For the unenlightened, Alexei Navalny is a 45-year-old lawyer and opposition leader in Russia. In the past several years, he has gained international recognition for his anti-corruption investigations against Russian state corporations and senior officials. Navalny, whom the Wall Street Journal once called "the man Vladimir Putin fears the most," is also a former presidential candidate. During the 2018 election campaign, he organized rallies and released numerous reports about corruption in the Putin administration. Undaunted by the threats and the arrests he’s endured, Navalny has since become a rallying figure for like-minded Russians. As of 2021, he had more than six million YouTube subscribers. However, in March 2022, Navalny was sentenced to nine years in a Russian prison, despite being recognized by Amnesty International as a prisoner of conscience.
It is the fight against corruption that brought Navalny to Yale University in 2010. At that time, he was already a famous online activist when he received a scholarship to the Yale World Fellows. The one-semester program, which aspires to provide an incubator for future global leaders, was extremely difficult to get into, according to one of Navalny's blog entries. "There are said to have been around 1000 applicants for 15 places." Before being accepted, the blogger had made a name for himself through his struggle against Russian civil servants. At Yale, Navalny didn't waste any time implementing his new skills. He accused state oil company Transneft of having pocketed billions during a Pacific pipeline project. According to Michael Cappello, who served as director of the World Fellows program in 2010, Navalny utilized his four months in New Haven to develop his strategy to target and reduce corruption in the Russian government.
As a member of the Yale community, Navalny was the source of some significant concern in August 2020 after he was attacked with a Novichok nerve agent in Siberia – leaving many to speculate that the Russian government was responsible for his poisoning. In response, more than 150 Yale World Fellows from around the globe expressed solidarity with Navalny. Together, they released a statement officially calling on Russian authorities to support an independent investigation into the near-fatal attack.
More recently, in March 2022, Yale faculty and affiliates condemned Russia President Vladimir Putin after news confirmed that Navalny's prison sentence had been significantly lengthened in what many considered a "sham trial." Emma Sky, director of Yale’s Maurice R. Greenberg World Fellows Program, noted that Navalny had the full support of the World Fellows network and added, "The recent news of Alexei Navalny’s prison sentence is deeply disturbing. Alexei’s courage and fortitude have inspired millions around the world to speak out against injustice and to stand up for democracy.”