Russia, Putin and Alexei Navalny: what happens next?


Riot police during an unauthorized rally in support of Alexei Navalny in central Moscow on February 2, 2021.

Mikhail Tereshchenko | TASS | Getty Images

The arrest of opposition leader Alexei Navalny in Russia has been widely awaited by Russian observers, but experts say what comes next will likely depend on the dynamics of the protests in support of Navalny, whether the West decides to punish Russia and how the Kremlin does responded to growing unrest in the country.

Navalny, who is widely regarded as one of Putin’s most prominent critics, was sentenced to three and a half years in prison on Tuesday for breaking parole. The allegations he and his team made were fabricated and politically motivated.

The judge said the year Navalny has already spent under house arrest (around 10 months) will be deducted from his prison sentence. Navalny’s defense team has announced that it will appeal the court ruling.

Protests against Navalny’s first imprisonment in mid-January and immediately after his return from Germany to Russia, where he had been treated for nerve agent poisoning since last summer, were carried out over the last two weekends in Russia and again outside the US on Tuesday in the Moscow Court, where the Judgment was made.

The verdict was widely condemned by Western governments, but the US and Europe did not threaten further sanctions against Russia for the time being, as both demanded the immediate and unconditional release of Navalny.

US Senator Mitt Romney, R-Utah, indicated in a tweet that further sanctions could be imposed on Russia, which is already operating under Western restrictions due to the annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and, among other things, has entered the US Meddles in 2016 elections.

Timothy Ash, a leading emerging markets strategist at Bluebay Asset Management, believes more sanctions will come.

“We may not see this promotion this week, it may take weeks / months, but I think when it comes we will be surprised by its scope / scope,” Ash said via email.

“This is not a case of a step-by-step approach, but an overall picture, a common approach to countering the Russian threat. And hit Russia hard from the start – to make it clear to Putin, we know what you’re doing, we know when you get your card we know all you understand is power, and here it is. “

Ash said he expected “a rolling approach to roll back Putin’s offensive campaign against western liberal market democracies.”

More protests?

The scale and extent of the West’s reaction against Russia remains to be seen, but this could also affect the dynamism of the pro-navalny protests in Russia.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said police had the right to use harsh methods to break off protests by supporters of Navalny who had gathered outside the Moscow court where the hearing took place.

Peskov also said calls from Navalny’s allies for Russians to take to the streets after he was jailed on Tuesday were a provocation, Reuters reported. More than 1,400 supporters of Navalny in 10 cities were arrested on Tuesday, according to the OVD-Info monitoring group.

The US, Germany and France are among the Western nations that have condemned the violence against protesters in Russia and called for Navalny to be released immediately.

Russia has rejected this criticism, defended the police’s response to protests and accused Western countries of double standards.

“With regard to the events in Russia and not only in Navalny, the reporting of the West is selective and one-sided,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in a press conference on Wednesday, Tass news agency reported.

“The hysteria we heard about the Navalny trial is far exaggerated,” he added.

Daragh McDowell, Russia’s chief analyst at risk analysis firm Verisk Maplecroft, said the conviction and imprisonment of Navalny would “represent a massive blow to the opposition that has lost one of its most effective organizers and communicators.”

The movement continued to suffer as other members of the Navalny National Organization were also arrested and detained. Whether the protests can continue at their current level is unknown.

“The key question is whether the current wave of protests sparked by Navalny’s arrest has reached a point where they will support themselves and continue even if he and his team are removed from the field. The decision to imprison him , will certainly likely be hit. ” at least a short-term spike in street protests, accompanied by a corresponding increase in arrests and aggressive police brutality, “noted McDowell.

Political stalemate

Experts warn Putin of concern that the protests so far also reflect general public dissatisfaction with the Russian ruling class, widespread corruption and kleptocracy, and a decline in living standards.

McDowell said a “major cause for concern for the Kremlin should be that the protests sparked by Navalny’s arrest are more the result of longer-term social and economic stagnation … the protesters are driven less by Navalny’s political program than by them driven are a general feeling of being fed up with the status quo. “

Although there is allegedly a lack of political alternatives to Putin, whom McDowell viewed as not in immediate danger of falling, “his political regime is based less on active support than on tolerance and acceptance, and it appears that the Russian population is rapidly approaching its limits.”

Protesters hold a banner reading “FREE NAVALNY” as around 2,500 supporters of Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny protest to demand his release from Moscow prison on January 23, 2021 in Berlin.

Omer Messinger | Getty Images News | Getty Images

This sentiment was confirmed by Christopher Granville, executive director of EMEA and global political research at TS Lombard, but warned of a possible “stalemate” between the Kremlin and the opposition.

“The main cause of the current political ferment in Russia is Vladimir Putin’s long reign, which is entering its final phase. Far from eliminating uncertainties (even at the expense of more acute short-term turbulence), this final is now more likely to drag on.” social tension and polarization, “he said in a note on Tuesday.

Granville said its discouraging outlook for Russia, which also negatively impacted the country’s economic growth prospects and valuations of the country’s assets, “stems from a key feature of Alexey Navalny’s challenge to Putin’s ruling establishment: stalemate.”

“The support base of either side in Russian society is too solid to allow for quick or easy victories. Removing Navalny from the board of directors, be it by murder or, as before, by imprisonment, is not a ‘solution’: far from a cult of personality being the movement he’s galvanized marks a generation change. The Putin base, still a plurality, is now cemented by rational fears of instability, “he said.