Wednesday, March 3, 2021

By Imprisoning Navalny, Kremlin has Made What He Represents Politically Immortal, Pastukhov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 2 – The Kremlin’s decision to imprison Aleksey Navalny will not lead Russians or the Russian state to forget about him, Vladimir Pastukhov says. In fact, it will have exactly the opposite effect because now the opposition figure has been transformed into an immortal symbol of resistance.

            Now, any conversation about Navalny will not be so much about him as an individual but as someone who has been jailed for his beliefs, the London-based Russian analyst says. And that will mean that Russians will think about him “much more than they did when he was still a free man” (

            By jailing him, the Kremlin has “on the one hand, isolated him; but on the other, it has transformed him into a Russian Odysseus. No one forgot the original,” Pastukhov continues, “and from my point of view, what the powers have done is, to speak honestly, is to guarantee historical immortality to Navalny.”  

            Like Magnitsky and Khodorkovsky, Navalny has thereby become “the third such most important element of this system, someone perfectly inscribed in Russian history forever as a hostage of the regime. And any conversation about the fate of this regime will one way or another concern his fate.”

            Thus, it is “impossible” that he will be forgotten. Instead, by its actions, the Kremlin has made him part of the Russian political landscape that it must now deal with. That raises the question what the powers that be will now do: Will they torture or even kill him? Or will they adopt a different approach?

            If those in the Kremlin are not complete idiots, Pastukhov continues, “they will behave as the German state did with regard to Ernst Thalmann” who was confined in a concentration camp but completely isolated from other prisoners, thus occupying “a concentration camp inside a concentration camp.”

            Such an approach would limit Navalny’s ability to get his message out and would avoid making him a martyr who might play an even larger role against the Kremlin in death than in life. But as of now, it remains an open question as to how the powers that be around Vladimir Putin will act.

            “I have always supposed,” Pastukhov says, “that it was a mistake for Navalny to return to Russia because unfortunately life is so arranged that if you become a hostage of this system, then one way or another, your life must be devoted to ceasing being a hostage whether you want that or not.”

            The current regime has “unlimited opportunities” to act against him. If it feels confident that it is in control, it will simply keep him behind bars adding one sentence after another. But if it feels threatened, it may decide to eliminate Navalny entirely. Indeed, the more threatened the Kremlin feels, the more likely it is to succumb to the temptation to kill him.

            In thinking about the future of politics in Russia, Pastukhov argues, one must keep in mind that Navalny is “such a unique and outstanding personality” that he has support even from those who oppose what he stands for because they believe he can serve as a battering ram against the Kremlin walls that will open a path for them to come to power.

            Such people “naively think that they can use Navalny,” but their naivete is in fact a double one. First, the Kremlin walls they think he can breach aren’t crumbling; and second, even if he did break them down, they do not have the organizational capacity to do anything about it, Pastukhov says.

            There are “a lot of such people,” mostly members of the liberal intelligentsia who have grouped themselves around Navalny because “they see in him a force which they themselves lack,” a force capable of reaching across many of the divides in Russia today, something they are in almost no case capable of doing. 

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