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The poisoned Navalny plans to return, but Russia’s opposition activists are wondering who might be next

It’s not just Navalny who was attacked.

Just one day after he emerged from his medically-induced coma, at least three volunteers associated with his team were targeted at their office in Novosibirsk, Siberia.

Two masked men were recorded by surveillance cameras and stormed into the Novosibirsk 2020 coalition office, which is also the headquarters of the local Navalny team.

One of them threw a bottle of an unknown yellow liquid – described to CNN as a “harsh chemical”, “unbearable” by witnesses – at volunteers who were there to talk about the upcoming local elections before they ran away.

The Kremlin has denied having anything to do with the attacks, but analysts are skeptical.

“Russia has a track record of sudden deaths among the Kremlin̵

7;s critics: Anna Politkovskaya, Alexander Litvinenko and Boris Nemtsov, to name a few,” says long-time Russian analyst Valeriy Akimenko of the Conflict Studies Research Center, an independent research group. “If this wasn’t an assassination attempt or an assassination attempt, it was an act of intimidation.”

Which raises an important question: what imminent danger is Navalny in if and when he returns to Russia?

“I don’t think the words security apply to someone who is an opposition in Russia,” says Vladimir Kara-Murza, a Russian opposition politician and chairman of the Boris Nemtsov Foundation for Freedom, who has been poisoned twice in the past five years.

“I can have as much protection as I want, but I have to touch doorknobs and breathe air,” he says. “The only real precaution I could take is to get my family out of the country.”

The Kremlin has denied any involvement in any of the attacks on Kara-Murza, despite his wife directly accusing the Russian government of bearing responsibility.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle has also denied any involvement in Navalny’s poisoning, but Akimenko points out that the language that has come out of the Kremlin in recent weeks has been little reassuring given the near-death of a prominent politician.

“Just look at what’s coming from Russia,” he says. “Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Putin did not need to meet with Navalny; Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov gave no legal reasons for a criminal investigation; Duma spokesman Vyacheslav Volodin spoke instead of an investigation into possible foreign provocations and incessant attempts to confuse himself on state television the water by blaming anyone but the Russian state. ”

As if being an outspoken opponent of the government wasn’t enough for Navalny, other Putin critics believe that what is viewed as a failed assassination attempt to scare opponents may have failed.

“Now that Alexey Navalny has survived, this could turn out to be a spectacular miscalculation that only empowers the opposition and Navalny,” says Bill Browder, a prominent financier who was a thorn in Putin’s side after he launched the US push. The sanctions law was named after Browder’s lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who died in a Russian prison under suspicious circumstances.

Kara-Murza points out that Navalny’s allies won elections against Putin’s ruling United Russia last weekend in the areas of Siberia where the attack on the campaign office took place.

“If the Russians have a real choice, they are very happy to show how sick they are with Putin’s one-man rule,” he told CNN.

Whenever he returns to Russia, the risk for him and his supporters is likely to remain very high. Has this affected the morale of the opposition?

“Putin rules through symbolism,” says Browder. “Taking the most popular opposition politician and poisoning him with a deadly nerve agent is supposed to bring the less popular ones to submission.”

So will it work?

Kara-Murza says Putin critic Boris Nemtsov, who was assassinated near the Kremlin in February 2015 just days before he was due to take part in an anti-government protest in Moscow, told his allies: “We have to do what we do . ” must and come, whatever may. Of course we understand the dangers, but we are determined not to fear. ”

Russia's regional elections are a serious test for the pro-Kremlin party

And while Akimenko says, “If Russia’s opposition leaders are not worried, they should be,” he adds, “They have been fearless in the face of personal physical attacks on Navalny and the persecution disguised as law enforcement.”

The Navalny episode exposed the dangers of political opposition in Russia against the world.

But for those actively involved in this struggle, it has only underscored the threat that they already knew existed, says Kara-Murza

“I’ve been poisoned twice,” he said. “I was there both times [a] Coma. Both times doctors told my wife that I had a 5% chance of living. Boris Nemtsov had 0% when he was shot in the back. But it’s not about security; It’s about doing what’s right for our country. It would be too great a gift to the Kremlin if those of us who are in opposition give up and run away. ”

CNN’s Mary Ilyushina contributed to this report from Moscow

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