On Wednesday (9), the Russian court banned the two organizations linked to Alexei Navalni, calling them “extremists” and effectively liquidating the work of Vladimir Putin’s loudest opponent.
Indeed, the decision came a week before the Russian president met his American counterpart, Joe Biden, at the two leaders’ first summit meeting in Geneva.
The Russian judiciary, although formally independent, is aligned with the Kremlin. The Moscow Municipal Court decision was taken in a secret 12-hour session and reached the Navalni Anti-Corruption Fund and an associated entity, the Organization for the Protection of Citizens’ Rights.
The fund had already been operating under the classification of “foreign agent” since 2019. Thus, its accounts were heavily audited, and the movements of its members were legally monitored.
Navalni himself is in prison for violating the parole of an old conviction that had been suspended when, in a coma, he was taken to treatment in Germany for being poisoned in Siberia.
He blames Putin for the episode, which has become one of Biden’s banners by toughening his predecessor Donald Trump’s malleable terms with Moscow. In addition to establishing sanctions for the case, he called the Russian leader a murderer.
Navalni’s fund has annoyed Putin since 2017, when it began bankrolling journalistically dubious but highly viral videos about the fortunes of public officials — including Putin, who would use a palace on the Black Sea coast.
More than that, the lawyer and blogger took thousands to the streets that year in anti-corruption acts organized over the internet. Its operation has always been nebulous, and authorities have focused on funding issues.
There has been a reduction in activity, but protests occasionally erupted and became huge earlier this year, when Navalni was arrested as he exited the plane from medical exile in Germany. He then spent two and a half years in jail in a penal colony and nearly died during a hunger strike.
In addition, Navalni’s group launched with relative success in 2019 the Smart Vote campaign, which basically consisted of encouraging any candidate who could beat the ruling United Russia party in local elections.
There were successes, the Kremlin reacted by setting up a second supporting party, but the big test would be the parliamentary election in September this year. Now, with the demobilization of opponents, the question remains as to what will happen.
Navalni was never a popular figure in independent polls. But his candidacy for the Kremlin was barred in 2018 and suffered the entire process that culminated in the trial on Wednesday, which indicates the official fear that he is a channel for popular dissatisfaction after Putin’s 21 years in power.
It’s not just Navalni. A distant opponent of the activist, Dmitri Gudkov, fled to Ukraine last week, fearing what he called a criminal case mounted against him after he was arrested.
Andrei Pivovarov, who led an opposition group called Open Russia, was arrested before a plane took off for Poland last week.
In an investigation against his group, already dissolved, he faces up to six years in jail, giving the measure of the repression underway in Russia today.
Biden has adopted Navalni as a symbol of his pressure on the human rights issue in Russia and has already said he will discuss the issue with Putin.
The Russian doesn’t seem to agree. In addition to the signs, which are added to the announcement of 20 new military bases near its European borders, he gave a revealing interview on the state TV channel Russia-24 on Wednesday.
In it, he made it clear that the issue of Ukraine will be central. In 2014, Putin fell out of favor in the West when a pro-Moscow government was overthrown in Kiev and he retaliated by annexing Crimea and fomenting civil war in the neighboring country’s east.
About 14,000 people have already died in the conflict, now frozen, but which was almost reactivated this year. Faced with the mobilization of Ukrainian forces near areas dominated by pro-Russian rebels, Putin ordered the concentration of perhaps 100,000 men on his border with his neighbour.
NATO (Western military alliance) went on alert, and the tension was only dissipated when, given the message and the threat maintained, the Russians demobilized — leaving behind, however, equipment for a large exercise scheduled for September, in which another one is taking part. callus on the European foot, the dictatorship of Belarus.
There, Putin supported ally Aleksandr Lukachenko in his crackdown on domestic dissent, which came in the form of major acts after last August’s rigged election and reached the paroxysm of hijacking an Irish commercial flight to arrest a passenger.
The Russian dreams of a union dominated by him with Belarus. In the Ukrainian case, he complained in the interview about a new law that provides for the registration of everyone, even those with Russian passports in rebel areas, as Ukrainian citizens.
And he spelled out the geopolitical reasons he doesn’t want NATO to absorb Ukraine: in perhaps seven minutes, Western missiles based in Kharkov would be over his head.
NATO’s two waves of eastern expansion, he said, “occurred even when the relationship between Russia and the West was satisfactory.” “I don’t want to use harsh words, but they just spat on our interests, and that was it,” the president said.
Biden wants to pose as the firm leader in his big external test, mainly targeting the audience in his biggest rival, China. From Putin’s words and actions, it may not be an easy task.