Alexei Navalny is a name not dared to be spoken by sitting president, Vladimir Putin. The opposing force to Putin’s United Party proved to be a force despite many, some partially successful, attempts to remove him from the public’s radar. But, with the continuing trend of economic inequality and centralized, corrupt power in office, it is not easy to remove, what many citizens see as the antithesis to this struggle. Nevertheless, Navalny’s treatment by the government is a perfect example of stealthy manipulation tactics the Russian government uses to silence it’s opposition.
Alexei Navalny began his campaign in 2016, with the main focus of his campaign being anti-corruption. He also focuses on decentralizing power in the Kremlin, which grants vast powers to the president’s hands. The expansion of power in the presidency in Russia happened under Yeltsin, post the 1993 Constitutional Crisis.
Perhaps Navalny’s greatest offense against the corruption in the Kremlin was his documentary, He Is Not Dimon To You, which sparked countrywide protests. The documentary exposes Russian Prime Minister, Dmitry Medvedev, in his embezzlement of over 1.2 billion dollars, and his lavish setting because of corruption. In a period where Russia’s people are suffering, and 41% of the population struggles to feed and clothe themselves, this was not a good look for the Kremlin. Protests that sparked because of Navalny’s documentary began on March 26, 2017 and would last until late October, 2018. Navalny was arrested at the protest, and again on September 29th before a rally.
The 2017-2018 protests were not solely because of Medvedev’s crimes. Two-thirds of Russians blame Putin, either entirely or substantially, for high levels of corruption in the Kremlin. These protests were held in opposition to Putin and the Kremlin’s humanitarian crimes against its peoples as much as it was against Medvedev and his dealings.
A poll showed that 38% of Russians supported the rallies and 10% were ready to vote for him in the next election. These results are amazing, considering Navalny was being labeled as a terrorist and blacklisted from the Russian media, his rallies were being suppressed, either because Navalny was in jail, or was taken in by authorities in order to prevent him from speaking, or other forms of foul play. Had Russia had free and fair elections, a chance to take office, while not child’s play, would be viable for Navalny.
Navalny’s chance at presidency was halted when he was sentenced to five years imprisonment for the embezzlement of timber from lumber giant, Kirovles. The trial raised some red flags, and was believed to be politically motivated. The European Court of Human Rights declared that the actions of Navalny and his co-conspirator, Ofitserov, were not guilty of actions that are not already commonplace for business proceedings. A re-trial was demanded and granted by the supreme court. Navalny was once again sentenced in 2017, and was unable to run against Putin in 2018 because the constitution prohibits those with a criminal record to try for office.
Despite Navalny’s chances at office in 2018 being subdued, his campaign continued. Protestors and those campaigning for Navalny were abused by police. Seizure of campaign materials, arrests of campaigners, raiding of campaigners was all perpetrated by police on no grounds. Campaigners for Navalny also had run-ins with nationalist and pro-Kremlin groups who would carry out similar actions as the police.
By December 2017, Navalny supporters campaigned in over 20 cities in Russia in order to gather endorsements and support for Navalny to be able to run in 2018. Navalny had gathered the signatures needed to run, but was officially barred by the Central Electoral Commision.
On August 20, 2020 Navalny began to fall ill on his flight to Moscow. Soon it was determined that he had been poisoned with Novichok, a nerve poison that was developed during the Cold War. Navalny made his recovery in Berlin, but not with ease.
After a preliminary investigation by the Russian Police, it was determined that there was no crime committed and no need for further investigation. Without an investigation, it cannot be said for a fact that Putin ordered Novichok to be used to eliminate Navalny. However, it is heavily speculated that the attempted murder was ordered by Putin.
The perpetrators must have been trained to handle Novichok, otherwise, as Navalny himself states, “And the thing about Novichok is you can’t just go and use it. If I give you some Novichok and tell you to go kill someone with it, you are going to kill yourself and the people around you and probably not the person you are targeting.” Novichok has only ever been mastered and turned into a weapon by the Russians, and in Russia, one must be of authority to be trained in its usage. This makes the scenario that the perpetrator was not Russian highly unlikely, and more, or equally as unlikely for them to be Russian commonfolk. Although not proven, there are undeniable signs, and suspicious precedents, many of which were journalists posing a lesser threat to the Kremlin than Navalny, of violent foul play by the Russian government.
As Navalny’s support grows, so does opposition to Putin and his arms. However, Russians are losing faith in Russia’s “imitation democracy” which functions not dependent on rigged elections, like the title may suggest, but on media monopoly, citizen control, and as presented by Navalny’s case, opposition disenfranchisement. The Signs of Deconsolidation by Foa and Mounk, shows a growing trend in democratic deconsolidation and waning support for liberal democracy as a necessity. A study conducted by the European and World Values Surveys, and featured in the Foa and Mounk article, shows the percentage of respondents who believe “‘a strong leader who does not have to bother with parliament and elections’ is a ‘good’ way to ‘run this country.’” Russia leads the chart with 75% of surveyed believing this statement. A loss of faith in democracy is dangerous, and will be a challenge for any future opposition leader, given that they are able to cross the Kremlin’s barriers.
By Russia’s 2018 election and beyond, Alexei Navalny’s campaign is a prime example of how the Kremlin deals with viable opposition. Since his poisoning, Alexei Navalny says he will not give up his mission, because it’s what the Kremlin wants. This means his Anti-Corruption Foundation, which is tagged as a foreign agent by the government, will keep working to expose injustice in Russia’s governmental body, and upholding anti-Kremlin ideation in Russia.