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‘I Am Not Afraid’: With Her Husband in Jail, Eyes Flip to Yulia Navalnaya

MOSCOW — Yulia B. Navalnaya, the spouse of the Russian opposition chief, Aleksei A. Navalny, is aware of methods to take care of her husband’s frequent detentions by the hands of the Russian authorities.

In 2018, a Russian basic carrying a huge inexperienced navy cap and a showy array of navy medals, launched a video recording with a bald menace to “make good juicy mincemeat” of Mr. Navalny. So Ms. Navalnaya stepped in to ship the riposte her then-jailed husband couldn’t — and with the standard humor of the Navalny household. In an Instagram put up, she snickered at his cartoonishly giant hat, saying he appeared like a tinpot dictator.

Now, together with her husband dealing with a two-year jail sentence — his first prolonged time period — the query on many minds within the opposition and elsewhere is whether or not the lady typically known as the primary woman of the opposition will take a extra distinguished function, and even enter politics in her personal proper.

Already way more excessive profile than the standard Russian political partner, Ms. Navalnaya has impressed admirers in Russia and past, supporting her husband all through his rise to prominence, eyes vast open to the extraordinary dangers. Alongside the way in which, she drew sexist assaults from state media caricaturing her as an overbearing spouse.

She assumed the highlight following the poisoning of Mr. Navalny final August with a navy nerve agent — an assault he and Western leaders say was ordered by the Kremlin. Issuing a sequence of public calls for, she extricated him from the clutches of Russian officers so he may very well be flown in a medically induced coma to Germany for remedy.

“I understood that on this scenario, I’m the closest particular person to him,” she later mentioned in an interview. “I’m the spouse. If I disintegrate, then all people else will in flip disintegrate. So, I pulled myself collectively.”

She continued to talk out after his arrest final month after returning to Moscow. “I’m not afraid, and I urge you all to not be afraid both,” she instructed a crowd of his supporters.

Mr. Navalny’s sentencing on Tuesday ignited a nationwide sequence of huge road demonstrations which have breathed new life into the Russian opposition, cemented Mr. Navalny’s place because the paramount opponent of President Vladimir V. Putin and raised expectations that Ms. Navalnaya will tackle a extra distinguished function.

The couple met on a seaside in Turkey 23 years in the past, and earlier than the poisoning final summer time, lived in an residence in Moscow in a crucible of surveillance and repression. Ms. Navalnaya, 44, who has an economics diploma, labored at a financial institution earlier than the delivery of the primary of their two kids, and has over the previous decade been a homemaker.

“Our household has for a few years lived in a means the place searches, arrests and threats are commonplace,” she wrote on Instagram in 2018.

And whereas it stays to be seen whether or not she’s going to resolve to take the lead whereas Mr. Navalny is in jail, she had confirmed to her buddies and supporters that she has what it takes.

“Yulia Navalnaya is a singular flower” in an in any other case uninspiring lineup of Russian political wives, a commentator, Anna Narinskaya, wrote in an essay of her distinguished function in latest months.

“It’s not as a result of she is the spouse of an opposition politician,” Ms. Narinskaya wrote, “however as a result of she has so naturally united two difficult-to-combine components — the place of the spouse of an completed man and that of a girl who controls her personal destiny.”

Ladies are actually principally sidelined in Russian politics, making up solely 16 p.c of the decrease home of Parliament and only a few senior posts exterior authorities roles deemed applicable in Russian political tradition for ladies, resembling within the well being or schooling ministries.

Even the post-Soviet political opposition has been dominated by males regardless of its ethical readability on different problems with human rights, mentioned Alena Popova, a co-founder of You Are Not Alone, a ladies’s rights group in Moscow.

But Russia has one of many largest gender imbalances on the earth, with 11 million extra ladies than males within the inhabitants due to a excessive male mortality charge, leaving many points necessary to ladies unaddressed.

“Yulia matches splendidly into the agenda of our nation now,” mentioned Ms. Popova, who want to see her communicate out extra forcefully. “She is a mom, she is a spouse of an imprisoned husband and she or he has the story of a girl who didn’t need to enter politics till the rotten system pulled her in.”

Mr. Navalny has himself been accused of sexism. However he mentioned the allegation sprang from a misunderstanding after he known as his spouse a “little chick” in a web-based put up, saying it was a time period of endearment. He defended himself by saying he has employed extra ladies than males in his group.

Oddly sufficient, Russian state media have been among the many most vocal in selling the concept of Ms. Navalnaya taking up management of the opposition, as occurred in neighboring Belarus final 12 months when Svetlana Tikhanovskaya stepped in to run for president within the place of her jailed husband.

However the media’s dialogue about her potential function has been dismissed by senior figures in Mr. Navalny’s group as a entice designed to distract consideration from Mr. Navalny whereas he’s imprisoned and doubtlessly blunt requires his launch, whereas additionally depicting him because the henpecked puppet of a domineering spouse.

“The male character of Yulia Borisovna influenced the division of energy throughout the household,” reported NTV, a pro-government channel, referring to Ms. Navalnaya by her patronymic identify. “She raises the kids and, like a tyrant, controls all the things at residence.”

As ludicrous because the Russian propaganda line could also be, Mr. Navalny, for one, is satisfied of his spouse’s powers, saying she saved his life.

Within the Berlin hospital, he emerged from his coma, confused, unable to acknowledge faces and hallucinating about docs discussing changing his legs with prosthetics. “It was like ‘Worry and Loathing in Las Vegas,’” he mentioned in an interview with Yury Dud on a well-liked YouTube channel.

“Lastly, I sensed, I understood, that this was Yulia coming to me, adjusting my pillow, and this was necessary to me,” he mentioned. “I waited for her on a regular basis.”

He added, “I’m extremely grateful.”

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