Let‘s talk about a politician and public player of Russia Alexei Navalny. Probably there is not a single person in Russia (and Europe, too) who is interested in politics and who has not heard about the opponent of the Kremlin. However, at the same time a lot of ardour is going on regarding a personality of Alexei Navalny. The opinion about him has even reinforced segregation of people from the non-systemic opposition, which even previously did not demonstrate a big consolidation. In the eyes of many people the personality of Alexei Navalny is quite contradictory. In this context we will try to review and analyze some of these contradictions.
Is it Courage or Calculation?
We should not say that Alexei Navalny was not known before. This politician (I think we can call him this way, because his activities are related to olitical activity) has been working for over a year trying to unmask corruption of Russian politicians and functionaries. The Anti-Corruption Fund founded by him is involved in investigative journalism and publicise information about cases of unjust enrichment and also pays attention to other evils of the ruling elite of Russia.
For instance, at the end of 2015 the Anti-Corruption Fund on platform publicised a film ‘Chaika’ (currently it was reviewed over 17 million times). The name of the film can be translated like a seagull – it once coincides with the surname of the Prosecutor General of Russia and the title of the play of the Russian classic Anton Chekhov). This film shows the Prosecutor General of that time Yuri Chaika family relations with the representatives of the criminal world.
Actually, the Kremlin usually ignores Alexei Navalny and investigations published by his team. In any civilized country the Prosecutor General would lose his position after the revealed facts, but the mentioned film did not cost the position to Yuri Chaika. He continued his work as a Prosecutor General and in 2020 he was appointed a representative of the President of Russia in the North Caucasus Federal district.
The example with Yuri Chaika is not the only one. Other top politicians and functionaries, including the former president and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and Vladimir Putin also got in to the spotlight of Alexei Navalny and his team. The last recently disclosed investigation was telling about the ‘Palace of Vladimir Putin’(the film was reviewed on 110 times within less than one month time). The story goes about the impressive and luxurious complex of buildings that is designated for residence and leisure. Actually, later the oligarch Arkady Rotenberg told that actually the ‘palace’ is owned by him and not Vladimir Putin. On the other hand, this does not change anything. Sometimes Arkady Rotenberg is called the ‘wallet of Vladimir Putin’. There is information that Vladimir Putin visited the palace several times when it was in the process of building; thus it is probable that even if the palace is not directly owned by him, however actually it can be dedicated to the current President of the Russian Federation.
However, now people are talking about Alexei Navalny mostly not because of his investigations, but because there was an attempt to kill him. We have to recall this story at least in short.
An attempt to kill Alexei Navalny
At the end of August of the last year Alexei Navalny felt sick when he was going to Moscow from Tomsk, where he and his colleagues were collecting material for his new investigation. The pilot of the flight where the politician was flying decided to land in Omsk immediately. Alexei Navalny was hospitalized there. The family of the politician immediately had suspicions that he could have been poisoned. Thanks to the attempts of his family and other indifferent people the politician was transported to Germany for treatment. Here we have to remind that doctors in Omsk did not give permission to take Alexei Navalny abroad, indicating different reasons why he could not be transported. People say that finally the permission to ‘transport’ Alexei Navalny was given by Vladimir Putin.
Doctors in Germany confirmed that the politician had been poisoned. They determined that a chemical agent Novichok was used – the same agent that was used in the attempt to poison the former Russian intelligence officer Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in the United Kingdom in 2018. There are solid suspicions that the Senior Intelligence Directorate of Russia was hiding behind the attempt to kill in the territory of the UK. The attempt to kill became revenge to Sergei Skripal for his cooperation with intelligence service of the United Kingdom. Correspondingly, suspicions arose right away that government-related structures also tried to kill Alexei Navalny. Now we can say that these suspicions were right.
A well-known international investigation group , , The Insider and Der Spiegel carried a joint investigation, which enabled to determine people who attempted to kill Alexei Navalny. We are talking about a special group that is related to Federal Security Service of Russia (FSS). There are no doubts that the order to eliminate the politician was received from the top government. Besides, it is most likely that this was not the first attempt to kill Alexei Navalny. As the investigation managed to determine there was another attempt to poison him previously. Once the politician’s wife also felt the symptoms of poisoning.
Alexei Navalny’s call (after doctors in Germany recovered him) to one of the suspected poisoners can be called a significant aspect in this story. The politician pretended to be a counsellor of the Chief of Security Service of Russia Nikolai Patrushev and managed to find out some details of poisoning. For instance, from this conversation we found out that the boxer shorts were covered with toxic substance and later agents of FSS were cleaning traces of poisonous agent from Alexei Navalny clothes that were given to them by medical staff in Omsk.
A demonstrative return
Another important aspect in this story is the decision of the politician to return home after treatment in Germany. Alexei Navalny officially announced that he was planning to come home on 17 January. He also published information which flight he was planning to take. His followwers wanted to meet Alexei Navalny in the airport, which was not acceptable to the government of Russia.
The Kremlin tried to bully the politician and ‘convince’ him to stay abroad, i.e. in factual emigration. Well before the New Year the Russian Prosecutor’s office claimed it was intending to the nominal ssentence in so-called Yves Rocher case with the real one. The mentioned action was brought against Alexei Navalny and his brother Oleg, who were charged with fraud. Alexei Navalny and his brother told that the case had been fabricated. We must mention that the European Court of Human Rights also admitted that persecution of Alexei Navalny and his brother in this case had been politically engaged and the rendered judgement was not reasoned.
Finally, the mentioned bully did not intimidate Alexei Navalny and his return to Russia turned into a real show. The flight the politician was taking was directed from Vnukov airport where it had to land to Sherementyevo airport. Officially, the reason for that was allegedly a snow blowing vehicle that broke and stuck on one runway in Vnukov airport. Besides, on the day when Alexei Navalny had to return, the law enforcement officers started arresting his followers already in the morning, so they would not be able to meet the politician in the airport. Finally, Alexei Navalny was arrested even without going out of the passport control zone.
Arrest of the politician promoted massive protests that spread in many cities of Russia. To tell the truth, law enforcement officers dispersed these protests in a rather harsh and sometimes cruel way. In this context a lot of parallels with Belarus were presented, where recently protests against Alexander Lukashenko, who does not want to give up ruling, were also dispersed rather harshly.
Meanwhile the Kremlin demonstrated that actually the bully was not in vain. At the beginning of February a nominal sentence to Alexei Navalny as the Prosecutors office was pursuing, was replaced with the actual 3.5 years prison sentence. Now the politician, in line with the previous time spent in imprisonment, would have to be in prison for another 2 years and 8 months. Besides, Alexei Navalny is a party in another case, where he is charged with defamation of the war veteran. This case also looks strained.
Two confronting camps
We had to recall all latest stories related to Alexei Navalny so we could better understand the scope of this political player and we could easier talk about confrontations related to him. Actually, talking about the mentioned politician and approach to him, we can see two big camps that are taken by representatives of non-systemic opposition of Russia. For the sake of simplicity we can call these camps or groups as Alexei Navalny followers and opponents. Correspondingly, each camp spreads its approach towards this politician.
To followers, Alexei Navalny is undoubtedly a hero, actually the only real politician who was not afraid to challenge the system and even Vladimir Putin. They see Alexei Navalny as a real leader of the opposition and treat him as a real candidate to the position of the President of Russia after the political system created by Vladimir Putin and his environment collapse sooner or later. This approach towards Alexi Navalny is somewhat waxed lyrically. On the other hand, the politician himself tries to comply with it. A demonstrative return to Russia, knowing well about the risk and consequences of such a step, is the element of this compliance, even demonstration of insane courage (having in mind that the FSS was taking care of the attempt to kill the politician in August).
The attitude of opponents towards Alaxei Navalny is more critical. We can even talk about different views, each of which has different arguments why this politician is ‘such a hero’. Some people do not like that Alaxei Navalny actually emerged from the Russian nationalists and he can hardly be treated as a representative of the liberal idea. They remind of a rather ‘imperial’ position of this politian both in the context of war in Georgia (in 2008) and events in Crimea. In the latter question the reply of Alexei Navalny about Crimea and its fate in case Alexei Navalny comes to power has been often quoted. The politician told that Crimea is not a ‘sandwich’ to give it from one hands to the other. In other words, he did not admit that the peninsular must be immediately returned to Ukraine.
The opinion also exists that Alexei Navalny is a creation and puppet of special services or one of the Kremlin close clan competing for power with each other. The representatives of this attitude say that there are no threats to Alexei Navalny in Russia; therefore he did not take any risk returning home.
Representatives of the opponent camp also say that Alexei Navalny is actually similar to Vladimir Putin, thus when he comes to power, he would simply become a new dictator. Thus, to say it simple, we cannot take it as an alternative to the current rotten system.
An attempt to see it in a neural way
In this case it is not easy to answer the question where we have the truth and where just fantasies. We can still simply summarize what is known and seen (not taking too much attention to both too big admiration and theories of conspiracy).
We can say that in the background of all split up non-systemic opposition Alexei Navalny actually is demonstrating a real political and public thinking. Moreover, the Kremlin tried very hard to clear up the alternative political field by getting rid of the strongest opponent in one way or other. Here we should remember first the case of killing Boris Nemtsov in February 2015. By the way, in this context the attempt to kill Alexei Navalny becomes quite logical – as a continuous clearing of the political field. It is also obvious that the Kremlin is reacting quite nervously and sharply to the actions taken by Alexei Navalny and his followers. It means that the Kremlin sees a potential danger to the regime in him, although maybe this is the case when people say look fear in the eye.
We should also consider whether Alexei Navalny is actually a “Russian nationalist” and “admirer of the empire”. In this case the followers usually say that people are changing and the opponents say that people do not change. Again, we still do not know who of them are right. It is obvious that Alexei Navalny is not the follower of the idea of the collapse of Russia and it is hardly possible he would support a greater federalization with the broad autonomy of regions. On the other hand, they are avoiding talks of nationalists and ethno-centrists, at least at the time being. Here in any case Alexei Navalny demonstrates the already mentioned rational political thinking. He is trying in any case not to discourage his potential (future) lectors. Alexei Navalny has chosen the fight against corruption – globally accepted evil that has no ideological hue.
On the other hand, it is still not probable that Alexei Nvalny can become a real challenge to the Kremlin. We can presume that Moscow is afraid of him quite rationally, which shows that the Kremlin is still ruled by paranoiac fantasies about from the money of the West.
Talking about significance and influence of Alexei Navalny we should mention that talking about his followers and opponents we do not talk about all society of Russia. These camps more reflect the situation in a quite limited environment of the non-systemic opposition. The way an ordinary or ‘massive’ Russian sees Alexei Navalny is the results of a public survey about how people see the attempt to kill Alexei Navalny carried out by at the end of last year. According to its results 30 percent of respondents do not believe that the politician was poisoned; in their opinion the whole situation was staged. Another 19 percent of respondents think that poisoning was provocation of the Western special services. Another 6 percent of respondents think that the attempt to kill Alexei Navalny is related to the struggle for power within the opposition and 7 percent think that one of the players of investigations wanted to revenge the politician in this way. Only 15 percent of respondents think that the attempt to kill Alexei Navalny was political (i.e. sanction by the Kremlin) (by the way, the same percentage as in 2014; again – according to the results of the public survey, they were not happy about annexation of the Crimea to Russia). Thus, we should not talk about massive support and trust in Alexei Navalny. As we can see, most people in Russia tend to trust the stories of the Kremlin propaganda – first of all, probably because they do not get or simply do not look for any alternative information
Summarizing, in a normal competitive political field Alexei Navalny could actually become a quite successful politician despite of his actual tendencies and attitudes. Nowadays he is naturally seen as a player who can lead the united opposition forces. However, it is hard to unite these forces (all attempts have been still equal to zero). Besides, Alexei Navalny potentially can take the leading position not because everybody agree he is worth it (we have already proved that not everybody), but because we can see no other alternatives. However, even in this case there are no guarantees that Alexei Navalny and his followers potentially are not so strong to kill the dragon living in the Kremlin.