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The Blogger-Turned-Politician Opposing Putin
Russian political machinery is in tatters, and a considerable part of Russia protests with Navalny, the opposition leader. Omnipotent FSB—Russia’s security agency—and its allied forces have stymied the life of Moscow, not to mention major parts of Russia. Citizens are trying to cope with the political and economic distress Putin has eloquently shared with his ruled landmass.
During this debilitating politico-economic outlook, a prominent lawyer-turned-blogger felt motivated to stake all his strength to change the fate of Russia. Alexei Navalny rose to the scene to fight hard against all the worms that have not only deformed the Kremlin from within but are specialized in political annihilation of anyone standing against Putin and his powerful rule.
This anti-Kremlin blogger evolved into a potential opposition leader and has, since then, proved to be a problem for Putin and his cronies. Nothing comes easy though. Navalny underwent immense criticism not only from the liberal fronts, for being part of Russian nationalists’ agenda, but also from nationalists for being a guided warhead of the CIA.
Defying all these narratives, he pictured himself as a Russian denizen who wants to change the corruption fixated spirit of Russia—largely played in the hands of Putin and the powerful elite backing him.
Moscow’s Fear: Navalny As a Rebellion Leader
One wonders what brought Navalny into this spicy mix of politics and this ‘Nelson Mandela’ vibe. A lot of events in the backdrop have been bringing legitimacy to Navalny’s hope. The most important of them is the power of protests, especially the one giving a hard time to the Kremlin.
Since July last year, enraged demonstrators are on the streets in the Far East region of Khabarovsk. The protests in the region were triggered when the Mayor of the district, who got elected without Kremlin’s blessings, was arrested on the orders of Moscow and charged with murders committed in the early 2000s.
Mr. Navalny grasped this opportunity to advance on his prospects of winning regional elections which were going to be held in September 2020. He filled the hollowness with confidence and optimism coupled with ideological perspectives; it might divide people but also bring them towards sharing common plights of unemployment, lawlessness, deteriorating health, and retreating educational prospects.
In a similar fashion, a couple of years back, he introduced the concept of ‘smart voting’ which has shown Putin the limit of his power and the Kremlin its boundaries of influence. Nevertheless, it became apparent to Kremlin that it needs to settle down the score and that Putin needs to re-adjust his political calculus.
For years, Mr. Putin has used the state’s power to inflict hardships in Mr. Navalny’s way by dragging him into courts, imprisoning him for brief spells, disqualifying him from the ballots, but he never thought of silencing him for good. Executing him would only reflect the President’s vulnerability; instead, he refrained to go down that road and showed his invincibility.
Meanwhile, it held out the weak aspect for Putin’s government: the possibility that one day Mr. Navalny could lead a real rebellion. Although it probably helped Putin secure the patronage of leaders with whom he shares his power, the assassination attempt says otherwise.
Last August was pivotal in the 20-years rule of Putin. Russian security agents attempted to assassinate Navalny by poisoning him with the use of a Russian nerve agent, Novichok, while he was on his way from Tomsk to Moscow. This made him almost plunge to death but when you’re this high in your spirits, even the evil forces are meant to fail. He was immediately evacuated out of Russia to Germany for special medical care in Berlin.
Now, this incident immediately points all the suspicion towards the Kremlin based on the subsequent attempts by it to avoid Navalny’s transfer to the hospital in Berlin. Furthermore, its failure to investigate the attack and its consistent efforts to discredit the whole probe by instituting countless doubts have suggested its involvement, if not confirmed it.
On 14th December last year Mr. Navalny’s aides, together with Bellingcat—a digital forensics group—and Insider—an investigative group—concluded in a joint publication that it was FSB agents and their movements who, since 2017, had trailed Mr. Navalny when he first announced about running for President.
The investigation found out that most of these agents were enlisted on various sources of data extracted from airlines, mobile phones, and other sources of the dark web, giving proof of certainty that they had links to chemical-weapons facilities and were present when Mr. Navalny was poisoned.
Mr. Putin has concurred to this narrative, but he remained poised on his alleged suspicion that Mr. Navalny has links trailing back to CIA headquarters. Mr. Navalny countered this narrative smartly by actually releasing a video of him having a conversation with the FSB agent who facilitated this poisoning misdemeanor.
Navalny’s stratagem was to look like his call is coming from inside the FSB headquarters. The result of this call has not only humiliated FSB’s image of an untouched and efficient secret service but has also engaged millions on his YouTube video. This helped build Navalny’s credibility as a formidable opposition leader.
After spending nearly five months abroad in a Berlin hospital for his treatment, on January 17th, Mr. Navalny and his wife flew back home. He reached Moscow before the parliamentary election of 2021 with the same passion he wielded back in August 2020 before he got poisoned. He chose Pobeda, a cheap airline whose name translated to ‘Victory’, for his commute back to Moscow from Germany.
Not surprisingly though, shortly after reaching the Sheremetyevo airport of Moscow, he was detained by several officers in black uniform and taken directly to a police station. That’s where ‘justice’ was delivered in the form of a makeshift court which, after a brief hearing, sentenced Mr. Navalny to 30 days of detention for, allegedly, breaching his parole while recovering in Germany.
His perils don’t end there. As his detention term moves toward expiry, he will be back on trial on 2nd February. The next court will undoubtedly imprison him for another three and a half years on charges of embezzlement, generally believed to be fraudulently conceived. But every time the Kremlin has gotten close to belittling Navalny, he always turns the tides in his favor.
On January 19th, 2021, right after the next day of trial, Mr. Navalny’s aides released a two-hour video that has taken the internet by storm. The film is about Putin’s finances and his hidden palace on the Black Sea coast. Navalny alleges that his friends had constructed it for him at a whopping cost of $1.35 billion, expunged under the noses of Russian taxpayers.
It’s not the first time Navalny has unraveled troves of assets owned by Kremlin officials. Mr. Navalny always had a knack for internet because of its wider reach than state television. His anti-Kremlin message has earned him huge support all over Russia, despite Putin’s popularity.
In 2017, Mr. Navalny uploaded a video on YouTube targeting luxurious assets such as yachts and palaces owned by Dmitry Medvedev, former Russian Prime Minister. That video sparked a protest spreading from Vladivostok in the east to St. Petersburg in the west. It spread to 90 Russian cities.
Kremlin’s Dilemma: To Kill Or Not To Kill
Still, there is a huge dilemma looming over Kremlin’s head: To imprison Navalny will idealize Nelson Mandela out of him, but to kill him will only reinforce Mr. Putin’s legacy. The legacy painting him as not the restorer of Russia’s glory days but as something similar to a spiteful mafia boss.
On the other hand, this arrest has made Mr. Navalny “a prisoner of conscience”, Mr. Putin a vengeful tyrant, and Russia a land where the Kremlin feels free to violate the law and human rights violation. This is a firm rebuke in itself for Kremlin and its officials who dance on Mr. Putin’s symphonies.
After these intelligent moves played by Mr. Navalny in consolidating votes against the United Russia party—the vehicle by which Putin wields his influence—Kremlin’s omnipotence may have gotten lost in the way. The court’s ruling on Tuesday sentenced Navalny to jail for a period of 2 years and 8 months over alleged parole violations.
With his charisma and strong will, however, Mr. Navalny is determined to bring his country closer to a modern-day republic. That’s more appealing than Putin’s imperial nationalism. To bring that about, Navalny is motivated not to give in to Putin’s lies and fears while utilizing every resource in his access to break Kremlin’s monopoly on propaganda.
Though Mr. President is handy in dominating the courts, electoral commissions, and the security forces, there are still vivid prospects that Russia’s 2021 parliamentary elections will turn into a war of nerves. Come what may, the one with tolerance and sharp wits will lead the game.
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