At first glance, Alexei Navalny seems like exactly the sort of man the West would want to sit in the Kremlin. He’s anti-corruption, anti-oligarchy, anti-ballot rigging and – most importantly – anti-Putin. Many in the West believe his election would result in a seismic shift in Russian foreign policy – and perhaps even lead to historically unprecedented positive relations with Moscow.
The Western media have certainly reinforced this idea, as they’ve reported on Navalny’s attempts to break Putin’s stranglehold on Russia and the many moves to silence him with a series of arrests, assaults, and poisonings – the most recent of which led to his hospitalisation last week. Perhaps influenced by the fact that many of those targeted by the Kremlin in the past (such as Boris Berezovsky, Anna Politkovskaya, Sergei Skripal, Sergei Magnitsky, and Alexander Litvinenko) have had pro-Western sympathies, the media have been keen to portray Navalny in a similar light. But while the coverage of Navalny as an anti-corruption and pro-democratic crusader is generally accurate, its implication that Putin’s worst enemy would become the West’s new best friend is definitely not.
Navalny has never, for instance, made any attempt to hide his Russian nationalist sympathies. In 2006, he openly said the Russian March (an ultra-nationalist, far-right demonstration) should take place, and a year later he founded a political organisation, The People, which aligned with the openly nationalist Great Russia and Movement Against Illegal Immigration movements. The Kremlin often attempts to discredit its internal opponents by claiming they are agents of the West. They have not been able to do this with Navalny, even though he briefly attended Yale university.
Navalny is not aligned with the West either when it comes to Russian military interventions. In 2008, conflict broke out in the Caucasus after Georgia sought to prevent Russian-backed separatists in the regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia seceding from the country.