Return of Navalny: a test for Russia and the West
Alexei Navalny’s Return to Russia Is Giving New Life to the Opposition
Experts reflect on how the possible arrest of a Russian oppositionist will affect relations between Washington and Moscow
Alexey Navalny returns to Russia on January 17 – he recently announced this in his next video, and the Russian officialdom reacted to these words immediately.
Russian security officials, administrators and public forces loyal to Vladimir Putin have developed over the arrival of a man whom the Kremlin disparages «Berlin patient», feverish activity: the Federal Penitentiary Service announced that it would definitely detain him, since Navalny was unexpectedly on the wanted list; the Moscow prosecutor’s office announced in advance a gathering of supporters of the founder of the Anti-Corruption Foundation who want to meet him at the airport, «illegal activity»; Vnukovo airport itself prohibited journalists from working on its territory due to «anti-coronavirus measures»; pro-Kremlin public groups announced that they would arrive in Vnukovo to resent Navalny’s arrival, and nothing is known about any threats from the prosecutor’s office against them.
The time that Navalny chose for his return to Russia can hardly be called successful in terms of the media coverage of this step: many world TV channels are torn between reporting on the tense situation in the United States before the inauguration of Joe Biden and the story of a new outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.
Nevertheless, since in August last year the news of the poisoning of the most famous Russian oppositionist for a long time was the first among the world, for the flight of Alexei Navalny on an airline flight «Victory» will be riveted a lot of attention of all Western politicians and journalists.
Will the Russian authorities decide to immediately repress the man whom, judging by the investigation carried out by Navalny himself, her power structures almost killed? How such repressions, if they occur, will affect Moscow’s relations with the new American administration, which will take up its duties in five days?
Angela Stent: Biden May Consider Tough Sanctions
Angela Stent, director of the Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies at Georgetown University, believes Alexei Navalny made the Kremlin seriously nervous: «The Kremlin is facing a dilemma: on the one hand, due to internal political reasons, they have already said that they will arrest Navalny on all these charges, and if they do not, they will look weak. On the other hand, if he is imprisoned, then it is within the country that this can make Navalny even more popular and create an image of a martyr for him in the eyes of many Russians.».
Stent is convinced that the possible arrest of Alexei Navalny will increase tensions between Russia and the West: «In terms of Russia’s relations with the West, his arrest will certainly look repulsive, and Europe has already imposed personal sanctions in connection with his poisoning. I believe the Biden administration may consider even tougher sanctions, and the reaction will intensify. So there is a dilemma, and the Kremlin seems to really like Navalny to stay in Germany and not have to worry about anything.».
«People in the Biden administration who will deal with Russia – Secretary of State Tony Blinken, Deputy Victoria Nuland, National Security Adviser to the President Jake Sullivan – made it clear that democracy and human rights are very important, and, unlike the Trump administration, they intend to raise these topics. With their arrival, Washington will become more active in this area, and they are likely to side with those in Russia who advocate for human rights.» – believes Angela Stent.
An expert on Russia at Georgetown University recalls that Navalny’s poisoning and his own moves caused a lot of resonance in the West: «Among opposition figures in Russia, Navalny is the most famous in the West, and the fact that they tried to kill him by poisoning, as well as his joint investigation with Bellingcat and even his conversation with one of the poisoners – all this demonstrates how effectively, boldly and to some extent provocatively Navalny acts».
Sergei Aleksashenko: The West’s reaction to the poisoning of Navalny was weak
Prominent Russian economist Sergei Aleksashenko, formerly – First Deputy Chairman of the Central Bank of Russia, believes that so far there is no reason to expect more pressure from the West than before on Moscow because of Alexei Navalny:
«In general, I am quite skeptical about how the West behaves in relation to Navalny and the political situation in Russia in general, with all the ongoing violations of human rights. While the West is showing that everything that happens inside the borders of Russia – it’s none of his business. By and large, the West decided to give Russia at the mercy of Putin».
«The situation with Navalny – This is the use of military chemical weapons, but let us recall the situation with the poisoning of the Skripals: then a coordinated action by Western countries followed to expel Russian diplomats. Nothing of the kind was done in the case of Navalny, and the sanctions that Europe adopted turned out to be rather weak. The calculation that the West will change its behavior if Navalny is suddenly arrested, I would call good wishes, which are unlikely to come true», – the economist thinks.
Aleksashenko says he is disappointed at the lack of clear action by Washington towards Moscow in the story of Navalny’s poisoning: «The absence of US sanctions in this story is very important. In the story of the Skripals, America largely set the tone, but in the case of Alexei Navalny, this was not done. Five months have passed, the Trump administration has done nothing, and note that Biden’s incoming team is also silent on this topic. And in the Kremlin they are not stupid, they very carefully read the signals they receive. Navalny was poisoned, and America remained silent – it means that you can still poison someone, you can do something else with Navalny».
«Of course, if Navalny is arrested and imprisoned right upon his arrival in Moscow, there will be a big scandal. But if he arrives in Moscow, and the Federal Penitentiary Service, which is to serve him a summons to court, makes him spend twelve hours at the airport, then he will be handed this summons and released, then they will start summoning him twice every week, either to court or for interrogations, that is, they will be mocked –no one will even write about it», – suggests Sergey Aleksashenko