Q&A: Alexei Navalny and the threat to Vladimir Putin’s power


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The Independent Online

Q. Why is Vladimir Putin so scared of Alexei Navalny?

A. Mr Putin has never even mentioned Alexei Navalny by name, but Mr Navalny is regarded in the Kremlin as a toxic figure due to the personalised vitriol directed at Mr Putin and his entourage, and his corruption investigations that have targeted top officials. When the charges against Mr Navalny were announced, a spokesperson for Russia’s Investigative Committee openly stated that they had been pursued vigorously as revenge for Mr Navalny’s investigations into government figures.

Q. How much support does Mr Navalny really have?

A. Although Mr Navalny’s support has been growing among urbanites online, he still has a long way to go before winning round Russians in their millions, not least because he is denied access to state-controlled media. It was widely accepted that he was unlikely to have won the Moscow mayoral election in September, even if he had been allowed to stand. However, political analysts acknowledge that his charisma, Russian nationalism and stinging attacks on corruption mean that his support will only rise, and he may have been jailed with an eye on what could be an unpredictable election season in 2018, with Mr Putin potentially lining up a further six years in power.

Q. Are there any credible opposition figures now?

A. Russia has myriad opposition parties, from West-leaning liberals to hardline radicals, nationalists and anarchists. Many of the familiar opposition leaders are liberals who held power in the 1990s, such as Boris Nemtsov and Mikhail Kasyanov. While they do have authority, they lack the connection with broader Russia that many felt Mr Navalny was able to cultivate.

Q. Is this the last political trial?

A. A Moscow court is also hearing the “Bolotnaya Square” case in which 12 people are accused of disturbing public order at a rally last May, the day before Mr Putin’s inauguration. Some have been in jail awaiting trial ever since and face long sentences. The case is seen as part of a package of measures aimed at discouraging protest.