top of page

Is Russian Opposition Leader Navalny an Effective Persuader from Prison?

The case of Russian opposition leader Alexi Navalny (N) provokes many questions about persuasion, negotiation, and leadership. Some believe that a real leader is all “about hope.” Navalny surely brings this to the Russian people

This blog entry will begin with some insightful quotes, describe the recent CNN documentary, examine Navalny, and attempt to answer some of these provocative questions about persuasion and influence.


I am not afraid…truth is on my side…all charges have been fabricated.

- January 21, 2021 statement of Navalny at airport upon return post murderous poisoning by Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin’s (henceforth, VP) regime.

My superpower is that I can communicate with anyone.

- Statement of Navalny about his leadership.

His return to Russia is a symbol of our freedom.

- Navalny supporter awaiting his return from Germany.

If I am killed, it will mean we are stronger then we think. Don’t give up. Evil triumps when good people do nothing.

- Navalny when being asked by a reporter his message if he is killed.

In a normal world, I would not be walking or having pictures taken with nationalists, but this is not the normal world. We are living in a world where the corrupt government is murdering, poisoning, and arresting people for no legitimate reason.

I would break the cycle of authoritarianism. Now, all decisions are made in Moscow. Right now, Russians are either pro- or anti-authoritarianism.

- N’s statement when asked how would his presidency be different than Putin’s.

Murder is one way to solve a problem but once you start, you can’t stop.

- N’s comment on the Putin regime.

Dad misses Russia. I would tell him to go back and fight. This is a fight worth fighting for.

- N’s daughter’s statement after he recovered from the poisoning.

About Navalny:

Alexei Anatolievich Navalny, born 4 June 1976) is a Russian opposition leader, lawyer, and anti-corruption activist. He has organised anti-government demonstrations and run for office to advocate reforms against corruption in Russia, and against president Vladimir Putin and his government, who avoids referring directly to Navalny by name. Navalny was a Russian Opposition Coordination Council member. He is the leader of the Russia of the Future party and founder of the Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK).

In 2021 Navalny had more than six million YouTube subscribers. Through his social media channels, he publishes material about corruption in Russia, organises political demonstrations and promotes his campaigns. In a 2011 radio interview, he described Russia's ruling party, United Russia, as a "party of crooks and thieves," which became a popular epithet.n Navalny and the FBK have published investigations detailing alleged corruption by high-ranking Russian officials.

In July 2013 Navalny received a suspended sentence for embezzlement. Despite this, he was allowed to run in the 2013 Moscow mayoral election and came in second, with 27% of the vote, outperforming expectations but losing to incumbent mayor Sergey Sobyanin, a Putin appointee. In December 2014, Navalny received another suspended sentence for embezzlement. Both of his criminal cases were widely considered to be politically motivated and intended to bar him from running in future elections. The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) later ruled that the cases violated Navalny's right to a fair trial, but his sentences were never overturned. In December 2016, Navalny launched his presidential campaign for the 2018 presidential election but was barred by Russia's Central Election Commission (CEC) after registering due to his prior criminal conviction; the Russian Supreme Court subsequently rejected his appeal. In 2018, Navalny initiated Smart Voting, a tactical voting strategy intended to consolidate the votes of those who oppose United Russia, to the party of seats in elections.

CNN documentary on the 2020 poisoning of Navalny (N)

CNN released this fascinating documentary in April 2022. It documents the investigation by a non-profit of the 2020 Kremlin poisoning of Navalny.

N traveled to Siberia to create a rally. He found it eerie that the police were not intervening. Why? The Kremlin/Vladimir Putin/FSB* were planning and executing the poisoning. The effects of the poisoning on N was so painful and his cries so loud that there was a special landing. He was taken to the hospital. After much begging and an invite from the German chancellor Angela Merkel, N was released to Germany. The German doctors discovered the military grade poisoning.

A non-profit through the use of extreme drama traced the poisoning to five Kremlin agents. Through one phone call, one of the attempted murderers admitted that they had placed the poison in N’s underwear (crotch area).

After months of healing, N decided to return to Russia and was immediately arrested on “fabricated charges” through which N could spend more than 20 years in prison. N’s anti-corruption foundation was designated “a terrorist agency” and was raided. They continue their work in exile.

*Note: Federal Security Service (FSB), an agency responsible for counter-intelligence and other aspects of state security as well as intelligence-gathering in some countries, primarily those of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS); reports directly to the President of Russia.

Leadership, Negotiation, and Persuasion Issues


An effective leader and negotiator has clear, concise goals. N seems to have those:

  • Change in power from Putin.

  • Upset the clan of oligarchs and elites and their corruption methods.


An effective leader and negotiator has well thought out strategies. This is a confusing area.

Dilemmas: N had the dilemma of trying to effectuate change from outside as an exile but would he become just another interferer OR should he return knowing he would be imprisoned, possibly becoming the symbol of lost freedoms like a Nelson Mandela? N decided on the latter.

This also poses a dilemma for Putin. Should he allow N to become the symbol or be allowed some freedoms of movement? So far, it seems as if P has chosen the former. Recently, his prison status has been changed from “likely to escape” to "extremist, aggressive and liable to indoctrinate peers.”

Anti-Corruption Foundation: Working through a non-profit foundation has been effective, but now the foundation has been designated by the government as “an extremist group” barring it from operating. Further, it becomes a crime to work with or for the foundation.

Personality: Much of N’s success has been his personality. Time Magazine writer Simon Shuster described N’s “irreverent humor” approach and how he tells the stories on Youtube like “a wisecracking detective” exposing corruption.

The personality strategy is challenging when N is in prison.

Inside and outside pressure on Putin’s wealth and power. N has a whole network of exiled dissidents who continue to operate. They are now putting pressure on foreign governments to isolate Putin. Putin’s unjustified war on Ukraine is helping this strategy.

Dealing with a bully like Putin: N recognizes P as a bully and one can only negotiate from the power of strength. Meetings and sanctions may not help much. N often pokes fun at the West for not recognizing this. N declares that Putin does not really fear NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization). He fears a change of power and messing up the network of corrupt oligarchs, which are exactly N’s goals.


Use of social media: One effective tactic N has is using social media, specifically his six million plus YouTube viewers.

Explosive language: A tactic of N’s irreverence is the use of explosive language that captures the imagination of people and the media.

Here are examples of his biting language in an article in Le Monde, 8/2021:

Exactly one year ago I did not die from poisoning by a chemical weapon, and it would seem that corruption played no small part … When a nation’s senior management is preoccupied with protection rackets and extortion from businesses, the quality of covert operations inevitably suffers.

A meeting between world leaders and Putin on the issue would be “awkward”, he adds scathingly, writing: “The richest man in the world, who has fleeced his own country, is being invited to discuss how to deal with the problem of himself. Very tricky, very awkward.

There is nothing more frustrating than reading the latest sanctions list, replete with the names of intelligence service colonels and generals nobody has ever heard of, but meticulously cleared of the people in whose interests these colonels act. The west needs to free itself of a semantic mindset where the label ‘businessman’ acts as an indulgence, making it very difficult for them to figure on sanctions lists.


So, the Navalny case presents a dilemma: What is the best way for one to reach their goals? What is the best strategy to be influential? Inside or outside? N decided to go back to Russia where he knew he would be immediately arrested on false charges and could stay in prison for some time. This was after the Russian administration tried to kill him via poisoning.

Some would argue that he could do more by operating in exile by using the free press, YouTube, and other social media in conjunction with other Russian exiles. Of course, Putin also has a dilemma. Should he kill N, possibly making him into a martyr or let him live continuing to campaign against him?

Note: Time Magazine, 4/18/22, contained a story on Russian businessman Evgeny Chichvarkin who has funded N from his London in exile home. He fled Russia in 2008. He claims Putin killed his mother in an attempt to lure him home. He is bemused by some calling London “Moscow on the Thames.” UK has lured Russian money to London dating back to post WWII. Russians invest 2 million pounds for residency. He calls this “diaspora, the best ever." He agrees with N that NATO should be directly fighting Putin. He also feels that the West should be targeting Putin and his friends with sanctions, not all rich Russians.


See Recommended Books under “Blogs” drop down menu. Clicking on any book will lead one to the discounted Amazon site. Kurt Mortensen’s book, Maximum Influence is included.

Roy J. Lewicki is the author of 'Essentials of Negotiation', published 2015 under ISBN 9780077862466 and ISBN 0077862465. Publisher: McGraw Hill Higher Education.

The Conflict Resolution Training Program, Leader’s Manual, ISBN: 0-7879-6077-2. Prudence Bowman Kestner and Larry Ray


bottom of page