Alexej Navalny has been arrested countless times, poisoned last year and is currently detained again in Moscow. Since his return to Russia, the opposition leader in the West has once again been in the spotlight. But who is he and why did he come back?
The answer to the first question depends on who you ask the question in Russia. The Kremlin says that it is a charlatan convicted of embezzlement trying to sow discord in Russia. But his supporters see in the 44-year-old activist a charismatic politician who wants to put an end to corruption.
Who‘s his backing?
“ The older Russians, who mostly follow the news on TV, will only have heard bad things about him, or even nothing at all.” The floor is Ruslandexpert and political scientist Mark Galeotti. He is a member of University College London and writes books and articles on the country.
“ Especially the higher-educated young Russians know who Navalny is because they’ve seen his videos on social media,” says Galeotti. The activist has millions of followers on YouTube, Twitter and Instagram.
The Internet is the only way for Navalny to reach his supporters on a massive scale, as the vast majority of radio and TV channels carry the message of the Kremlin.
“His name is taboo.”
Galeotti: “Speaking his name on TV is almost taboo. Nor has President Putin said his name in public. That has been the Kremlin‘s strategy for a long time, because they think he’s too dangerous.” But why would a 44-year-old lawyer pose a danger to Putin, who has been in power undisputed for over 20 years?
According to the expert, this is mainly due to Navalny‘s message. Through social media, the opposition leader published on one of Russia’s biggest problems: corruption. With his videos he claims to demonstrate the luxury and self-enrichment of oligarchs, criminals and political leaders. He also called for demonstrations against those in power.
Today Navalny appeared in Moscow, but he called it a charade in a video on Instagram:
“ Navalny is eloquent and he offers what many Russians want, tackling the widespread corruption. Corruption is not a problem within the system, but the system itself,” says Galeotti. On the 2019 Corruption Perceptions Index, Russia has the same score as Uganda, Dominican Republic and Lebanon.
“ From bus driver to professor: every Russian has to deal with it. And that makes the message so powerful.” Especially now that the Russian economy is in bad shape, the Kremlin has admitted that there are far more coronadodes than previously reported and Putin‘s popularity is slowly declinating, Galeotti lists.
Excluded from participation
Ironically, in 2014, the opposition leader was himself convicted of embezzlement by the Russian authorities. International organisations declining it as a political show process, as does Navalny himself. As a result of the conviction, he was unable to participate in the presidential elections in 2018.
According to the polls, he certainly would not have won it at that time. According to the reasonably independent opinion poller Levada, some 4% would have voted for Navalny. In a recent poll of 1600 Russians, one in five approved his actions, while more than 51 percent rejected them.
“Smart voices, “don’t you?
Next autumn there will be elections for seats in the State Duma, parliament. Although he is unelected, Navalny Putin‘s party can still make life miserable in the United Russia, according to Galeotti. “He invented smart voices.” This system will calculate which opposition candidate has the best chance of defeating the candidate of United Russia per seat.”
Navalny’s goal is to break the dominance of the ruling party by winning as many seats as possible for the opposition. For example, by all voting for the Communist Party candidate, or the Liberal candidate, it is easier than by voting purely to political preference.
“ The problem with that ‘smart voices’ is that there are hardly any candidates from the liberal opposition, to which Navalny belongs, “says correspondent David Jan Godfroid. “But, for example, communists or the party of Zhirinovsky, a notorious nationalist. You can hardly call it opposition, especially at the federal level. Navalny and his organisation therefore exaggerated its success.”
The opposition leader was admitted to a Berlin hospital in August last year. German doctors then came to the conclusion that he was poisoned with nerve gas novitsjok. Several European leaders condemned Russia for poisoning. The Kremlin denies any form of involvement.
According to Galeotti, that Navalny has returned to Russia is “a courageous but also calculated decision. herealizes that he can only be a real opposition leader if he is in Russia. And if something happens to him now, it will lead to a fierce counter-reaction from the international community. And perhaps even in the interior.”