Analysis: Navalni's death reflects political petrification February 16, 2024 World

Sao Paulo

The death of Alexei Navalni in a prison in the remotest regions of the Arctic adds elements of drama to Russia's political life, but at the moment there are no signs that it will cause major problems domestically for Vladimir Putin's government.

This may seem contradictory when we recall the activist's mobilizing power expressed in the demonstrations of 2017 and in the suppressed protests following his arrest in 2021, but it reflects the reality of a society living in a political system has sunk, that has petrified around the figure of the president.

Of course, the flowers laid in honor of Navalny next to the monuments to the victims of Soviet repression can be a harbinger of greater deeds, but they are doomed to police repression. If it was already predictable before the Ukrainian War, it becomes unstoppable under strict laws against dissent.

There are currently numerous acts in Europe if something big happens in Russia in the long term, then Putin will have a much bigger problem than the mercenary mutiny against the military summit in 2023.

Navalni's death symbolizes the death of the latest opposition idea in Putin's Russia. The country's political paralysis prevents the rise of real rivals within the party system, although some exist and are tolerated as long as they don't show their sleeves.

Just look at the case of former MP Boris Nadejdin. In a month he would stand against Putin with no chance, but as a legitimate opponent for the Kremlin. It was enough to gain some support by toughening his antiKremlin speech to see his candidacy rejected for alleged technical errors.

Navalni knew this. After appearing as a supporting star in the protests against Putin's return to the presidency in 2012, the anticorruption blogger received almost 30% of the vote and came second in the race for Moscow mayor, a feat.

Due to the distrust of former allies such as the liberal Grigori Iavlinski, she no longer had a place in organized politics. All that remained was to innovate and focus more on virtual activism, denouncing corruption in videos, culminating in the 2017 conferences.

He thought this would qualify him to challenge Putin in the 2018 election, which took place before the World Cup. In the end, he was disqualified because of a suspended sentence he received for a dubious case of regional corruption that he always described as a farce.

However, he never received more than 5% of the voting intentions. The ordeal of poisoning and imprisonment upon his return to Russia kept him in the spotlight, but then he repeated what had happened to other Putin opponents, such as the chess player Garry Kasparov: He achieved more fame abroad than at home.

The need to find an archenemy for Putin, the West's favorite pariah, has ultimately led to the disinfection of Navalni's image: about the xenophobia against immigrants and Muslims, the misogynistic jokes, the flirtations with the far right and whatnot was later mitigated, little will be read about Keep Crimea Russian.

However, unlike his predecessors, Navalni was confronted with reality upon his arrival in Moscow in 2021 and avoided an exile that was comfortable for him. Whether out of volition or the belief that he would leave prison, which was often the case, in the end the activist sealed his fate.

After the initial uproar, he was remembered more than in Russian households when a documentary about his activities won an Oscar. In a survey in January this year, the independent Centro Levada asked respondents which political figure they trust most.

Spontaneously 51% said Putin. But Navalni, who was always mentioned at the bottom of the rankings, received no mention.

The Kremlin controls the media, and most Russians get their information from state television. But also because of the difficult political mobility in the country, which Putin's critics see as evidence of a dictatorship.

The reading tends to ignore that the country he bequeathed in early 2022 was much better than the rubble he inherited from Boris Yeltsin more than two decades earlier, even as Putin plunged Russia into an uncertain adventure by invading Ukraine . The same Levada measures 85% approval of the president.

In the end, Navalni was swallowed up by a prison system known for its brutality since imperial times. Whatever the objective cause of death, he enters the pantheon of martyrs of Putinism, and it remains to be seen whether this will be more than a testament to the reality he fought against.