Staunton, September 1 – The poisoning of Aleksey Navalny is a signal from the Kremlin of the opening of a new era in Putin’s Russia, “an era of open political reprisals,” Yuliya Latynina says. Given the Kremlin’s falling ratings and the fears Belarusian events have raised, “the number of regime opponents who will be killed, beaten or poisoned will only grow.”
In the past, the Kremlin has sought to maintain plausible deniability but now, as in business after the Khodorkovsky affair, it has let the curtain drop and now a situation is emerging when “absolutely any individual for whatever reasons can become a victim of this force” (novayagazeta.ru/articles/2020/09/01/86912-sezon-otkrytyh-ubiystv).
After Khodorkovsky, the powers could take any business it wanted, the Russian commentator says; but now after Navalny, “we will have a system when absolutely anyone can become a victim of force and, like in 1937, absolutely anyone can become a victim of a denunciation.” Unfortunately, this will help those in power to hold it,
What is happening now is analogous to what happened with the Khodorkovsky case. Before he was put in his place by the regime, “businessmen ate up one another with the help of a general, but now, the general ate up all of them.” Before Navalny, some used force for their own purposes; now they will use it only to advance those of the person on top.
Russia has returned to the Stalinist principle of “if there is an individual, there is a problem; if the individual ceases to exist, so do does the problem.” And the system is also operating as did Stalin’s on a nomenklatura principle. Some targets are small enough to be dealt with by lower-ranking officials, but not a Navalny.
“Navalny,” Latynina says, “is part of Putin’s nomenklatura, and the decision about his fate hardly could be taken without Putin’s participation.” And now the Kremlin feels confident enough that it isn’t bothering to hide. “Before the poisoning of Navalny, the Kremlin more or less sincerely could act as if it wasn’t involved, that these things were private initiatives.”
And this was to a certain extent the truth, although people should have recognized that ‘in a country where independent big business doesn’t exist, there cannot exist a major system of private force” that is in a position to act without at least the agreement of the boss of bosses, Latynina says.
Putin has put up with that system so he could use it and deny doing so at the same time; but now, as the numbers grow and the focus of the attacks comes into sharper political relief, that is no longer either possible or even desirable. If the purpose of terror is to terrorism, its victims must not be able to count on anything, including obeisance, to save them from the man on top.