Ballet dancer, choreographer and actor Mikhail Baryshnikov, who famously defected from the Soviet Union nearly half a century ago, called Alexei Navalny “insanely brave” as a human rights group awarded the jailed Russian opposition leader its annual prize.
The New York-based Train Foundation gave its 2022 Civil Courage Prize to Mr Navalny in absentia, in a ceremony at New York University on Monday night.
Baryshnikov, 74, who is also active on human rights in the region, said Mr Navalny’s mission is to “champion a more democratic vision for Russia”. He said Mr Navalny is “insanely brave” for fighting “another brutal authoritarian Russia”.
Baryshnikov defected to Canada in 1974 while on a tour with the Soviet state ballet and moved to the United States a year later.
The Train Foundation cited Mr Navalny’s “groundbreaking work for freedom and transparency in Russia” in presenting the award, which two colleagues accepted on his behalf. His chief of staff, Leonid Volkov, said Mr Navalny “proves his courage every day,” holed up in a seven-by-11 feet punishment cell in a Russian prison.
“Every day is an exercise in civil courage,” Mr Volkov said at the award ceremony.
Russian authorities have launched several criminal cases against Mr Navalny, leading his associates to suggest that the Kremlin intends to keep him behind bars indefinitely.
In the latest case, Mr Navalny reported on social media last week that Russian investigators are investigating him on charges of allegedly propagandising terrorism, and of calling for and financing extremist actions.
Those charges could keep him in prison for 30 years. Also last week, a Russian court rejected his second appeal of a nine-year sentence on other charges — fraud and contempt of court.
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Mr Navalny, Mr Putin’s fiercest foe, was arrested in January 2021 upon returning to Russia from Germany, where he had been recuperating from a poisoning he blames on the Kremlin. Russian authorities deny involvement in the poisoning.
He was sentenced to two and a half years in prison for a parole violation that Western leaders have called politically motivated. In March, he was sentenced to nine years, in a separate case on charges of embezzling money that he and his foundation raised over the years, and of insulting a judge during a previous trial.
Mr Navalny has rejected the allegations as politically motivated.
President Putin has doubled down in his campaign against dissent since invading Ukraine eight months ago, and emergency security powers he authorised last week allow local leaders to take more draconian steps.