ISSN 2330-717X

Russian Opposition Must Shed Its Illusions About Navalny, Putin And Possibilities For Change – OpEd


The chief problem of the Russian opposition, Vladislav Inozemtsev says, is that its hopes and expectations increasingly take precedence over a sober assessment of the realities of their situation, one in which they expect to be able to liberate Aleksey Navalny and create “a beautiful Russia of the future.”

Their world, however, is imaginary, the Russian analyst says, and it is getting in the way of taking the kinds of steps needed to make real progress in more limited ways possible. The opposition doesn’t understand that it needs to operate within the Russia that exists and not the one its members have dreamed up (

Among the illusions the opposition must give up, Inozemtsev continues, is that Navalny will be liberated by their efforts or by pressure from the West. In reality, he says, Navalny is going to remain behind bars as long as Vladimir Putin is in power and the combined efforts of the opposition and the West aren’t going to be enough to change that.

Moreover, the opposition must recognize that it isn’t going to be able to mobilize the numbers of Russians to come out to seek his release. Many who took part in the protests in January did so because they opposed Putin rather than supported Navalny. That hasn’t changed, the analyst continues; but the opposition still acts as if it has.

Given that and given the fact that the Putin regime is prepared to be ever harsher in its treatment of protesters, something that will reduce their number still further, Inozemtsev says, those opposed to Putin “must think about de-radicalizing protest and finding leaders more prepared for compromise” and who will address the day-to-day problems of ordinary Russians.

Russian society lacks a culture of mass protest  in large measure because its members do not believe that protests can achieve anything. And the Navalny organization which organized the protests in January has been very much weakened by the regime’s moves to prosecute its leading members.

Another illusion the opposition must dispense with is “smart voting,” he continues. That is a good idea in many cases, “but in the Duma elections,” Inozemtsev says he fears, “it will not work.” People recognize that cooperating with Navalny is risky, and the regime has worked hard to ensure that even those who run as independents will hew the government’s line if elected.

The Putin regime is also doing everything it can to reduce attention to Navalny, and it is entirely possible that they will manage to lower his profile to what Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s was after several years in prison. He ultimately was released but only to go into exile where he at least has remained active. Putin for personal and political reasons won’t release Navalny.

Another illusion the opposition has to give up on is that all Russians share their views about the new wave of repressive legislation. The new laws hit the opposition but aren’t in many cases viewed by the majority as repressive and so the latter have no reason to follow the opposition into the streets.

As long as the powers follow that recipe, Inozemtsev says, they won’t face massive challenges. The opposition must recognize that only laws which affect the population directly, such as raising the pension age or blocking the Internet will be “explosive” as far as the population is concerned.

Those which hit only those already inclined to opposition won’t, and the opposition leadership should stop deceiving themselves on this point as well as all the others, the Russian analyst says.

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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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