Is Russia ready for life after Putin?

When Russians headed to the polls last week, the Duma election results were never in doubt: Putin’s United Russia party won two-thirds of the seats, while the rest went to the tame ‘systemic opposition’. But even if the outcome wasn’t a surprise, the manner of Putin’s victory should ring alarm bells about what happens in Russia when he eventually departs. The Kremlin ‘won’ the Duma elections insofar as United Russia received the number of seats it wanted. It did this on just 50 per cent of the vote, down on previous elections, with widespread violations, and at the cost of what little credibility the electoral process still enjoyed. In regimes

Alexei Navalny’s big gamble

Alexei Navalny seems to undergoing a metamorphosis. Yesterday, we saw him attending another trial by video, looking gaunt after 24 days of hunger strike. But if anything, the more attenuated his frame, the more his moral certainty shone through it. An appeals hearing for a separate charge of insulting a Second World War veteran gave him a rare opportunity to speak to the outside world. Characteristically, he made a joke of his condition to his wife, Yulia, saying he now looked like ‘a creepy skeleton.’ However, this was a moment’s light-hearted intimacy in a bravura performance primarily directed towards both the Kremlin and the wider Russian population. Just as Vladimir

Amnesty International has undermined Navalny’s fight for freedom

In his fight against Putin, Alexei Navalny needs all the help he can get. The might of the Russian state is pitted against him. Having failed to kill Navalny, the Kremlin has achieved its aim, at least in the short term, of silencing him: by locking him up in prison. Navalny and his supporters have called on the west to assist him. So far, the response has been fairly measly: this week, the EU announced sanctions against a handful of figures in the Russian regime.  This small scale retaliation for the attempted murder of a political opponent won’t bother Putin much. Now, though, Navalny’s attempt to take on Putin has been undermined

Mark Galeotti

The EU’s sorry excuse for sanctions won’t change Putin’s ways

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has been poisoned and then sentenced to two and a half years in prison. But never mind, the European Union is on the case and has decided to impose sanctions. Just not that many. There are apparently just four officials on the list: Alexander Bastrykin, head of the Investigative Committee, which tackles major crimes; Alexander Kalashnikov, head of the Federal Prison Service; prosecutor-general Igor Krasnov; and Viktor Zolotov, the much-feared commander of the National Guard. There is, to be sure, some rationale. Bastrykin, under British sanctions since July, was a key figure in pushing trumped-up charges against Navalny. Kalashnikov was responsible for Navalny being jailed

How a Roman emperor would handle Navalny

A Roman emperor would consider the tyrant Putin’s treatment of Alexei Navalny’s supporters as foolish but, looking at Russia as a whole, would not see Navalny as a danger to Putin’s tyranny. The emperor took a largely eirenic view of angry mobs. If they were asking for e.g. food in a shortage, he supplied it. Keeping the people happy was his job. In cases of sedition, as Seneca said, one punished only as a last resort. So when bakers rioted in Ephesus, the governor threatened imprisonment, but in the event just reprimanded them. No one wanted a bloodbath. So there is no record of emperors being removed by citizen protest,

Will Iron Felix scare Moscow’s protesters?

While in the West, the debate seems to be about which statue to topple next, in Russia it’s rather different. Felix Dzerzhinsky – ‘Iron Felix,’ founder of the Bolshevik secret police – looks like he may be coming home, thirty years after his statue was pulled down from its place in front of the KGB’s Lubyanka headquarters. Dzerzhinsky, a Polish aristocrat turned revolutionary, was charged by Lenin in 1917 to form what was then called the All-Russia Extraordinary Commission to Combat Counter-Revolution and Sabotage – rather more concisely known as the Cheka after the Russian initials for ‘extraordinary commission’ – and lead it into the coming civil war. This would

The sticky truth about Navalny

His courage is exhilarating. Even if you think his cause hopeless, Alexei Navalny, the Russian opposition leader and Putin-baiter, deserves our admiration. To return to Moscow after being poisoned, surely knowing arrest awaited him, is beyond brave. The chances are he will be crushed. But annihilation is not certain; and if one day he wins his battle with Putin, his return to Moscow this winter will become the stuff of legend. Navalny is not crazy: he has made a rational calculation, weighing the relative safety of a tedious future in grey and indefinite exile against a small possibility of making Russian history. With open eyes he has chosen risk. That

Alexei Navalny is getting under the Kremlin’s skin

Only half a year ago the opposition leader Alexei Navalny was a non-person on Russian state media, and Putin’s opulent palace built on the Black Sea was largely unheard of inside the country. Navalny had his loyal base of supporters who followed him on YouTube, and the palace had been discussed in the West for a decade. But for the overwhelming majority of Russians, both were unknown. Today, Navalny is everywhere on the Russian media. Vladimir Putin himself may still not be willing to name ‘that man’ – which after a certain point begins to look downright strange – but the President’s loyal army of pundits, news anchors and state

Russians are daring to dream of life after Putin

Alexei Navalny, Russia’s leading opposition figure, demonstrated unfathomable courage in returning home after the Kremlin had poisoned him with Novichok. Arrested on arrival, Navalny is now holed up in Moscow’s notorious Sailor’s Silence transit prison. Yet as he languishes behind bars, Navalny poses his greatest threat yet to Vladimir Putin’s regime. And today, on the streets of Russia, things could come to a head in the fight between Navalny and Putin. This week, Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation released its biggest exposé yet: a YouTube investigation of Putin’s voracious greed. Providing new, detailed images of the Russian president’s gargantuanly gauche billion-dollar palace, the video has been watched 50 million times in just 72 hours. It has

Navalny and Putin: the next chapter

‘Arrest me? Why would anyone arrest me?’ said Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny to reporters last week as he boarded a Moscow-bound plane. Four hours later he was in jail — but not before spending an hour circling above the Russian capital as riot police shut down the airport where 2,000 supporters awaited him and diverted his plane to another. Did Navalny truly believe he would not be arrested? Did anyone? A week before his planned return from Berlin, where he had been recovering from being poisoned by Russia’s security services, Navalny posted a video on social media in which he openly taunted Vladimir Putin. ‘Putin has been stamping his

Will Navalny’s gamble backfire?

For years, Alexei Navalny had been – barely – tolerated by a Kremlin that was willing to permit very limited opposition and criticism. When security officers tried to poison him last year, it reflected a distinct swing towards more ruthless authoritarianism. Back in Russia, and back in prison, Navalny likewise seems to have taken off the gloves. Until now, everyone was fair game for Navalny’s investigations into official corruption – except for Vladimir Putin and his family. Yesterday, after Navalny had been sent to Moscow’s notorious Matrosskaya Tishina prison until his next trial date in February, his team released their latest investigation. In a characteristically slick and entertaining video, almost

Why Navalny is becoming a danger to Putin

The man with no name is now a prisoner with a number. Alexei Navalny, the Russian opposition leader poisoned by security officers back in August, flew back to Moscow yesterday and was promptly arrested. Whether this is symbolic catch-and-release or a sign that the Kremlin plans to bury him – literally or metaphorically – in its prison system remains to be seen. The Kremlin certainly did everything they could to prevent his return being a media event. He was due to arrive at Moscow’s Vnukovo airport, where a crowd of journalists, supporters and riot police jostled in anticipation. So too did a rent-a-mob of supposed fans of a Russian media

From Russia with love: 12 films set in the former Soviet Union

With Russia back in the news yet again, it’s interesting to note how comparatively few English language movies are set in the country. Admittedly in TV there’s been an uptick lately, with two recent series on Catherine The Great in youth/middle age, the Andrew Davies version of War & Peace, McMafia and the multi award-winning Chernobyl. But in terms of film, depictions of Russia are often confined to WWII, Cold War and other (surprise surprise) spy-related themes. Here are a few of the most memorable: Enemy at the Gates (2001, Amazon Rental/Buy) File this under ‘could have been better’. Jean-Jacques Annaud’s Stalingrad epic is hampered by a boring love triangle

Alexei Navalny: a profile in courage

Vladimir Putin likes his opponents in exile: it makes them easier to portray as defectors who have turned their back on Russia. It suited him to have Alexei Navalny, the most prominent opposition leader in Russia, hiding in Germany fearing he’d be arrested (or worse) if he returned. But now, Navalny has flown back to Moscow – and was duly arrested at passport control. Every stage of his return – his flight out, his arrest, his goodbye to his wife – has been vividly documented on social media with images already making their way around Russia and the world. Navalny has made a swap: he has sacrificed his liberty to leave no doubt about his commitment to his

Heads will roll following the Navalny prank call blunder

From vicious tragedy to outright farce, the saga of the poisoning of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has acquired a surreal new chapter. Pretending to be an aide to the powerful secretary of Russia’s Security Council, Navalny actually rang up one of his would-be assassins and got him to confess, on tape. It’s hilarious; it’s astonishing; it’s embarrassing. Does it prove that Russia’s security agencies are the Keystone Kops of the intelligence world? Citizen investigator outfit Bellingcat and the Russian journalists of the Insider recently published the results of an extraordinary inquiry into the attempted assassination in August 2020, when he was on a campaign visit to Tomsk, in Siberia.