Staunton, May 4 – According to Levada Center poll results published yesterday, Russians were more focused on Aleksey Navalny than they are on what has been going with Ukraine or the Kremlin’s other international moves, a remarkable development given that government media provide little information on the opposition leader and much about the other things.
Such interest does not necessarily mean support, but the fact that the only event Russians said they had paid more attention to in recent weeks was Putin’s address to the Federal Assembly and that Navalny was of greater concern than Ukraine or foreign policy is a remarkable development (levada.ru/2021/05/03/sobytiya-mesyatsa-5/ and rfi.fr/ru/россия/20210504-левада-новости-о-навальном-заинтересовали-россиян-больше-чем-донбасс-и-международная-повестка).
According to the Levada Center, 17 percent paid attention to Putin’s speech, 10 percent to Navalny and the protests about him, nine percent to the tensions along the Ukrainian border, and eight percent to Russia’s other diplomatic moves. Significantly, interest in the coronavirus fell out of the top five issues Russians attended to in April.
Perhaps equally instructive as to what is going on in Russia today, 34 percent of the Levada Center sample said that in the past month, there was no event worth recalling, while eight percent said they were focusing on their personal problems and nine percent said they faced difficulty in providing an answer.
In fact, the attention to Navalny and protests around him has declined from January and February when the protests were taking place, but the attention Russians gave to him and his supporters then continues. And that presents the Kremlin with three interrelated problems that it doesn’t know how to respond to.
First, it shows that Russians are increasingly forming their own opinions despite what official media is presenting. Second, it indicates that at least some Russians who are paying attention to the Navalny case are also taking more seriously his policy arguments, including his attacks on corruption at the highest levels.
And third, it means that the Kremlin is more limited in what it can do to the imprisoned opposition leader than many imagine. Were he to die while incarcerated, an outcome at least some among the powers that be would welcome, that would certainly have a broader resonance than many might have expected and likely trigger massive protests.
Consequently, Russians’ continuing attention to him may be one of the most powerful forces working to keep him alive, as difficult as his existence makes things for those Navalny has specified are not only his enemies but those of the Russian people as well.