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Navalny To Khodorkovsky, The Painful Limits Of Russia's Opposition

The ongoing show trial of prominent Putin critic Alexei Navalny continues. Yet even in the face of totalitarianism, Russia's opposition cannot present a united front.

Image of a screen showing opposition activist Alexei Navalny via video link from Pokrov's Penal Colony No 2 in the Moscow City Court.

May 24, 2022: A screen shows opposition activist Alexei Navalny via video link from Pokrov's Penal Colony No 2 in the Moscow City Court.

Sergei Karpukhin/TASS/ZUMA
Pierre Haski


PARIS — It was not easy to be an opponent of Vladimir Putin before the invasion of Ukraine, but it has certainly become next to impossible since Feb. 24, 2022. That also counts when you're in prison, as Alexei Navalny is.

Since his voluntary return to Russia after the attempted Novitchok poisoning in 2020, Navalny has already been sentenced twice to a total of twelve years in prison. Now he is back facing a parody of justice: this time, he faces a further 30 years in prison. That's a guarantee that he'll stay behind bars as long as Vladimir Putin is in the Kremlin.

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It's a parody of justice because his trial, which opened on Monday in his prison, the IK-6 penal colony at Melekhovo, 200 km from Moscow, is being held behind closed doors. The lack of transparency is unjustified by the charge brought against him: "extremism".

But the substance of the case is of little importance: what counts is keeping him in prison for as long as possible, in conditions that worry those closest to him. He is losing weight and has suffered serious stomach pains, but he has kept his biting wit and irony.

Draconian measures

Even before the outbreak of war, the room for maneuver of Putin's opposition had been considerably reduced. Restrictions on NGOs, repression of any desire to demonstrate, control of the media — these measures became draconian with the invasion of Ukraine.

Alexei Navalny is not remaining silent from prison. He has sent a message to his supporters, many of whom are now in exile. He invites them to create what he calls a "truth machine," to change the Russian public's perception of the war. Navalny even humorously claims that he tested the method on his guards, and that they began to doubt the official version.

Whatever Navalny's sincerity — and not everyone is convinced of this — this appeal may not have the desired impact. The price to pay is too high inside Russia, and not everyone has the guts of the Melekhovo prisoner, or that other opponent, Vladimir Kara-Muza, sentenced last April to 25 years of labor camp.

Image of Social Entrepreneur and Opposition Activist Mikhail Khodorkovskyat the Russia Reimagined panel discussion during the Munich Security Conference in Munich, Bavaria, Germany.

February 18, 2023: Social Entrepreneur and Opposition Activist Mikhail Khodorkovsky remarks at the Russia Reimagined panel discussion during the Munich Security Conference in Munich, Bavaria, Germany.

Marc Mueller/Msc/Munich Security/ZUMA

Preparing for the post-Putin era

The last resort for the opposition is exile. But it is divided: it is finding it hard to present a united front against a determined regime that has become totalitarian.

There will be a post-Putin era.

At the initiative of European MEPs, a meeting of some 300 representatives of the Russian opposition in exile was held in Brussels in early June. Navalny's friends refused to attend.

Other opposition figures were present, including Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the former oligarch, now in exile after several years in prison.

These divisions were to be expected, given the particularly difficult circumstances of their action. Especially as Ukrainians doubt their ability to break the Russian imperial mentality, even among the most determined opponents.

But there will be a post-Putin era, even if no one can say today when it will happen: the war in Ukraine accentuates the unpredictability of the situation at the top of Russia. The role of an opposition is to prepare for it, even from prison.

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How Parenthood Reinvented My Sex Life — Confessions Of A Swinging Mom

Between breastfeeding, playdates, postpartum fatigue, birthday fatigues and the countless other aspects of mother- and fatherhood, a Cuban couple tries to find new ways to explore something that is often lost in the middle of the parenting storm: sex.

red tinted photo of feet on a bed

Parenting v. intimacy, a delicate balance

Silvana Heredia

HAVANA — It was Summer, 2015. Nine months later, our daughter would be born. It wasn't planned, but I was sure I wouldn't end my first pregnancy. I was 22 years old, had a degree, my dream job and my own house — something unthinkable at that age in Cuba — plus a three-year relationship, and the summer heat.

I remember those months as the most fun, crazy and experimental of my pre-motherhood life. It was the time of my first kiss with a girl, and our first threesome.

Every weekend, we went to the Cuban art factory and ended up at the CornerCafé until 7:00 a.m. That September morning, we were very drunk, and in that second-floor room of my house, it was unbearably hot. The sex was otherworldly. A few days later, the symptoms began.

She arrived when and how she wished. That's how rebellious she is.

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