Alexey Navalny and protests: what will the next round be like?

Tens of Thousands Turn Out To Protest Alexei Navalny’s Arrest | NBC Nightly News

Alexey Navalny and protests: what will the next round be like?

Experts believe that the protest movement in support of Alexei Navalny could change the political landscape ahead of the September Duma elections

Human Rights Center «Memorial» recognized as political prisoners a group of defendants of the so-called «sanitary affairs», initiated after the January 23 rally in support of Alexei Navalny on January 23. They are all under house arrest. – the maximum possible punishment on charges of allegedly calling for violation of sanitary and epidemiological rules.

The new political prisoners are: Pussy Riot member Maria Alekhina, head of «Alliance of Physicians» Anastasia Vasilyeva, brother of Alexei Navalny Oleg Navalny, lawyer of FBK Lyubov Sobol, coordinator of Navalny’s Moscow headquarters Oleg Stepanov, press secretary of Navalny Kira Yarmysh activist Nikolai Lyaskin, Moscow municipal deputies Dmitry Baranovsky, Konstantin Yankauskas and Lucy Stein.

IN «Memorial» are convinced that restrictive measures in connection with the coronavirus pandemic are not an unconditional basis for the prohibition of mass public events and violate Article 31 of the Constitution.

Meanwhile, in Russia, discussions continue over the decision of Alexei Navalny’s supporters to take a break in protest actions until spring. We will remind, earlier this was announced by the head of the network of regional headquarters of Navalny Leonid Volkov.

«If we go out every week, we will get thousands more arrested and hundreds more beaten., – he stressed. – The work of the headquarters will be paralyzed and it will be impossible to work on elections for nothing. This is not what Alexey asks of us».

According to human rights activists, over 11,000 people were detained throughout the country during three rallies in solidarity with Navalny, many are still in prison. A number of criminal cases were initiated in connection with the protests.

According to Volkov, Navalny recommended that those who support him concentrate their efforts on the elections to the State Duma of the Russian Federation, which are scheduled for September this year. Seeking the release of the opposition politician, sentenced to 3.5 years in prison, will be by other methods, stated the head of the network of regional headquarters of Navalny..

The decision to temporarily stop the protest actions caused a very ambiguous assessment in Russian society, primarily in the opposition camp..

Abbas Gallyamov: «Citizens’ discontent must be converted into protest voices»

From the point of view of strategy, the decision to take a time-out in protest actions is correct, political analyst Abbas Gallyamov believes. However, in his opinion, this decision was not very well formulated..

«Therefore, many people perceived Volkov’s statement as demobilization, as a drain of protest, – he added in an interview with the Russian service «Voices of America». – Instead, it was necessary to present a long-term plan of concrete actions, focusing on it, and not on the refusal of rallies in the near future.».

At the same time, FBK correctly assessed the situation, Abbas Gallyamov believes. In his opinion, it is still really far from truly revolutionary: «You can hold a rally every week when the peak of events comes up. If the pace is increased now, it will lead to the fact that the regime will not collapse, and the protesters will burn out. An inflated pace creates a certain kind of expectation. As a result, people will be disappointed and demobilized, they will leave, albeit not forever, from politics, which will contribute to a decline in protest activity.».

The bet on the elections to the State Duma by the supporters of Alexei Navalny was made absolutely right, the political scientist is sure. «Because participation in elections, unlike unauthorized protests, is completely legal, – he explained. – Therefore, orders of magnitude more citizens will be involved in them. The opposition’s task is precisely to involve the maximum possible number of people in its activities. Moreover, the elections will come at a time when the regime is weak. Rating «United Russia» now hovers around 30%». Therefore, the dissatisfaction of citizens must be converted into protest voices, summed up Abbas Gallyamov.

Lev Ponomarev: «Beginning in spring, there will be a big campaign for transparent elections»

In turn, the chairman of the national public organization «For human rights» Lev Ponomarev, in the context of the condemned topic, offered to see how the March in memory of Boris Nemtsov would go, if the authorities would allow it. Recall that the march in memory of the opposition politician who was shot in the center of Moscow in 2015 is traditionally held at the end of February..

«I don’t know what the authorities will do, – admitted the interlocutor of the Russian service «Voices of America». – In theory, she should agree on the action. Then it will be interesting to see how many people will come out on it. To a certain extent, this would help to answer the question of whether and to what extent the protest potential has been preserved in the capital. Moreover, the event is organized by other forces – in the sense of not supporters of Alexei Navalny».

Lev Ponomarev also expressed hope that the opposition still has prospects to fight for fair and honest elections to the State Duma. It is necessary in every possible way to ensure that worthy people from among independent candidates get to the Duma at least this time, the human rights activist emphasized. As he sees it, this is one of the most pressing tasks of civil society today..

«I think starting from spring there will be a big campaign for transparent elections. Of course, it must be carried out in combination with the demands for the release of political prisoners and other relevant slogans.», – concluded the chairman of the national public organization «For human rights».

Brian Whitmore: Russian civil society is growing

Brian Whitmore, Atlantic Council, a visiting expert at the Washington DC, notes that the confrontation between Alexei Navalny and the Russian president is approaching «decisive round». Despite the fact that the oppositionist was sentenced to almost three years of real imprisonment, his Anti-Corruption Foundation and the network of headquarters that exist throughout Russia can continue to work without him. At the same time, Navalny’s team has repeatedly demonstrated its ability to take people out into the street, and the focus on the fight against corruption has support among different segments of the population..

«Navalny also has a certain nationalist flavor, which makes many liberals like me nervous. But this increases his popularity among Russians. And with his anti-corruption campaign, he really hit the nerves and in many ways found the weak point of the regime», – said Brian Whitmore in an interview with the Russian Service «Voices of America». – Therefore, I think that now is a very dangerous time for the regime.».

«I don’t think it’s worth making predictions today about how it will end, but we’ve definitely moved on to another stage., – he adds. – Both the regime, and in many ways Navalny, dropped their masks. And it is quite clear that the Putin regime is entering what I call a crisis «late Putinism». Much of Putin’s authority has been lost».

Alexey Navalny and protests: what will the next round be like?

As for Navalny’s team, they must continue to fight, Whitmore said..

«It will be hard, – he admits. – They will be under pressure, no doubt about that. Some of them are overseas and some of the operations may have to move overseas as well, but I think they need to keep doing what they are doing.».

The protest movement that was observed after the arrest of Alexei Navalny «bigger than himself», and among the protesters there are people who are not a fan of Navalny, but who go beyond the lag in democratic principles, the expert adds: «Navalny – it is a kind of spark that forces people to take to the streets to express their general dissatisfaction with the regime and corruption».

The past protests affected more than a hundred cities across Russia and representatives of various age and social groups took to the streets, so Russians’ dissatisfaction with the regime, coupled with economic problems and the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic «quite real», emphasizes Whitmore. And the Kremlin will have to decide how to act in the event of a continuation of the protest wave and how hard to use repressive methods..

«Will the Kremlin intensify its repression? It will come at a cost as well. Remember what happened in Ukraine in 2013», – the expert notes. He does not exclude the fact that in the Kremlin, between supporters of harsher methods in the person of «security officials» and less – in the face «technocrats» – there is a confrontation about which course to take. Historically, we can say that supporters of forceful methods win, and political changes occur if part of the power elite unites with the street. This was the case during the collapse of the Soviet Union, when street protests united with part of the elite rallied around Boris Yeltsin, the expert recalls..

Regardless of how the situation around Alexei Navalny develops, the Russian oppositionist was able to influence the formation of civil society in Russia, says Brian Whitmore: «What is happening in Russia now – it is an organic process. We see that Russian civil society is growing. People are beginning to really feel like citizens, and this is what Navalny deserves great praise for.».

Whitmore is also convinced that the new administration of President Biden will be more active in support of democratic development in Russia, the release of Alexei Navalny and against the suppression of peaceful protests by the Russian authorities..

«I expect that we will see the America that we are used to seeing on these issues, which will decisively speak out in defense of human rights and democracy, and make such regimes as the regime of Vladimir Putin pay for their actions., – he says. – We have allowed regimes like Putin to benefit from the globalized economy, but not adhere to international rules. If you want to benefit from the global economy, you cannot behave like North Korea. And if you are going to behave like North Korea, then you will be treated like North Korea. I think this is where we are heading, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we see tougher and more comprehensive sanctions against the Putin regime.».

Steven Sestanovich: Putin takes Navalny very seriously

Former US ambassador-at-large to the post-Soviet space and senior fellow at the Washington Council on Foreign Relations, Stephen Sestanovich, the Council on Foreign Relations, emphasizes that the Kremlin takes Alexei Navalny and his political movement very seriously.

«For this reason, the poisoning was organized. For this reason, he was arrested immediately upon his return to Russia, and this is the reason that a new level of brutality was displayed in the dispersal of the demonstrators. Navalny presents Putin with a challenge he hasn’t faced in a long time, – Says Steven Sestanovic in an interview with the Serbian Service «Voices of America». – We have seen demonstrations all over Russia, in more than a hundred cities, among various age groups and with an increased focus on regime corruption. All signs we have indicate that ahead of parliamentary elections this fall, the Russian government, United Russia and Putin are taking Navalny’s challenge very seriously.».

The expert also notes the wide network of political headquarters of the Russian oppositionist., «destructive» the impact of his team’s corruption investigations on the Putin regime and Navalny’s ability to convey his message to a fairly wide audience.

«Navalny was able to devise a [smart vote] strategy to try to win elections and do better than other opponents of Putin in the past. Navalny has many qualities that make him kind of the first to challenge Putin. We don’t know if this will prove to be a successful formula. But he attracted the attention of Russians, as well as many people around the world.», – adds Sestanovich.

International attention to Alexei Navalny is now urgently needed, including to ensure the security of the Russian opposition. «Mikhail Khodorkovsky spent 10 years in prison in Russia, and he was not killed, as many feared. Be an enemy of Putin and his regime – means putting yourself in danger. Have open and visible support from Western governments – means to have a little extra protection».

The Russian authorities must decide not only on the fate of Alexei Navalny, but also on which strategy to choose if the protest movement resumes. In addition to international attention, sanctions, despite frequent criticism of their ineffectiveness, can be an important tool in Western policy.

«There is a kind of frustration with the inability of the sanctions to change Russian policy, but perhaps this is not an entirely correct expectation. Sometimes sanctions deter the Russian authorities from taking any further action. I think this was the case with Ukraine», – expert says.

The sanctions represent a signal to the Russian government about the seriousness of Western action, adds Steven Sestanovich.

Paula Dobriansky: the Kremlin made a mistake by arresting Navalny

Paula Dobriansky, a former US Undersecretary of State and an expert at Harvard’s John F Kennedy School of Government, also believes that the protests following Alexei Navalny’s arrest are based not only on disagreement with the Kremlin’s actions against the oppositionist, but also on wider discontent with the Russian authorities..

«Protests in Russia now – not only about Navalny. Rather, he acted as their catalyst, turning into a symbol of disagreement with the Kremlin., – says the former US Deputy Secretary of State in an interview with the Georgian Service «Voices of America». – The scale and scope of the [past] demonstrations shows that people are full of outrage. They are so outraged that they took to the streets of hundreds of cities even in severe frosts, as, for example, in Yakutsk. People protested against Navalny’s poisoning and how he was treated after returning to Russia – many are outraged by these actions of the Kremlin – and against mass arrests and beatings, and, as you know, about five thousand people were detained. But people are also protesting because the scale and ubiquity of the spread of corruption in the country is already deeply disgusting for them.».

«And it’s not just about the luxurious mansion, which supposedly belongs to Putin and the video of which was shown by Navalny., – adds Dobriansky. – And in the fact that the state of the economy is very bad – there are no opportunities, no social lifts, no future on the horizon, no modernization. People are tired of this kind of life».

According to a former senior US administration official, by arresting a Russian opposition leader and giving him a real prison term, the Russian authorities made a mistake: «In this case, the regime miscalculated by doing what it did to Navalny and, unwillingly, turning him into a martyr. According to polls “Levada Center”, Navalny’s popularity only increased, and Putin’s – decreased».

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