Staunton, September 20 – Moscow sociologist Sergey Belanovsky who has attracted attention for his accurate predictions about the course of opposition movements in Russia says that by poisoning Aleksey Navalny, Vladimir Putin “with his own hands” has made him the leader of the opposition and possibly Russia’s next president,
“Until quite recently,” the sociologist continues, “the only significant political brand in Russia was Putin.” The Kremlin leader’s “brand” has weakened but “retains its power because of its political monopoly” (glavred.info/opinions/putin-svoimi-rukami-sdelal-navalnogo-sleduyushchim-prezidentom-rossii-novosti-ukrainy-i-mira-10205186.html).
No effort to create an alternative brand has been successful, he says. These attempts have been suppressed. But if an alternative opposition brand does appear, then that brand will have a good chance to gain a monopoly position among the opponents of Putin. What Putin has done is to give Navalny precisely that opportunity.
Belanovsky says that until the poisoning, he was very skeptical about Navalny’s chances to become leader of the opposition. “But now the situation has changed.” He can’t be attacked anymore – “a Great Power can’t act like a bull in a china shop” – and so he will be able to use that resource to organize the opposition around him.
As a result of the poisoning effort, Navalny has acquired a monopoly as “the alternative brand” to Putin,” the sociologist argues. At a minimum, “the conditions have been created for him to become that … He has become untouchable and can sharply broaden his activity. I think,” Belanovsky continues, “he will use that opportunity.”
The Kremlin could try to stop this by promoting another alternative among the opposition, but that is a problematic tactic given that it would be promoting someone who to be credible would have to be an opponent of Putin – and that isn’t an outcome the current Russian ruler would like.
“Some like Navalny and some don’t,” Belanovsky says. And another, more attractive figure may emerge. But at present, the victim of Putin’s poisoning has no competition as far as gaining the leadership of the opposition is concerned. His brand as that will only strengthen given that Putin can’t use his preferred methods against him.
And then the sociologist draws an even more remarkable conclusion: “Not long ago,” he says, he “was certain that Navalny would not become president. But now, I am not so certain about that.”