Is Navalny A ‘Young And Sober’ Yeltsin Or ‘Putin Of Tomorrow’? – OpEd

Aleksey Navalny’s new prominence and his success in attracting young people– which some see reflected in the fact that he now has more “likes” than Moscow TV (politsovet.ru/54872-navalnyy-obognal-po-chislu-podpischikov-pervyy-kanal-rt-i-rossiyu-24.html) – Putin loyalists are attacking him and others asking what kind of a leader he may be.

Putin’s press spokesman said many of the young people attended the demonstrations only because they had promised to be paid, a claim for which he provided no evidence and which says more about Kremlin perceptions about motivation than about Navalny’s followers (kp.ru/daily/26658.5/3679562/).

United Russia Duma Deputy Vitaly Milonov, who has recently attracted notice for his comments about Jews and Masons, suggested that the young people had taken part because they were “sexually unsatisfied” and tired of just watching pornography all the time (znak.com/2017-03-28/milonov_obyasnil_revolyuciyu_detey_seksualnoy_neudovletvorennostyu_i_pornofilmami).

And Yana Amelina, a pro-Putin specialist on the Caucasus, said that whatever the cause, the presence of so many young people in Navalny’s movement sets the stage for violence given the impetuousness of youth and their sense of deathless invincibility fed by video games (facebook.com/yana.amelina.92/posts/1513464625351696).

But far more interesting are the first articles talking about what Navalny is and how he is likely to behave in the future. There will certainly be more, but two from today are worth noting: one noting that Navalny is in many ways like a “young and sober” Yeltsin but that faces someone other than Gorbachev, and a second that argues he is likely to be another Putin.

On the Kasparov.ru portal, Moscow commentator Igor Yakovenko says that Sunday’s demonstrations show that “Russia has ceased to be a country with only one politicians.” It now has two and thus Navalny is the leader of the opposition to Vladimir Putin and the party of power (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=58DA11A4BBDA8).

In many but not all ways, Navalny resembles Boris Yeltsin: he was making a good career in the bureaucracy but like the earlier Russian leader was “organically incapable” of working within a specific command. Instead, both had to strike out on their own – and ultimately by themselves rather than in any organization they might create.

Like Yeltsin, “Navalny is a populist exploiting the idea of justice. Yeltsin’s main these was the struggle with the privileges of the nomenklatura” – or in contemporary language, “struggle with corruption.” But in both cases, this was “a classical ‘false goal,’” one used by its authors to attract support for other purposes.

Moreover, both were tacticians rather than strategists because they lacked any grand plan. But that brings us to the way in which the two are different: Navalny may appear to be “a young and sober Yeltsin,” but unlike Yeltsin, he isn’t really willing to acknowledge his shortcomings in this regard and to listen to others.

“Yeltsin knew,” Yakovenko continues, “that he did not have a sufficient theoretical background and was open to the support of experts.” But with Navalny, one has the impression that he isn’t really interested in the ideas of others and that he “considers himself an independent politician and is prepared to accept others” only as followers.

But there is a more fundamental different: “Putin is not Yeltsin or even Chernomyrdin. He is quite prepared to use massive force against anyone to stay in power. “And this means that there will be a Tianamen Square and a complete one at that. And such squares will be in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Vladivostok and everywhere protest needs to be suppressed.”

And on the Forum-MSK portal, another Moscow correspondent, Yakov Azimandis, argues that “Russia has two misfortunes, Putin and Navalny. Putin with his friends and relatives has already for 17 years sucked the country dry and supposes that this will continue forever” (forum-msk.org/material/politic/13001047.html).

If he comes to power, Navalny is likely to do the same, Azimandis suggests. The opposition leader “in words criticize particular corrupt personages,” something even Putin has done, but Navalny “almost doesn’t criticize the system as a whole,” suggesting he might change it less than some of his supporters expect.

“In the future,” he writes, Navalny “as a minimum, hopes to become a new systemic oppositwion figure … and in the best case to become the head of the country and for another 20 years to suck the country dry if anything remains after the current camarilla.”

Paul Goble

Paul Goble

Paul Goble is a longtime specialist on ethnic and religious questions in Eurasia. Most recently, he was director of research and publications at the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy. Earlier, he served as vice dean for the social sciences and humanities at Audentes University in Tallinn and a senior research associate at the EuroCollege of the University of Tartu in Estonia. He has served in various capacities in the U.S. State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency and the International Broadcasting Bureau as well as at the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Mr. Goble maintains the Window on Eurasia blog and can be contacted directly at [email protected] .

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