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Kremlin foe Navalny accepts challenge to ‘duel’

Alexey Navalny at a rally in Moscow. (Wikimedia Commons)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny has accepted a challenge to a “duel” from the head of Russia’s National Guard and has proposed a venue and his weapon of choice.

In a comical-but-defiant video published on October 18, Navalny expressed his “thanks” to Rosgvardia Director Viktor Zolotov and offered to meet him in a live televised debate.

The move comes weeks after Zolotov, a former steelworker and longtime security chief for Russian President Vladimir Putin, released a video in which he appeared in full dress uniform, cap, and epaulets, and challenged Navalny to a duel in the fighting form of his choice, vowing to “make mincemeat” of his opponent.

At the time, Navalny was behind bars, the result of one of several jail sentences he has faced in recent years for organizing protest rallies, mainly against government corruption.

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“I accept your call and choose the place and weapons, as proposed…our duel will take place in the form of a debate” on national television,” Navalny, a fierce Kremlin critic, said in his video.

“Our duel will be a debate live on Channel 1, or Channel 2, or any other federal channel,” Navalny said in his video, which featured images of Star Wars characters, Mickey Mouse, and late martial-arts star Bruce Lee.

He urged Zolotov to respond within a week.

Despite the sometimes-humorous nature of the video, Navalny offered strong criticism of Zolotov and Putin’s administration.

He said that, with the original challenge to a duel, Zolotov had “proven” that “inadequate and insane” people are in power in Russia.

He added that Zolotov and Putin are turning Russia into “a banana republic.”

Navalny showed images of luxurious properties in and around Moscow and in other Russian regions, claiming they were bought by Zolotov and members of his family for “stolen money.”

In his video released in September, Zolotov called Navalny and other Putin critics “rotten, rusty, and decaying” people with “no morals” and “no country, no Fatherland.”

“I simply challenge you to a duel, in the ring, on the judo mat, anywhere,” he said.

State TV rarely shows Navalny, and what coverage he does get is negative, so his proposal of a debate — if accepted — would be a chance to raise his profile.

Navalny said that if state TV declined to broadcast such a program, he would be willing to host the debate on his YouTube channel.

The response so far suggests a debate televised on state TV is unlikely to happen.

A National Guard spokesman told the Associated Press news agency that he had not seen Navalny’s latest video, adding, however, that the service had more important matters to be considering at this time.