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Monday, May 10, 2021

Special report: Navalny's time in Germany

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Special report: Navalny's time in Germany
Special report: Navalny's time in Germany

In Germany’s Black Forest, Alexei Navalny gathered strength, after being poisoned with a nerve agent, and resolve in his single-minded mission: to displace Vladimir Putin.

Rosanna Philpott reports.

Just over two weeks after being poisoned with a Novichok nerve agent in Siberia, Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny woke up from a drug-induced coma and began responding to the words of his wife Yulia.

He had been evacuated here for emergency treatment - Berlin’s Charite hospital - and he was weak.

He would later describe it as a period of appalling hallucinations.

It was September 2020 – almost five months before his eventual return to Russia.

Reuters spoke to more than a dozen people who visited Navalny or communicated with him during his time in Germany.

These people gave insights into the funding of his political operations.

They also recounted that he never wavered in his single-minded mission: to displace Vladimir Putin.

In mid-October 2020, Navalny moved from Berlin at night, by helicopter to the village of Ibach in the Black Forest – set in a high valley.

He, his wife and his son lived in an apartment guarded by armed police.

That’s according to three people who visited him there.

Here Navalny spent about two months to drive himself back to physical fitness with intense workouts.

23-year-old Bjoern Leber became his personal trainer.

"He had a few problems with his co-ordination, well more than a few.

At the beginning he had problems getting into the car and that was when I first realized it.

So on our first fitness plans I focused in co-ordination and then strength.

Because he had been lying for so long he barely had any strength and could only just manage five press ups and they were pretty shaky." The two men spent hours boxing, juggling and running in the apartment.

They also used a counter-current swimming pool in the basement spa.

When not exercising, Leber said Navalny worked on his MacBook, had physiotherapy, or went sightseeing.

"I taught him a bit of German and by the end he could count really well, from one to 20.

Then I motivated him in German because he asked me to and he taught me a few Russian words.

I can't remember much though.

I asked him whether he thought going back to Russia was a good idea and at one point he said: If I don't try I will never know.” By early December, Navalny and his team were in Freiburg near the French border.

It was here that he secretly began work on a feature length film with Putin as its target.

'A Palace for Putin' would allege that Putin is the owner of a sprawling estate on Russia’s Black Sea coast.

It was released on YouTube on January 19, two days after Navalny’s arrest, and has been watched at least 113 million times.

The team filmed in various locations, including Dresden - outside the apartment Putin lived in in the 80s as a KGB agent.

In Berlin - where Navalny visited the archives of the Stasi secret police to see Putin's identity card.

And also at the Black Forest Studios – where staff were sworn to secrecy.

The Kremlin has dismissed the report.

[Russian President, Vladimir Putin] "I have not seen this movie, simply because of the lack of spare time.

But I had a look at video-digest my assistant brought me.

I want to answer your question straight away: nothing named there in the video as my property belongs to me or my close relatives, and never did.

Never.

" Some of Navalny’s supporters hoped he would stay out of Russia, at least for a while.

Russian authorities dropped unambiguous hints that he would be jailed if he returned.

But a German official confirmed to Reuters that Navalny made no request to stay.

Navalny used Instagram to announce his planned return to Russia, writing “Russia is my country, Moscow is my city and I miss it.” Upon landing his arrest was swift.

A couple of weeks later, a Moscow court jailed Navalny for nearly three years for parole violations ignoring a Western outcry over his treatment and nationwide protests that had attracted tens of thousands in the middle of winter.

Some supporters wondered if he should have waited longer before returning.

Those who got to know Navalny in Germany, meanwhile, are focused on his personal fate.

Personal trainer Leber sent Navalny a text saying, "'Stay strong.'" But he only got one tick, the message wasn’t read.

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