April 03, 2017
On the meaning of the Navalny protests
We will continue to consider Russian politics as outside our reservation, except for areas that interface directly with our interests. One of our specific interests are the long-term prospects of regime change, which would have a profound impact on Europe. In this context we noted an interesting article by Anna Arutunyan who made a strong argument that the protests organised by Alexei Navalny may constitute the beginning of the end of the Putin regime.
The protest, as she points out, are actually not directed against Putin himself, but against his prime minister and predecessor as president, Dmitry Medvedev. The protesters were calling for an inquiry into allegations that Medvedev enriched himself personally through a network using fake charities to hide his wealth, and which was funded by Russian oligarchs. What makes those protests different from past ones is that they are no longer confined to Moscow and St Petersburg, but are spread evenly throughout the country. The protesters displayed a level of organisation previously unknown in Russia. Navalny and his supporters operate far more strategically than previous generations of protester: by emphasising corruption, they picked on a subject that ordinary Russians really care about. It is their number one complaint about their own country. She concludes with the observation that the protests could well represent a shift for Russian civil society that previous protests did not accomplish. While no one really expects the Kremlin to hold an investigation, it is not considered the least likely outcome. She concludes that Navalny does not fit into any of the typical categories of protesters. He is not a populist, nor a pro-Western liberal. But, by focusing on corruption, he has chosen the current regime’s most vulnerable spot.