MOSCOW — The Russian defense minister on Thursday ordered a partial pullback of troops from the border with Ukraine, signaling a possible de-escalation in a military standoff that had raised alarm that a new war in Europe could be on the horizon.
The order came a day after President Vladimir V. Putin, in an annual state of the nation address, rattled off a list of grievances against Western nations, including threats of new sanctions. Mr. Putin warned against crossing a Russian “red line” with additional pressure on Moscow. The huge buildup on the Ukrainian border was in place while he spoke.
The defense minister, Sergei K. Shoigu, who had called the buildup a test of the Russian military’s readiness, said that the units deployed to the border area had shown their capabilities and should now return to their regular positions.
“I think the goals of the readiness test are achieved fully,” Mr. Shoigu said, according to the official Russian news agency Tass, which reported that he had ordered troops from central Russia and Siberia to return to their barracks by May 1.
However, the order specified that troops departing from one large field camp about 100 miles from the Ukrainian border should leave their armored vehicles there until the fall. Satellite images had shown hundreds of trucks and tanks parked in fields in the area.
SAN MARINO — On the ground floor of the only hospital in San Marino, a tiny, independent republic perched high above the surrounding Italian countryside, nurses prepared Covid-19 vaccine doses from glass vials labeled in Cyrillic script, flicked needles and sought to put nervous residents at ease.
“Have you started speaking Russian since you got your first shot?” one nurse asked, coaxing a smile from Erica Stranieri, 32, as he injected Russia’s Sputnik vaccine into her arm.
San Marino, an ancient enclave within northern Italy, topped with crenelated medieval battlements on a mountain near the Adriatic coast, is best known — to the extent it is known at all — as one of the smallest countries on Earth.
the Sputnik vaccine, which has not been authorized by European or Italian drug regulators. For San Marino, it seemed like the natural thing to do.
Beslan school siege of 2004. At the national university is a bust of the first person in space, the Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin.
San Marino did not back sanctions against Russia over the invasion of Crimea. In 2019, Sergey Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, visited San Marino without stopping in Italy.
“Politically there is a strong link,” said Sergio Rabini, 62, the director of the San Marino hospital, who was himself hospitalized with Covid in October. He walked past the Covid ward, still packed with patients intubated in intensive care, and down to the vaccination center.
“Here’s Sputnik,” he said, holding up one of the thawing vials. He said it wasn’t the first time his country hadn’t followed the lead of Italian or European regulatory agencies.
gain influence in Europe, exploiting rifts between the European Union, which has had a disastrously slow vaccine rollout, and some member states. This week, Slovakia’s prime minister resigned amid an uproar over his secretly arranging a delivery of Sputnik.
to 26 percent of its people, more than double the E.U. average. Officials say hundreds of Italians have tried to make vaccination appointments there, and some even showed up, hoping in vain to get vaccinated by the foreign state next door.
“We asked Italy for help and didn’t get any,” Denisa Grassi, a 42-year-old teacher, said after receiving her shot. “Now it’s the Italians who ask us.”
Some Italians see in San Marino’s embrace of Sputnik only its latest provocative pandemic behavior. In November, when Italy imposed a 6 p.m. curfew on eateries, San Marino kept its bars and restaurants open until midnight, luring Italians and their euros across the invisible border to what Italian officials worried was a hilltop viral breeding ground.
“It was mostly young people who took advantage to go out at night,” said Aldo Bacciocchi, 50, whose restaurant, Ristorante Bolognese, was recently featured on Russian television. Now, San Marino’s restaurants must close by 6 p.m., and Mr. Bacciocchi said that business was lousy and that he didn’t see a way back to normalcy unless people got vaccinated. His mother, 77, was scheduled to receive her second dose of Sputnik on Friday.
“It’s not that we prefer it,” he said. “It’s that it’s there.”
A shade of that normalcy returned to the center of San Marino on Thursday, for the biannual installation of the country’s two heads of state, known as Captains Regent.
Throughout the morning and early afternoon, military marching bands wearing helmets festooned with feathers snaked up and down the sloping stone streets, past luxury watch and jewelry shops, the “Torture Museum,” souvenir traps and a multitude of stores selling guns, crossbows and swords, a legacy of San Marino’s medieval armory industry and relaxed gun laws.
Dignitaries took advantage of pauses in the procession to sip aperitifs at sunlit cafes, until the cannons blasted again and the march resumed. Guards escorted the incoming and outgoing Captains Regent — wearing black velvet cloaks, blue-and-white ribbons, satin gloves, black tights, black velvet hats edged with white ermine fur, and lace scarves — into various grand marble and stone buildings.
Bishops and ambassadors and men in top hats joined the procession, and so did some local residents wearing ghost masks, silently protesting the coronavirus lockdown measures.
“San Marino is not Europe, and we’re not getting any help,” said Massimiliano Carlini, 58, the protest organizer, referring to the lack of funds directed to struggling businesses. Himself a vaccine skeptic, he wasn’t sure inoculations would help, though he welcomed Russia’s involvement. “Sputnik is the only one I think people should be taking.”
Among the protesters was Matteo Nardi, the nurse who had vaccinated Ms. Stranieri. An Italian by nationality, he wondered why Italy, struggling with vaccine shortages, didn’t offer Sputnik, too.
There are photo shoots, there are presidential photo shoots — and then there are Vladimir Putin presidential photo shoots. Rarely has the leader of a global power embraced the staged publicity still with such creative, yet clichéd, fervor, not just feeding the global desire for a caricature of himself, but actually creating it.
Cue, for example, his latest propaganda foray, released by the Kremlin, as bilateral relations with the United States turn frosty, and with the Russian opposition leader Aleksei A. Navalny’s description of Mr. Putin as a “Vladimir, the Poisoner of Underpants” still reverberating through the air.
“making of” video about his official portrait, depicting himself carefully arranging various symbolic accessories on his desk.
But Mr. Putin has always opted for a different approach. One that emphasizes the physical over namby-pamby paper-pushing, and speaks to old stereotypes of virility, strength and machismo. Not to mention good health. The kind that allows you to stay in office for a long time.
It has become a sort of absurdist art form unto itself.
He was pictured, for example, in a similar sheepskin outfit in 2010 — though without the matching fur hat and mittens — riding through the Siberian snow on horseback, and on a trip to the Russian Arctic, hugging a polar bear. He has ridden a motorbike in black leather (a photo that was so popular, a British company, Matchless London, named a jacket in his honor), played ice hockey (making many goals) and worked out with the Russian judo team.
apogee in 2017, when Mr. Putin was photographed mostly bare chested while hunting, spearfishing and otherwise pursuing manly activities in the Siberian outdoors. Afterward, he was caught basking shirtless in the sun, eyes hidden by black shades.
Moscow newspaper asked at the time. It probably only seemed like a rhetorical question.
By 2019, Mr. Putin had pivoted his image-making to shots that referenced his bond with the earth rather than his dominance of the same, posing while sitting peacefully in a field clutching a bouquet of wildflowers he presumably picked himself, or reclining on a craggy tor. Nevertheless, he remained costumed in shades of olive green and silhouettes that resembled fatigues. The implicit messaging was still tough. It was just more about tough love.
The new Siberia photos are firmly in line with this tradition. If they are not exactly subtle — indeed, the image-making is so obvious, it has inspired a fair share of social media ridicule and memes — it is also true that when it comes to Mr. Putin, subtlety has never really been part of the … well, picture.
MOSCOW — Russia recalled its ambassador to the United States and unleashed a storm of derision aimed at President Biden after he said in a television interview that he thought President Vladimir V. Putin was a killer.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry said late Wednesday that it had summoned its envoy in Washington, Anatoly I. Antonov, to Moscow “in order to analyze what needs to be done in the context of relations with the United States.”
“We are interested in preventing an irreversible deterioration in relations, if the Americans become aware of the risks associated with this,” the Foreign Ministry’s spokeswoman, Maria V. Zakharova, said in a statement.
Ms. Zakharova did not specify whether a specific event had prompted the decision to recall Mr. Antonov, but the rare move came as Russian officials reacted with fury to an interview with Mr. Biden aired by ABC News. In the interview, when asked whether he thought Mr. Putin was a “killer,” Mr. Biden responded: “Mmm hmm, I do.”
post on Facebook on Thursday in reference to Mr. Biden’s interview. “Any expectations for the new U.S. administration’s new policy toward Russia have been written off by this boorish statement.”
Mr. Kosachev warned that Russia would respond further, without specifying how, to Mr. Biden’s comments “if explanations and apologies do not follow from the American side.”
quipping in December that if Russian agents had wanted to kill the opposition leader, “They would have probably finished the job.”
The Russian government has also been linked to attacks on foreign soil, including the poisoning of the former Russian spy Sergei Skripal in Salisbury, England, in 2018 and the shooting death of a former commander of Chechen separatists in Berlin the following year.
Mr. Putin signed a law in 2006 legalizing targeted killings abroad — legislation that Russian lawmakers said at the time was inspired by American and Israeli conduct.
Even profanity was prohibited, Mr. Navalny wrote. Shockingly for a Russian prison, “this ban is strictly followed.”
The prison, referred to by its Russian initials IK2, has long been known for strict enforcement of rules. Lawyers and former inmates have described a separate, harsher punishment facility within its walls where inmates are not allowed to mingle or even talk among themselves.
The site is typical for Russia’s colony-type prisons that evolved, with a few improvements, from the gulag camps established in the 1930s. Inmates live collectively in groups of several dozen called brigades in low-slung, two-story buildings surrounded by walls and barbed wire.
Discipline is enforced by prisoners in cahoots with the warden, according to former inmates, an arrangement that will allow the prison administration to strictly control Mr. Navalny’s life at all times. Prisoners spend hours standing with their hands clasped behind their backs, looking at their feet, forbidden from making eye contact with the guards, one former inmate, the nationalist politician Dmitri Dyomushkin, told a Moscow radio station recently.
Mr. Navalny, in Monday’s post, said he remained classified as a flight risk, meaning that he was woken up every hour at night by a guard with a camera reporting on his condition.
The constant surveillance, Mr. Navalny wrote, reminded him of a dystopian novel: “I think that someone up high read Orwell’s ‘1984’ and said, ‘Oh, awesome. Let’s do that. Education through dehumanization.’”
But as he has done repeatedly in recent months, Mr. Navalny still sought to radiate optimism. He has used his imprisonment to try to show Russians that they need not fear Mr. Putin, as long as they believe that, sooner or later, their side will prevail.
In San Francisco, hundreds of parents and children marched on Saturday in support of a five-day in-person learning schedule, arguing that a partial reopening falls short, The San Francisco Chronicle reported. Similarly, parents demonstrated at Pan Pacific Park in Los Angeles on Saturday, according to a local news station, saying a tentative agreement with teachers for a partial reopening in April was not enough.
Parents pressing for in-person classes say that remote learning leaves students feeling emotionally and socially drained at home.
They have the Biden administration on their side. Jill Biden and members of her husband’s administration have been traveling the country in a campaign aimed at reopening schools. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released guidelines last month saying it was safe for schools to reopen if they could ensure measures like proper masking, physical distancing and hygiene were taken. The recommendations called for every elementary school to open in some fashion.
In early February, The New York Times surveyed 175 experts — mostly pediatricians focused on public health — who largely agreed that it was safe enough for schools to be open to elementary students for full-time, in-person instruction. Some said that was true even in communities where coronavirus cases were widespread, with proper safety precautions, including adequate ventilation and avoidance of large group activities.
Teachers’ unions have largely continued advocating slower reopenings to keep educators safe, with some unions saying access to vaccinations was a requirement before returning to schools; teachers are now eligible for them in all states. (The C.D.C. guidelines do not make vaccinating educators a prerequisite for reopening schools.)
In response, some parents have started campaigns to run for school board seats and have founded political action committees to push for school reopenings.
And in several states run by Republican governors, including Arizona, Iowa, Texas and Florida, state officials have begun ordering schools to offer in-classroom instruction for at least some grades.
In Redmond, Wash., this month, parent and student demonstrators called for an immediate return to in-person learning. Video of the event, captured by a local news station, shows people holding up signs that read “Open schools now” outside the Lake Washington School District resource center.
“My heart is breaking. I have two middle school kids who haven’t been educated for a year,” one parent told Q13 Fox Seattle.
Cara Cohen, a 46-year-old special-education advocate, said she attended a rally this month in support of a full reopening of Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School in Massachusetts, where her 16-year-old son is a sophomore.
“Children, in a lot of classes, are having to teach themselves,” Ms. Cohen said. “It’s just not the same capacity of learning that they get when they are face to face with the teachers.”
— Madeleine Ngo
In the year since the pandemic upended the U.S. economy, more than four million people have quit the labor force, leaving a gaping hole in the job market that cuts across age and circumstances.
An exceptionally high number have been sidelined because of child care and other family responsibilities or health concerns. Others gave up looking because they were discouraged by the lack of opportunities. And some older workers have called it quits earlier than they had planned.
These labor-force dropouts are not counted in the most commonly cited unemployment rate, which was 6.2 percent in February, making the group something of a hidden casualty of the pandemic.
Now, as the labor market begins to emerge from the pandemic’s vise, whether those who have left the labor force return to work — and if so, how quickly — is one of the big questions about the shape of the recovery.
There is some reason for optimism. Economists expect that many who have left the labor force in the past year will return to work once health concerns and child care issues are alleviated. And they are optimistic that as the labor market heats up, it will draw in workers who grew disenchanted with the job search.
Moreover, after the last recession, many economists said those who left the labor force were unlikely to come back, whether because of disabilities, the opioid crisis, a loss of skills or other reasons. Yet labor force participation, adjusted for demographic shifts, eventually returned to its previous level.
But the speed with which the pandemic has driven workers from the labor force could leave lasting damage.
Facebook said on Monday that it planned to expand its efforts to help get people vaccinated against the coronavirus.
The social network said it would roll out a new location-based tool to direct people to the clinics nearest to them that offer vaccinations, which users can find inside Facebook’s main app.
The company will also have an information center for Covid-19-related questions and data inside its Instagram photo-sharing app, building on a similar effort that Facebook introduced last year. And it will keep adding automated chat bots to WhatsApp, which can text users information on where to get vaccinated.
“By working closely with national and global health authorities and using our scale to reach people quickly, we’re doing our part to help people get credible information, get vaccinated and come back together safely,” Mark Zuckerberg, the chief executive of Facebook, said in a company blog post.
While Facebook previously allowed anti-vaccination groups on its platform to flourish, last year it pledged to remove Covid-related misinformation from its site. It also labeled posts related to the coronavirus with links to its official information center so it could direct people to sources like the World Health Organization.
But critics have said that false or misleading data about vaccines and the virus continues to be visible in private groups and pages on Facebook.
Indonesia and the Netherlands became the latest countries to suspend use of the Covid-19 vaccine from Oxford-AstraZeneca, citing reports of unusual blood clotting problems among people who recently received the shots in Norway.
The decision came after Norway said over the weekend that four people who received a dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine had experienced blood clotting issues and all had low platelet counts, although health officials emphasized that they were acting out of caution and that there was no evidence the problems had been caused by the vaccine.
Leading public health agencies, including the World Health Organization, have said that millions of people have received the vaccine without experiencing blood clotting issues.
By contrast, Thailand said that it would resume issuing the AstraZeneca vaccine on Tuesday, with Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha among the first to receive it.
The European Medicines Agency and other regulators are investigating whether there is evidence of any link between the vaccine and blood clots. AstraZeneca defended its product on Sunday, saying that the company is continually monitoring its safety.
“Around 17 million people in the E.U. and U.K. have now received our vaccine, and the number of cases of blood clots reported in this group is lower than the hundreds of cases that would be expected among the general population,” said Ann Taylor, the company’s chief medical officer.
Norway, Denmark, Iceland and the Democratic Republic of Congo are among the countries that have suspended use of the AstraZeneca vaccine. The Piedmont region in northern Italy said on Sunday that it would temporarily stop administering the AstraZeneca vaccine, a day after a teacher there died after receiving the shot.
In other news from around the world:
Three-quarters of people in Italy entered a strict lockdown on Monday, as the government put in place restrictive measures to fight the rise in infections. A more contagious variant first identified in Britain, combined with a slow vaccine rollout, led to a 15 percent increase in cases in Italy last week.
The government of Hong Kong said on Monday that vaccine eligibility would be expanded to include everyone age 30 and older regardless of occupation, as the Chinese territory tries to increase vaccine uptake. About 200,000 of Hong Kong’s 7.5 million residents have received a first dose of either the BioNTech or Sinovac vaccines since the inoculation drive began late last month. But the proportion of people who show up for their appointments has fallen amid reports that six people have died after receiving the vaccine developed by Sinovac, a private Chinese company. Officials say that two of the deaths are not directly related to the vaccine and that the others are under investigation. The vaccine announcement came as Hong Kong is trying to contain a cluster of cases that began at a gym and has grown to 122 people, with more than 850 close contacts sent to government quarantine facilities and multiple residential buildings locked down overnight for mandatory testing. Also on Monday, the U.S. Consulate in Hong Kong said it was closing for deep cleaning after two employees tested positive for the virus.
Young people’s reports of poor well-being during the pandemic have fueled a global crisis that needs immediate attention, according to a nonprofit organization that surveyed nearly 50,000 people in eight countries, providing a comprehensive overview of the pandemic’s impact on mental health.
More than one in four respondents reported facing or being at risk of clinical disorders, a number that rose to nearly one in two for those ages 18 to 24, according to the report, which was released by group, Sapien Labs, a U.S. nonprofit group dedicated to understanding the human mind.
The report, based on data collected from an online, anonymous survey whose findings were published on Monday, focused on Australia, Britain, Canada, India, New Zealand, Singapore, South Africa and the United States. It found that 40 percent of respondents ages 18 to 24 reported feeling sadness, distress or hopelessness, as well as unwanted, strange and obsessive thoughts.
“The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated trends that were already there, and made them worse,” said Dr. Tara Thiagarajan, the founder and chief scientist of Sapien Labs. “Particularly, social isolation has had a larger impact on young people, and it’s pushed many of them over the edge.”
Other studies have shown that the pandemic has disproportionately affected the mental health of young people, women and people of color.
Mental health experts have also warned against the long-term effects of the pandemic, which are likely to include an economic recession and the psychological fallout of long-term social isolation.
The report’s authors, Dr. Thiagarajan and Jennifer Newson, urged governments to focus on population-wide policies targeting mental health, instead of individual approaches that are often favored.
“While much of the focus in the mental health arena has been on self-care through apps, therapy and other programs, social and economic policy and institutional culture may have a large role to play in the mitigation of our present mental health crisis and prevention of future crises,” they wrote.
Usually, it is foreigners who flock to Lake Baikal in Siberia this time of year to skate, bike, hike, run, drive, hover and ski over a stark expanse of ice and snow, while Russians escape the cold to Turkey or Thailand.
But Russia’s borders are still closed because of the pandemic, and to the surprise of locals, crowds of Russian tourists have traded tropical beaches for the icicle-draped shores of Baikal, the world’s deepest lake. The tour guides are calling it Russian Season.
If you catch a moment of stillness on the crescent-shaped, 400-mile-long, mile-deep lake, the assault on the senses is otherworldly. You stand on three feet of ice so solid it is crossed safely by heavy trucks, but you feel fragile, fleeting and small.
Yet stillness is hard to come by.
Western governments have been discouraging travel during the pandemic, but in Russia, as is so often the case, things are different. The Kremlin has turned coronavirus-related border closures into an opportunity to get Russians — who have spent the last 30 years exploring the world beyond the former Iron Curtain — hooked on vacationing at home.
A state-funded program that began last August offers $270 refunds on domestic leisure trips, including flights and hotel stays. It is one example of how Russia, which had one of the world’s highest coronavirus death tolls last year, has often prioritized the economy over public health during the pandemic.
“Our people are used to traveling abroad to a significant degree,” President Vladimir V. Putin said in December. “Developing domestic tourism is no less important.”
“When my toddler grandson tried to feed me a blueberry through the cellphone screen.”
That was the answer from Alice Gilgoff, 74, of Rosendale, N.Y., when The New York Times asked readers: When did the coronavirus pandemic become real for you? Nearly 2,000 people responded, and we have compiled many of their thoughts.
Across the United States and around the globe, nearly everyone experienced a moment when the pandemic truly hit home. And one year later, as the pandemic carries on, having claimed more than 2.6 million lives worldwide, it has been with us long enough to have its own history.
The answers from readers to that question are a journey through time. It has been a year of trauma and resilience. No one has been spared, yet some have borne burdens far more profound than others.
Still, our stories connect us: each of us human, each of us just trying to survive a pandemic that changed us and the world.
Usually it’s foreigners who cavort at the world’s deepest lake in winter. But with many borders closed, Russians are arriving in droves to make TikTok videos and snap Instagram pictures.
ON LAKE BAIKAL, Russia — She drove 2,000 miles for this moment: Hanging out the sunroof of her white Lexus S.U.V. that glittered under the blinding sun, face to smartphone selfie camera, bass thumping, tires screeching, cutting doughnuts over the blue-black, white-veined ice.
“It’s for Instagram and TikTok,” said Gulnara Mikhailova, who drove two days and two nights to get to Lake Baikal with four friends from the remote Siberian city of Yakutsk.
It was about zero degrees Fahrenheit as Ms. Mikhailova, who works in real estate, put on a swimsuit, climbed up onto the roof of her car and, reclining, posed for pictures.
This is winter on the world’s deepest lake, 2021 Pandemic Edition.
The tour guides are calling it Russian Season. Usually, it is foreigners — many from nearby China — who flock to Siberia’s Lake Baikal this time of year to skate, bike, hike, run, drive, hover and ski over a stark expanse of ice and snow, while Russians escape the cold to Turkey or Thailand.
program begun last August offers $270 refunds on domestic leisure trips, including flights and hotel stays. It is one example of how Russia, which had one of the world’s highest coronavirus death tolls last year, has often prioritized the economy over public health during the pandemic.
said in December. “Developing domestic tourism is no less important.”
Recent months have seen a monumental crush of tourists at Black Sea beaches and Caucasus ski resorts. This winter, during what some call the “gender holiday” travel period around Defender of the Fatherland Day on Feb. 23 (when Russia celebrates men) and March 8 (International Women’s Day), Lake Baikal has been the place to be.
It is a distillation of tourism in the Instagram age.
dismissive attitude mirrored an independent poll this month that found that fewer than half of Russians worried about catching the virus and that only 30 percent were interested in getting the Russian coronavirus vaccine.
“It’s a psychosis,” a park ranger, Elena Zelenkina, said of the global fear of the virus as she served tea and homemade doughnut holes at a gift shop next to hot springs on the lake’s quieter eastern shore.
anti-government protests. But like Mr. Putin, President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko of Belarus has held on, deploying an overwhelming show of force to put down unrest. Mr. Nazarov said he had supported the protesters but because it seemed their victory was neither imminent nor assured, he was moving on.
He had spent an exhilarating week walking and skating around Olkhon. He was looking forward to more outdoor tourism, on Russia’s Kamchatka peninsula or in Iceland if the borders open.
“We all have our dreams and our goals that we want to achieve,” Mr. Nazarov said. “Life goes on.”
MOSCOW — A burst pipeline in Siberia led to a dramatic scene on Saturday as partially refined oil caught fire on the ice of the frozen Ob River, according to Russian officials and media reports.
The spill occurred in the heartland of Russia’s oil industry, the Khanty-Mansiysk region of Siberia, which is dotted with wells and crisscrossed by pipelines but is sparsely populated. News reports said one person had been injured.
A local environmental regulator, Svetlana Radionova, posted a statement and video online saying that an underwater pipeline had burst and that “a fire was discovered on the Ob River.”
The video showed flames leaping into the air from what appeared to be the center of the iced-over Ob, one of the huge Siberian rivers that flow from south to north into the Arctic Ocean.
Tass and Interfax did not describe the scale of the spill other than to note the size of the burning hole in the river ice as being about a quarter of an acre in size.
Tass, a state news agency, cited unnamed emergency response and industry officials as saying the pipeline carried a mix of partially refined oil products, including propane and butane gas. The reports said the pipeline also carried “light fractions” of oil from a refinery, a description that could include liquids, which are more hazardous for the environment around a spill than gases like propane.
The closest large city is Nizhnevartovsk, the reports said. They described the breach as being in such a remote area that the nearest inhabited settlement was 27 miles away. The Tass report said the pipeline had been shut off and efforts were underway to pump out the contents along its length, lest they spill into the river.
MOSCOW — While waiting out the coronavirus lockdown in his two-bedroom apartment last spring, the Russian opposition leader Aleksei A. Navalny seemed uncharacteristically idle, with his most potent weapon against the Kremlin — street protests — off the table.
And yet, Mr. Navalny felt that President Vladimir V. Putin’s grip on power might be slipping. Operating from his living room, rather than the slick Moscow studio he had used before, he cranked out videos haranguing Mr. Putin for failing to manage the coronavirus crisis and leaving Russians struggling as the economy suffered. Confirming his hunch that the pandemic could become a political catalyst, the audience for Mr. Navalny’s YouTube videos tripled, to 10 million viewers per month.
“Putin can’t handle all this madness, and you can see that he is totally out of his depth,” Mr. Navalny said in an interview by Zoom in May. “We are continuing to hit them where it hurts.”
Methodical and uncompromising, Mr. Navalny, 44, has spent almost half his life trying to unseat Mr. Putin. Often deemed rude, brusque and power hungry, even by other Kremlin critics, he persisted while other opposition activists retreated, emigrated, switched sides, went to prison or were killed. It increasingly became a deeply personal fight, with the stakes — for Mr. Navalny and his family, as well as for Mr. Putin and all of Russia — rising year by year.
sentenced this month to more than two years in prison for violating parole on a 2014 embezzlement conviction that Europe’s top human rights court ruled was politically motivated.
Even in custody, though, he has seized the moment. Two days after his arrest at a Moscow airport last month, his team released a report about a purported secret palace built for Mr. Putin that was viewed more than 100 million times on YouTube. Two weeks later, from his glassed-in prisoner’s box at Moscow City Court, Mr. Navalny predicted that Russians would eventually rise up and prevail against Mr. Putin, a “thieving little man,” because “you can’t lock up the whole country.”
An independent poll found that while 80 percent of Russians had heard of the protests that swept the country last month calling for his release only 22 percent approved of them.
“Putin and his regime spend millions of man hours on strengthening their power,” Mr. Navalny wrote last year, criticizing some of his fellow opposition figures as insufficiently hard-working. “We will only take them down if we spend tens of millions of man hours.”
Mr. Navalny has rarely shirked from confrontation or let himself be scared off course by the Kremlin’s security apparatus. In recent years, a pro-Putin activist threw an emerald green chemical in his face, nearly costing him the sight of one eye; his younger brother served three and a half years in prison in a case widely seen as a punishment against Mr. Navalny; and he nearly died in last year’s poisoning, spending weeks in a coma.
All the while he was building up a social media audience in the millions and a nationwide network of regional offices — an unparalleled achievement in a country dominated by security services beholden to Mr. Putin.
drawing 27 percent of the vote in the 2013 election for mayor of Moscow — Mr. Navalny grew more angry at Mr. Putin, people close to him say, and even more determined to bring him down.
covered Mr. Navalny extensively. “He was just radiating that anger.”
Mr. Navalny, the son of a Red Army officer, grew up in the 1980s in closed military towns outside Moscow, a world away from the intellectual and political ferment that gripped the capital in the last years of the Soviet Union. His father despised Soviet rule, and his mother, an accountant, became an early devotee of the liberal Yabloko party in the 1990s despite its perpetually dismal electoral results.
As a boy, he hated being told what to do. When he got in trouble with his teacher, his mother, Lyudmila I. Navalnaya, once recalled, he refused to go to school the next day, saying: “I don’t want anyone to force me to learn.”
He studied law and finance, worked as a real estate lawyer, and joined Yabloko in 2000, the year Mr. Putin was first elected president. He looked for ways to organize grass-roots opposition to the Kremlin at a time when the established opposition parties were coming to play only a theatrical role in Mr. Putin’s tightly choreographed political system known as managed democracy.
bought stock in state-owned companies, using his standing as a shareholder to force disclosures, and railed against Putin-supporting business tycoons on a blog that was widely read in Moscow’s financial circles.
a video report about the hidden wealth of Dmitri A. Medvedev, the prime minister at the time. Overruling his aides’ skepticism over whether those who watched the video would take to the streets, he called for protests, and thousands rallied in more than 100 cities.
The Kremlin tried its best to muzzle Mr. Navalny through constant harassment, but it never entirely squelched him — both to avoid making a martyr of him and to provide a way for society’s discontents to blow off some steam. That approach already seems to have been discarded in favor of greater repression; state television, which long mostly ignored Mr. Navalny, now dedicates lengthy reports to painting him as an agent of the West.
Besides the 2014 conviction for embezzlement, Mr. Navalny endured many smaller humiliations, Ms. Albats, the radio host, recalls: among them ubiquitous, privacy-destroying surveillance and the gratuitous cruelty of confiscating his daughter’s beloved iPad. She said that the support, endurance and conviction of his wife, Yulia B. Navalnaya, kept him going. And his fight against Mr. Putin became ever more personal.
“He had this choice: stay in politics, and keep creating trouble for his family, his brother’s family, his parents,” Ms. Albats said. “Of course, it leads to the hardening of your heart.”
The authorities barred him from running in the 2018 presidential election, but he still crisscrossed the country, opening more than 80 regional offices and agitating for a boycott of an election he saw as rigged to give Mr. Putin a fourth term. He organized nationwide protests and poll-watching efforts, and built up an investigative team that pored through public records and social media to document the questionable dealings of the Russian elite.
mass protests gripped neighboring Belarus as well as Russia’s Far East, pointing to growing risks for Mr. Putin.
Then, in August, Mr. Navalny collapsed on a flight over Siberia, screaming in pain. Western laboratories later determined that he had been poisoned by a military-grade nerve agent — Mr. Putin denies any involvement — and survived thanks to the pilots who made an emergency landing and the medical workers who first treated him in the city of Omsk.
He was airlifted to Germany for treatment. Soon after coming out of a coma, he re-engaged with the world’s political debates. He slammed Twitter’s decision to silence then-President Trump’s account as an “unacceptable act of censorship.”
And in recent weeks, Mr. Navalny has done his best to exude optimism.
“Everything will be OK,” Ms. Albats said he wrote to her from jail. “And even if it won’t be, we will console ourselves with the knowledge that we were honest people.”