Time is on Navalny’s side. If he doesn’t commit a blunder that disenchants potential voters, and if the authorities don’t take the brute force approach of locking him away for a number of years, he could emerge as a key opposition figure between 2018 and 2024.
The possibility of TV anchor Ksenia Sobchak as a presidential candidate has morphed from the dream of one of Vedomosti’s Kremlin sources into a political fact and a model for all of Russian politics. It demonstrates the strategy and working style of the president’s administration and of Alexei Navalny, as well as the demand for any candidate other than Vladimir Putin.
In recent years, the Russian government has formulated a policy on the country’s history that aims to consolidate the nation around a single official version of the past. However, because this single version of official collective memory is not acceptable to all citizens, this policy is causing divisions in Russian society.
The Kremlin may refrain from curbing ultraconservative activism and Kadyrov’s insurgence because it is afraid of losing popular support. But perhaps more likely is that the regime fears engaging its supporters, as they may prove to be more powerful. The growing strength of radical actors has collided with an impotent regime and generated demand for an alternative force, creating an opening for the opposition.
The Russian government is sending out the message that unofficial culture will be tolerated as long as it agrees not to seek state funding. But drawing the dividing line between official and unofficial will not be easy.
Russia’s recent regional and municipal elections saw an increase in voting by the reform-minded minority and a decrease in voter turnout among Putin’s former majority. However, the Kremlin chooses to ignore these trends, turning a blind eye to the possibility that the active minority and the discontented passive majority may eventually meet.
Sociological research shows that up to two-thirds of the population supports changes in Russia. But they are not necessarily the kind of changes that the democratic community likes to discuss, and the majority of those polled have no understanding of how their desired changes might come about.
Is opposition leader Alexei Navalny a “Kremlin project,” a “future tyrant,” or “Russia’s only hope?” Conversations about Navalny often proceed along these moral lines, though it is Navalny’s practicality—especially in the technological realm—that has been the driving force of his popularity.
The cancellation of a controversial ballet at Russia’s premiere theater holds dark clues as to where the country could be headed after Putin.
The demise of pragmatic politics will only amplify discontent with the regime and benefit populist opposition politicians. The public will no longer tolerate the regime’s strategy of tackling material problems with spiritual discourse, and will demand immediate practical solutions. As public discontent with the old regime grows stronger, new politicians will have an easy time promising quick material gains.