“Putin could disappear tomorrow – and there is a realistic alternative”

“It escalated so quickly,” Pevchikh says. “He just gave so many details and to all the questions Alexei asked he answered in detail, listing the names, the color of the underwear they put the poison on, he described how they cleaned his clothes afterwards to remove traces of Novichok. He was on the phone for 50 minutes. We got bored at the end. Kudryavstev has not been seen or heard from since.

As Ukraine absorbs the world’s attention, Pevchikh thinks the new film is a necessary reminder that Russia has a ready replacement for Putin locked in solitary confinement.

“I hope the film brings the spotlight back to Alexei,” she says. “He is probably the most famous political prisoner in the world, the Russian government has already tried to kill him, and they are now holding him hostage and his life is in great danger.”

Navalny, 45, who bravely returned to Russia in January 2021 after recovering from the attempt on his life, is being held in a correctional labor colony where he lives in a ‘prison within the prison’, prevented from talking to other inmates, performing menial tasks designed to break his spirit, and with visits from his wife Yulia allowed only every two months. Initially he was jailed for breaching parole following an earlier conviction, then last month he was sentenced to a further nine-and-a-half years for embezzlement and contempt of court.

Pevchikh, who has not seen him since his incarceration last year, says he is “doing well, given the circumstances” and is “very productive”, managing to give his team new ideas and projects in letters from prison written in a way that evades censorship.

Pevchikh is “100% confident” that he will not have to serve his full sentence, as “he will be released the day Putin leaves, one way or another.” And then he will become president? “Mm-hmm. That’s the plan,” she said.

“Putin is a human being. He is 70 years old. Life expectancy in Russia for a man is 60, maybe 65 years. He cannot be president for 10 years; it’s just physically impossible.

“Putin has put himself in such a weak position, he has put himself at risk by invading Ukraine, the Russian economy seems on the verge of collapse, food prices have tripled; this is a very vulnerable position he has put himself in by pursuing this insane dream of taking over Ukraine.

Pevchikh, speaking from New York where she is promoting the film, says Putin could die naturally, he “could be killed by someone close to him” or could even resign voluntarily.

It may sound fanciful, but Pevchikh insists: “If I thought it wasn’t possible for us to win, I wouldn’t. I am convinced that the work I have done over the past 10 years is an investment in our great future of Russia, and it will definitely pay off and hopefully make Russia a just and free country with the rule of law and without corruption”.