Staunton, January 27 – The Kremlin seems set on keeping Aleksey Navalny behind bars in the hopes that without his active involvement, the protest movement he has launched will fade. But that hope is misplaced, Abbas Gallyamov says. “Even being decapitated, the protest will not die.”
The best the regime can hope for by continuing Navalny’s incarceration is a little breathing room, the former Putin speechwriter and now commentator says. But given that the country is going into a Duma election, any such time will be brief because Russians now realize thanks to Navalny that they must make a choice (newsru.com/blog/28jan2021/protest.html).
And the powers that be, however much they may try to control things aren’t going to be able to succeed in blocking more protests. They should remember, Gallyamov says, that the tsarist authorities had exiled or forced into emigration all the extra-systemic opposition of that time, but this didn’t save the regime because ever more people had become angry.
Other Russian analysts agree that there will be more protests, although there is less consensus on whether the country is on the brink of a revolutionary situation or even whether the continuing wave of protests will prevent Vladimir Putin from continuing to have a parliamentary majority after the elections.
St. Petersburg sociologist Vladimir Sokratilin says that Saturday’s protests have made Navalny “politician number 2” in Russia. “Before then, he was simply a blogger who exposed the powers. Perhaps he did this more professionally than others, but he was not alone in that” (gorod-812.ru/chto-teper-delat-navalnomu-socziolog-o-protestah/).
Now, he is more than that and has real opportunities to expand the protest movement even if he remains behind bars. That is because he enjoys widespread support about the educated part of the population and is gaining ground as well with the less educated. These things give real opportunities, although it remains to be seen how well Navalny and his supporters may use them.
First, the Russian intelligentsia which supports Navalny can boycott state media, something like what the Polish opposition did in response to the introduction of martial law there in 1981. If they do, Russians will notice and draw conclusions that will push more of them into the opposition and protest camps.
Second, because the opposition is “always more creative than the powers,” it can use street protests to show that it has more people on its side than the authorities do. As it does that, it will only gain more adherents and the government will lose its current supporters, Sokratilin continues.
And third, and perhaps most important, Navalny can use laughter against the powers that be. Now that everyone is a foreign agent, that has become a subject of mirth. And everyone should remember that “the Soviet regime fell for among other reasons that a mass of anecdotes spread. Now the occasion for anecdotes is no less.”
And “when people laugh, they cease to be afraid.” At the same time, the sociologist says, this doesn’t mean that the regime is about to collapse or surrender. It has many resources. But what Navalny has done and will likely do will reduce the value of those resources by showing the ability of the opposition to counter them.
The biggest question for Navalny and his organization, Sokratilin suggests, is whether he will be able to attract and work with a larger staff. In the past, Navalny has worked more on his own or with a limited group. Now, he must build a larger one. After all, “even Lenin” would not have succeed without a larger network.
Moscow political scientist Dmitry Orlov believes that Russia will face a new wave of protests whatever the Kremlin does with Navalny but that this may not have the immediate impact on the Duma elections that some opposition figures hope and many analysts have been suggesting (ura.news/articles/1036281835).
He says that more protests will happen because Navalny was only an occasion for the demonstrations, not their fundamental cause. “People are dissatisfied with their situations, and Navalny’s call was only an occasion.” They are angry and now that the pandemic is easing, they want to show their anger, something they couldn’t do under the coronavirus restrictions.
But precisely for that reason, Orlov says, he does not expect Russian events to develop along a Belarusian scenario – the powers that be still have too much legitimacy and support – or to affect the Duma elections as much as many may think. United Russia may lose some seats, but it will likely retain its constitutional majority.
To that end, he continues, the Kremlin will ensure that more United Russia members are governors and that they will become the election staffs for the party against anything Navalny and his supporters may do. Protests will continue, but this organizational response will likely limit is political impact over the next year.