Alexei Navalny may yet be the man to topple Putin

The opposition leader represents an unprecedented threat to the ageing President’s grip on power

MARK ALMOND. January 19, 2021

Without personal courage, political principles are merely hot air. Alexei Navalny’s decision to return to Russia where he was poisoned in August makes a sharp contrast  with the cowering US congressmen hiding from the freak show on Capitol Hill on January 6.

By going back into the lion’s den, the Russian opposition leader – who had baited Vladimir Putin and his security agents since being airlifted to Germany for treatment for Novichok poisoning – has raised the stakes for himself, the Russian President and the West.

Putting his life on the line certainly threw Russia’s powers-that-be into a tizz. The cack-handed reaction of the Russian authorities to Navalny’s return showed they were taken by surprise. They could not imagine anyone renouncing a cushy life in Western exile to challenge them on home ground.  

The Kremlin’s improvised response from diverting Navalny’s plane away from its scheduled airport to dragging him into makeshift court the next morning suggest that Putin was in a panic. Far from the master of the global chess board, his handling of Navalny’s reappearance in Russia shows that he is losing his touch.

Expect more heavy-handed efforts to silence Navalny’s supporters in Moscow including the authorities using the Covid emergency as grounds for banning demonstrations. But the real threat to Putin is that discontent may be spreading far beyond the Russian capital.  The background to the poisoning in August was that Navalny had moved his operations into Siberia, away from his base of support in the prosperous capital where dissent against the regime has typically been strongest. While vast swathes of Russia saw little boom in the good years of the Putin presidency, they are beginning to stir as wages fall further as a consequence of Covid. In the Far East, the Kremlin’s arrest of the Russian nationalist mayor of Khaborovsk sparked months of protests in a previously placid pro-Putin region. Navalny relocating in an effort to to turn the provinces against Putin was a challenge to the Kremlin that it could not ignore. 

Western commentators often shy away from discussing Navalny’s Russian nationalism, but it is a strong component in his appeal. The Russian liberals of the 1990s were slavishly pro-Western and their disastrous shock therapy, straight out of Harvard textbooks, alienated a generation of Russians who saw Putin as a saviour. By mixing his calls for free and fair elections with a strong dose of “Make Russia Really Great Again”, Navalny is mining a seam of domestic support once securely in Putin’s column.

Even Navalny’s body-building tough-man image is a bit of a parody of Putin’s own tiger-wrestling, bareback riding propaganda portrayal. The worrying thing for the president is that he is now well past pension age and such antics cut little ice with a generation that has grown up knowing nothing else.

Boredom can be fatal to rulers who stay too long. Vladimir Putin’s two decades in the Kremlin would have created an itch for change among Russians and even his ambitious subordinates had things remained rosy. Economic stagnation and frustration with a corrupt bureaucratic swamp beneath the Kremlin may be eating away at Putin’s powerbase among Russians.

Putin tried ignoring Navalny, ordering Russian media to kill him with silence, but the internet gave him a way around the media blackout. When the American tech giants cut off Donald Trump’s twitter account, Navalny warned that this was a dangerous precedent to hand Putin. So long as Navalny can livestream events like his return home, then more and more Russians can click on his message.

Killing Navalny now would be fatal to Putin’s reputation in Russia let alone the rest of the world. Even locking him up won’t silence him or his cause. Navalny in prison is not in nearly as bad a bind as Putin in the Kremlin.

Mark Almond is director of the Crisis Research Institute, Oxford

7 comments

  • Regrettably this historic paper; the DT, gets infested with filthy kremtrolls in the comments section whenever an article such as this one appears. Here is just one example from a person calling himself ‘John Marks’ :
    ‘You’re delusional, MrAlmond.
    Navalny is more like Magnitsky: a fall guy for a bigger beast.
    In Magnitsky’s case, he was the fall-guy for William Browder, one of the most brazen and crooked psychopaths currently on the planet.
    Navalny is almost certainly some kind of useful tool of Washington’s many swamp creatures, just as Christopher Steele is for MI6. They both share narcissistic and megalomanic traits in their thirst for publicity.’
    Ivan Markov of the Internet Research Agency more like. Funny how all vile things are called the IRA isn’t it?

    Liked by 6 people

  • New video Navalny.Putin has a Palace of 1.1 Billion euro in South Russia. 200 rooms ..tennis fields…sauna’s etc.

    Liked by 5 people

  • Navalny is a hero already. He did not make the mistake Svetlana made in Belarus, when she exiled herself. If she would have been jailed and tortured in Belarus, her supporters would have put the country upside downe. She lost the momentum. Alexei is doing the right thing, but it’s very dangerous. Putin is a snake, unlike Luka, and therefore Alexei’s life is in great danger.

    Liked by 5 people

  • “The opposition leader represents an unprecedented threat to the ageing President’s grip on power”
    One thing is as certain as the rising and the setting of the sun … before the sewer rat losses his grip on power to Navalny, Navalny will die and it doesn’t matter how.

    Liked by 4 people

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