In Alexei Navalny’s demise, Putin cements new period of Russian dictatorship | EUROtoday

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Among Alexei Navalny’s buddies and admirers, there’s a heartbreaking hope that his legacy will dwell on. Navalny, 47, was Russia’s Nelson Mandela, an inspiring advocate for freedom and reform who selected state captivity in 2021 over a life in exile. Charismatic and indefatigable, he had investigated President Vladimir Putin’s kleptocratic regime, lampooned its corrupt, incompetent apparatchiks, and, by means of a community of impartial activists and journalists, supplied to numerous Russians a imaginative and prescient of a civic future that transcended the authoritarian demagogue whose rule appears set to stretch right into a fourth decade. His reputation unfold far past the liberal-minded elites in cities like Moscow and St. Petersburg.

For that, Navalny perished whereas within the arms of the state. Disappeared to an obscure Arctic jail, the celebrated dissident suffered in poor health well being for months and died Friday, in line with Russian authorities. His spouse accused Putin of homicide. President Biden stated what befell Navalny was proof of “Putin’s brutality.”

Navalny’s demise was concurrently surprising and unsurprising. He joins an extended, tragic historical past of Kremlin opponents swallowed up by the gulag, however his message was so potent and his expertise as a messenger so incomparable that it was simple to think about he may share in Mandela’s story of eventual liberation and political victory. That was to not be.

Over the weekend, mourners looked for that means in his loss. “Navalny dreamed of a free Russia,” wrote Michael McFaul, a former U.S. ambassador to Russia, in a Washington Post op-ed. “Barbaric dictators such as Putin can kill men, but they cannot kill ideas.”

“Even behind bars Navalny was a real threat to Putin, because he was living proof that courage is possible, that truth exists, that Russia could be a different kind of country,” wrote the Atlantic’s Anne Applebaum.

Alexei Navalny, imprisoned Russian opposition chief, is useless at 47

Alexei Navalny, a Russian opposition chief, died on Feb. 16. People all all over the world paid tribute to the Kremlin critic. (Video: HyoJung Kim/The Washington Post)

Russia, for now, is undeniably Putin’s nation. Entering the third 12 months of his full-blown conflict in Ukraine, the Russian president has withstood worldwide sanctions, geopolitical isolation from the West and a distinguished mercenary’s brazen rebellion. The edifice of his energy stays intact, whereas those that threaten it face even harsher penalties than in an earlier section of his rule.

Vladimir Putin, driving excessive earlier than Navalny’s demise, appears unstoppable

“It’s tempting to see Navalny’s apparent murder, as some American analysts have, as a sign of weakness on the part of Putin,” wrote Masha Gessen within the New Yorker. “But a dictator’s ability to annihilate what he fears is a measure of his hold on power, as is his ability to choose the time to strike. Putin appears to be feeling optimistic about his own future.”

Indeed, Putin is about to safe a brand new presidential mandate in a farce of an election subsequent month the place any significant challenger has been disqualified. The opposition is cowed, suppressed and scattered; fewer Russians are keen to threat taking to the streets than in years previous. Putin additionally has trigger to smile watching politics to the west, because the United States’ Republican lawmakers stymie new U.S. funding for Ukraine and sympathetic far-right events surge throughout Europe.

“Putin now remains alone,” Andrei Kolesnikov, a Moscow-based senior analysis fellow on the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Centers, instructed my colleagues. “He is solus rex, the lonely king. No one can stop him triumphing.”

Even after his demise, Russian authorities goal to repress assist for Navalny

Analysts noticed a hyperlink between Navalny’s demise and the 2015 assassination of main Putin critic Boris Nemtsov, who was gunned down whereas strolling alongside a bridge in Moscow. Nemtsov’s killing appeared to intensify a shift within the nature of Putin’s rule; the despot within the Kremlin may now not fulfill himself with solely fraudulent elections and a judiciary working beneath his whims. Nemtsov was a well-regarded advocate of reform and an opponent of Russia’s seizure of Crimea within the 12 months prior, in addition to its launching of a pro-Russian insurgency in southeastern Ukraine.

“In the years since Nemtsov was murdered, Russia has transformed — to use the language of political science — from a dictatorship of deception to a dictatorship of fear and then, after the invasion of Ukraine in 2022, into an outright dictatorship of terror, akin to the one that exerted an iron grip on the Soviet Union for much of the 20th century,” wrote Alexander Baunov within the Financial Times.

Navalny’s well being in harsh jail system was main concern earlier than demise

Public grieving for Navalny is itself a dangerous act. At least 366 folks have been arrested in 36 cities throughout Russia for displaying their sympathies, my colleagues reported Sunday, citing a watchdog group. By the bridge the place Nemtsov was murdered, which has turn into a form of unofficial memorial, pro-regime vigilantes ripped up flowers and candles left in vigil by Navalny’s supporters.

“People are just constantly scared out of their wits,” a 24-year-old mourner in Moscow who recognized herself as Yulia instructed my colleague Francesca Ebel. “This is a dictatorship where you cannot express yourself.”

Widow of Alexei Navalny, Yulia Navalnaya, posted a video assertion on YouTube on Feb. 19, the place she promised to “continue the work of Alexei Navalny.” (Video: YouTube @Alexei Navalny, Photo: YouTube @Alexei Navalny/YouTube @Alexei Navalny)

It’s onerous to think about anybody mobilizing the large rallies that Navalny himself organized in earlier years. “Street protests can only work if millions come out,” Gennady Gudkov, a senior Russian opposition politician now in exile in Paris, instructed my colleagues. “But because people are not organized and don’t have any resources, or newspapers, or political leaders or parties or trade unions, there is nothing.”

This state of affairs is by design, the conclusion of Putin’s relentless tightening of his fist. “In a way, Navalny’s death marks the culmination of years of efforts by the Russian state to eliminate all sources of opposition,” wrote Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan in Foreign Affairs. “For more than two decades, Putin has made political assassination an essential part of the Kremlin’s toolkit.”

And nonetheless Navalny has left an indelible mark. Millions of Russians flip to his allies in exile for information and correct details about their nation. Social media — a realm the place Navalny was each pioneer and king — abounds with boards and discussions on issues in any other case silenced by the state. “Even now,” Soldatov and Borogan concluded, “the forces that Navalny unleashed are unlikely to go away.”