested right away.

Canadian filmmaker Daniel Roher was invited by Navalny to make this movie and he portraited him half-politician, half-journalist; blending the two with his affable charisma on camera, which even extends to goofing off on TikTok, he has exactly the man-of-the-people touch that would be most likely to qualify him as a political threat.

With two aides, the tough-to-impress anti-corruption activist Maria Pevchikh, and a tireless Bulgarian investigator, Christo Grozev, who’s the chief Russian expert for the website Bellingcat, Navalny sets about solving, in a sense, his own murder. Passenger manifests are scrutinised, phone records cross-examined. It becomes clear that Navalny had been shadowed on more than 30 plane trips before the poisoning took place.

In real time, we watch him personally phone up members of the hit squad for comment – a barefaced gambit that only pays off when he disguises his identity, hilariously, as an FSB bureaucrat. On YouTube, this one-of-a-kind sting operation achieved seven million views.

The agent duped by Navalny, Konstantin Kudryavtesv, spills details of the attack’s planning, including all the underpants malarkey, that could hardly have been more radioactively classified – then starts to realise he may have overshared. Pevchikh and Grozev listen in with their hands clamped disbelievingly over open mouths.

That was in December 2020. The next month, Navalny had barely set foot back on Russian soil before being arrested, kissing a hasty goodbye to his wife, the economist Yulia Navalnaya – a possible election rival against Putin in her own right.

Navalny has been in prison ever since. And he is, it goes without saying, on thin ice. All we need to do is grimly remember Putin’s mocking, breathtakingly callous comment after he nearly died the first time: “... if we had wanted to kill [him], we would have probably have finished the job.”

There are definitely still Russians worth our deep respect.

NAVALNY celebrated its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival 2022 and was awarded both the Documentary Audience Award and the Festival Favorite Award. End of April, beginning of May, it will be shown in theaters all over Europe

You might also want to read the interesting feature of Alexei Navalny´s closest comrade Maria Pevchikh, taken from "The Telegraph".

Talking about the documentary she says:

“It does a really important job of showing that not all Russians are like Putin. There are different kinds of Russians and they are cool and funny and friendly and interesting to talk to and they are just like everybody else. Russians aren’t evil and we don’t all support the war and we don’t hate Ukrainians. It shows the real, beautiful face of Russian people and of Russia and that there is a realistic alternative to Putin.”