Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalni has described Russian President Vladimir Putin as a “mistake and a historical accident” that “sooner or later” will be “corrected” when the country opts for “European and democratic development”, he told the New York Times in an interview from prison, the first since his imprisonment.

Navalni, who accused the Russian government of trying to kill him with a nerve agent in August 2020, eventually returned to his country after convalescing for several months in Germany, and was handed over to the police in January. The Kremlin denies the accusations, claiming instead that Navalni has been convicted of fraud, although this has failed to prevent the dissident from becoming the best-known voice against President Putin.

“Putin’s regime is a historical accident, not an inevitability,” Navalni told the US daily in a written questionnaire from Penal Colony Number 2 near Moscow, where he watches hours of “state television and propaganda” amid an atmosphere akin to “a Chinese labour camp”, under “constant control and a culture of snitches”.

Navalni blamed Putin’s existence on the “corrupt” family of his predecessor, former Russian president Boris Yeltsin, but said that “sooner or later, this mistake will be fixed and Russia will move towards a democratic European development path because that is what the people want”.

The activist also took the opportunity to recommend that the international community target its sanctions “at the major oligarchs who prop up Putin’s government, rather than at the dozens of largely unknown figures who have received them so far”.

“The truly powerful have largely avoided sanctions thanks to an army of lawyers and bankers, who fight for the right of the owners of dirty and blood money to go unpunished,” he said.

Finally, according to excerpts from the interview published by the media, Navalni claims that in prison he has understood “the essence of the ideology of Putin’s regime”, one where “the present and the future are being replaced by a heroic, embellished or completely fictitious past”.

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