‘In Russia, the new evil is rooted in the old evil’: novelist Sergei Lebedev on Putin, poison and state terror

The author’s new thriller revolves around a deadly neurotoxin. He talks about its parallels with the poisoning of Russia’s opposition leader Alexei Navalny – and why today’s protests in his homeland give him hope

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The Russian novelist Sergei Lebedev is currently based in Berlin. But it is the popular uprising in Moscow that hangs darkly over our conversation. Hours before we speak, protesters calling for the release of the jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny take to the streets in towns and cities right across Russia. The Kremlin’s response is a familiar one: thuggish violence.

The TV images make a Mordor-like tableau. Faceless riot police clash their shields together in a rhythmic display of power; demonstrators raise their arms in a plucky counter-clap. There are arrests, many thousands of them. Young men are savagely beaten and dragged through grey slush into waiting police vans. One sets himself alight in an apparent act of rebellion.

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‘In Russia, the new evil is rooted in the old evil’: novelist Sergei Lebedev on Putin, poison and state terror