It was certainly courageous how last Sunday, Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny arrived in the country where he was poisoned in August. At the same time, he had no choice from a political point of view. Navalny could have applied for asylum in Germany and continued his fight against President Putin from a distance, but practice shows that remote resistance usually dies silently.
And so Navalny returned. Perhaps somewhere he hoped his return would lead to that of that other Russian dissident of more than a century ago: Vladimir Lenin. However, nothing was further from the truth. While Lenin’s return to Russia in 1917 led to a communist revolution, Navalny’s return home was fading rather than revolutionary.
Hot, Navalny had either set a cold foot on Russian soil or was already in the back seat of a pickup truck on his way to the police station. Less than 24 hours later, a judge in the same police station – and thus not in a court – ruled in an example of summary justice unmatched even by Russian standards that Navalny should remain in detention for thirty days.
Will he become a martyr or will his star disappear?
On February 2, he will likely be informed whether he should be imprisoned for 3.5 years for violating the terms of his suspended prison sentence. If it comes to conviction – and everything points to it – the question is what Navalny’s future will look like. Will he become a martyr in captivity or will his star disappear?
The omens refer to the latter. The anti-corruption activist is now in a cell in the notorious Matroskaya Tishina prison in northeastern Moscow. This fact alone is full of symbolism. Because Navalny is not Putin’s first political opponent to end up in this prison complex. Oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky ended up here too in 2003 under lock and key.
Khodorkovsky also dared to challenge Putin’s authority at the time. In retaliation for this unwanted political adventure, the Kremlin annexed the Yukos oil company. Khodorkovsky himself was found guilty, disappeared into a dark hole in Siberia, was pardoned after nearly ten years, went into exile in Switzerland, and since then has seen without teeth how Putin still sits on the lavish things in the Kremlin.
It is a historical model that can easily be applied to Navalny. Because despite the massive international outrage over his arrest, the opposition leader is less well-known in his country than many people think. Navalny enjoys support especially among highly-educated young people. They know him from his YouTube channel exposing systemic corruption in Russia.
But the vast majority of Russians do not know or trust him, thanks in part to the Kremlin’s efficient propaganda machine that consistently portrays him as a spy to the West. A recent poll by the independent Levada Center found that only 20 percent of those surveyed support Navalny’s activities. Additionally, most Russians believe that his poisoning is a self-propaganda stunt.
Every single risk is too much
With these numbers in mind, it comes as no surprise that Russia remained eerily silent when Navalny was poisoned last summer. There were no major demonstrations. This lack of collective sympathy now offers the Kremlin the opportunity to abandon the Navalny case once and for all. Thus the rulers try to hide it without much fanfare. Because every single risk is too much. Especially in an election year.
Navalny himself called himself in a video Monday, however, for “not to fear” and on January 23 to “take to the streets” en masse. But many Russians probably think twice before climbing the barriers. Especially now that the new suppressive laws in light of the upcoming parliamentary elections in September effectively prohibit public demonstrations altogether.
“Don’t go for me, but for yourself and your future,” so Navalny posted it on YouTube. He looked as tough as ever. But somewhere in his head he must be haunted by now. Because if there are no protests, his way to a camp in Siberia or another prison will be smooth. Then there is no martyrdom, but forgetting. In this case, Navalny will not enter the history books as a second Lenin, but as a second Khodorkovsky.
Putin’s cruel bastards: why did the KGB get so dirty?
The FSB is increasingly in the news because covert operations end in the public eye, as in the summer with the poisoning of Alexei Navalny. What happens with the successor to the illustrious KGB?
Zombie specialist. Friendly twitter guru. Internet buff. Organizer. Coffee trailblazer. Lifelong problem solver. Certified travel enthusiast. Alcohol geek.