When Boris Nemtsov was murdered five years ago, Russian opposition activists and journalists agreed that there would now be no real leader of Russia’s resistance to Putin. Some believe that Nemtsov represented a threat to power in Russia, which is why the Kremlin felt it had to get rid of him.
The void was filled by a young Russian blogger who concentrated on publishing material documenting corruption by officials and politicians. His foundation developed quickly and he gained popularity quickly on the net among the young. The government media ignored him at first, which kept his outreach limited.
Back in 2017 over half of Russians had never heard of Alexei Navalny.
He became a national figure last April when he was poisoned. By December, almost 80 percent of Russians were aware of him and his activities.
He came back to Russia despite having to fight for his life in a Berlin hospital after being poisoned in Russia. Others, such as Khodorkovsky and Kasparov, were not poisoned but stayed away from Russia fearing what Putin might do this to them.
By coming back voluntarily to face the security service, Navalny became the real leader of Russia’s democratic opposition. He was met with a KGB-style greeting. After crossing the border, he was taken into custody without ceremony.
Some compared his actions to Lenin’s return by train to Petrograd where he would later lead the Bolshevik revolution. But Lenin was returning after the Tsar had already abdicated with protests and strikes already under way.
Putin has no intention of abdicating. He will govern until 2024 at the very least.
There are no mass demonstrations near the Kremlin in defense of the detained opposition leaders, the workers are not on strike and oil and gas are being exported to the west. It remains to be seen whether this may change should Navalny be sent to a labor camp.
Title image: Alexei Navalny is surrounded by journalists inside the plane prior to his flight to Moscow in the Airport Berlin Brandenburg (BER) in Schoenefeld, near Berlin, Germany, Jan. 17, 2021, AP Images.