Putin is facing the first great threat to his rule

The Russian president will not be able to silence the opposition leader Alexei Navalny without a fight

Con Coughlin
C DEFENCE EDITOR
27 January 2021 • 6:00am

Of all the political challenges Vladimir Putin has encountered during his two decades of despotic rule, the threat posed by Alexei Navalnypromises to be the most problematic.

It is not just that Mr Navalny has displayed enormous heroism through his decision to return to his home country after a botched attempt by the Kremlin’s FSB intelligence service to assassinate him with a Novichok nerve agent. It is Mr Navalny’s ability, even from the confines of his Moscow prison cell where he has languished since earlier this month, to continue causing Moscow’s self-appointed president-for-life untold embarrassment by publishing excruciating details concerning what appears to be Mr Putin’s lifestyle.

Like most dictators, Mr Putin apparently feels entitled to award himself a purpose-built palace designed to reflect the glory of his rule. Romania’s long-serving communist tyrant Nicolae Ceaucescu built a perfectly hideous structure that dominated central Bucharest, while the Iraqi landscape remains littered with the Babylonian-style monstrosities Saddam Hussein erected. But the reason Mr Putin is now the subject of almost universal derision – both at home and abroad – is the sheer vulgarity of the Italianate-style palace that Mr Navalny has accused the Russian President of building on a clifftop Black Sea estate several times the size of Monaco.

Building such a vast complex, with its own petrol station, three-lane motorway and no-fly zone, would perhaps be understandable for someone like Mr Putin, who is obsessed with his personal security. It is Mr Navalny’s revelation, though, that the “Putin Palace”, as he calls it, contains a subterranean ice-rink and its own purple lap-dancing club that has prompted many Russians to question their leader’s sanity, as has his willingness to spend an eye-watering £1,500-a-piece on Italian toilet brushes.

According to a video released by Mr Navalny’s supporters shortly after he returned to Russia, and which has so far been viewed more than 80 million times, the palace has been built with money illegally appropriated from the purchase of medical equipment, as well as a number of other corrupt commercial arrangements.

The 44-year-old Mr Navalny has based his political career making embarrassing revelations about Mr Putin’s regime, which have included clandestinely interviewing members of the FSB team sent to murder him last August, who openly admitted their participation in the sordid affair.

The Kremlin has gone into overdrive trying to discount the latest allegations, claiming that the palace has nothing to do with the Russian leader. Even the Russian Embassy in London has got in on the act, tweeting that “hypocrites continue to inflate the fake #Navalny case to interfere into internal affairs of our country.”

Even so, the scale of the anti-Putin protests that erupted nationwide at the weekend in support of Mr Navalny, with protesters brandishing toilet brushes to show their contempt for their president, means that Mr Putin is now facing one of the most serious political insurrections of his presidency.

Previously, Mr Putin has reacted with brutal force to crush any hint of dissent to his authoritarian rule. In the early noughties, when the Russian oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky began campaigning for democratic reform in Moscow, he was jailed on trumped-up fraud charges, and spent eight years doing hard labour in Siberia. In 2015, Boris Nemstov, another prominent critic of Mr Putin, was shot dead on a Moscow bridge within sight of the Kremlin.

And, to judge by the treatment Mr Navalny has received since returning to Russia, Mr Putin has every intention of using similar strong arm tactics to silence his latest rival. At present Mr Navalny is being held in custody awaiting the outcome of next week’s court hearing, where he is accused of violating the terms of a suspended sentence, which could result in him being jailed for four years. In addition, the Russian authorities are said to be considering fresh fraud charges, which could result in him receiving an even harsher sentence.

The big difference between Mr Navalny and Mr Khodorkovsky, who now lives in exile in London, is that the former enjoys a genuine support base in Russia. Moreover, the Kremlin’s appalling treatment of Mr Navalny, from the botched Novichok assassination attempt to his present incarceration, has attracted widespread international condemnation, to the extent that even the EU has threatened to impose sanctions against key Kremlin officials if Mr Navalny is not released.

Pressure, too, is building on the British Government to take a harder line on Moscow, with calls for the recently-introduced Unexplained Wealth Orders to be used more widely against known associates of Mr Putin operating in Britain.

Silencing Mr Navalny, therefore, could prove a great deal more problematic for Mr Putin, who may yet come to regret his lavish investment in the dubious delights of his presidential retreat.

5 comments

  • This article has just been published. Con is a respected journalist with excellent contacts in the intelligence community and is a veteran kremlinologist. For that reason, the kremtrolls will descend in force onto the comments section, as they have a particularly toxic hatred for this writer.

    Liked by 5 people

  • If Navalny was such a threat, he would be dead by now. Nemtsov was a threat because he was going to release evidence about Russian involvement in Ukraine. Russians don’t care about corruption, it’s been part of life since Soviet times. News about Putin’s palace will hardly raise an eyebrow in Russia, neither would his poisoning of Navalny.

    Liked by 5 people

  • Navalny was a catalyst to the protests. Now, it is up to the people to pull this through. Or, to let this flame fizzle out into nothingness.

    “Pressure, too, is building on the British Government to take a harder line on Moscow, with calls for the recently-introduced Unexplained Wealth Orders to be used more widely against known associates of Mr Putin operating in Britain.”
    I’m afraid that Britain and the other European countries will let this fizzle out into nothingness … as usual.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Same with America. Putinoid scum have got huge investments in property and stock over there. NYC and Florida probably amounts to more than Londongrad? Can you even imagine how much luxury housing stock has been sold by the Trumps to roosky criminals?

      Liked by 3 people

      • I don’t want to imagine this otherwise my blood pressure will skyrocket.
        Just once I wish we would get a president that carries a very big stick and beats all these rats out of their holes!

        Liked by 4 people

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