Staunton, August 25 – Many are asking why the Kremlin backed the poisoning of Russian opposition leader Aleksey Navalny and then agreed to his being moved to a German hospital where it was almost inevitable that evidence of this crime would be gathered and revealed to the world.
In a Yezhednevny zhurnal commentator, Moscow political observer Aleksandr Ryklin argues that the entire scenario “was planned from the beginning” although those who poisoned Navalny were not certain that he would survive. Had he died in Omsk, however, that would have created a bigger problem for the powers that be (ej.ru/?a=note&id=35325).
That outcome would have created “an entirely different situation,” one that the Kremlin likely wanted to avoid. The authorities couldn’t have released Navalny’s body to his widow; and their failure to do so would have sparked a far larger protest in Russia and beyond its borders. That he has lived long enough to be moved abroad reduces the risk of that.
Such calculations explain why the Kremlin orchestrated the case the way that it has; but by themselves, they do not explain the timing, Rykhlin continues. That reflects something else: Moscow fears about Khabarovsk and Belarus whose protests appear likely to spread to Russia as a whole.
“’The Arab spring’ of almost a decade ago clearly demonstrated that such a chain reaction can occur practically instantaneously, and in a few months, an enormous region can become an arena of popular revolution,” the commentator says. The Kremlin is afraid and so is taking measures that from its own perspective will protect it.
From Moscow’s perspective, “the weak side of the Belarusian revolution consists in its lack of an obvious leader and in general of a political opposition capable of leading a liberation movement.” But as the Kremlin certainly knows, “in Russia there is Navalny” – and so removing him from the scene temporarily or permanently is a useful practical step.
“It is naïve to suppose that [Navalny] would miss this kind of chance;” and if protests became widespread in Russia, “neutralizing him” then would be much more difficult and must more likely to prove counterproductive than doing so now. Fortunately, it does not appear that Navalny will die soon, although he will be less active for some time.
But when he does return, the Kremlin may discover that it has created what it most fears: a political leader, “angry, uncompromising, and focused on victory.” Such an opponent will be harder to remove from the scene or to defeat.