In 1976, a 12 months after he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for being “spokesman for the conscience of mankind”, Andrei Sakharov was labeled by the KGB as “home enemy primary”.
Alexei Navalny, the Russian opposition activist arrested on his return to Moscow on Sunday, might not possess the identical righteousness as Sakharov, essentially the most well-known of Soviet dissidents. However there is no such thing as a doubting his braveness. Or that at present’s Kremlin regards him as its best home enemy. As with the nuclear scientist half a century in the past, Mr Navalny’s therapy by the Russian authorities has solely elevated his standing as a logo of repression.
The merciless suppression of Sakharov got here to symbolise the ethical chapter of the Soviet system and helped galvanise western, particularly European, opinion in opposition to it. It might be naive to assume Mr Navalny’s therapy could have an identical impact. The chilly struggle is lengthy over and most western capitals produce other pursuits past countering Russian aggression.
However simply because the KGB fretted about Sakharov’s affect, so Russian president Vladimir Putin fears that Mr Navalny can mobilise opinion in opposition to his more and more autocratic regime. Russia is because of maintain parliamentary elections in September and Mr Navalny and his fellow activists have been organising surprisingly profitable campaigns in native elections. They’re rallying assist for any candidate capable of beat incumbents from Mr Putin’s ruling celebration, which has suffered a fall in reputation scores to document lows in latest months.
How else to elucidate the extraordinary, virtually farcical measures the Russian authorities took to stop Mr Navalny from having fun with a welcoming celebration of supporters on his return from Berlin, the place he spent 5 months recovering from an assassination try blamed on the Kremlin. First, riot police tried to take away his supporters and journalists ready within the terminal at Moscow’s Vnukovo airport. Then, minutes earlier than his flight from the German capital was as a consequence of land, it was diverted. A snowplough had, conveniently, stalled on a runway.
“Navalny’s reception by the authorities on the airport is the perfect proof of how afraid they’re of him,” Andrei Kolesnikov of the Carnegie Moscow Middle said on Twitter. “They themselves are inflating the significance of Navalny, turning him into academician Sakharov.”
Mr Navalny’s prominence was affirmed final 12 months, when he was poisoned with a banned chemical weapon throughout a go to to Siberia. Final month he published an investigation which plausibly demonstrated that it was the FSB, Russia’s predominant safety service, that carried out the homicide try. He then humiliated the FSB by releasing a recording through which one in all its operatives was duped into admitting duty.
Till final 12 months’s poisoning the authorities had sought to comprise him with harassment, repeated arrests, quick detentions and disqualifications from workplace. Now they’re prone to lock him up for a very long time. Upon his arrival on Sunday, he was arrested for flouting the phrases of a suspended sentence for fraud that he (and the European Court of Human Rights) says is trumped up. On Monday, Mr Navalny was sentenced to 30 days in jail after a abstract listening to, for which he was given one minute’s discover. He may face one other three years behind bars when the case returns to court docket. Other embezzlement charges are pending.
“For the authorities, how they considered Navalny modified not as a lot after he was poisoned, however after the . . . FSB exposés. Not is he a small-time criminal, however an enemy who have to be humiliated, crushed, punished,” says Tatiana Stanovaya of political consultancy R Politik.
This travesty of justice is a problem to Mr Putin’s western critics, particularly incoming US president Joe Biden who desires to rally allies in defence of democracy. His administration might want to persuade European capitals to maneuver past ritual condemnation. The important thing shall be German chancellor Angela Merkel. She has held the road on sanctions over Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, rebuffed French strain to reset ties with Moscow and strongly condemned the assassination try in opposition to Mr Navalny. She ought to now comply with via with additional financial sanctions as a part of an EU large bundle, together with a moratorium on the brand new Nord Stream 2 pipeline bringing Russian fuel to Germany. The Navalny case may also be a take a look at for Armin Laschet, the brand new head of Ms Merkel’s celebration, the Christian Democrat Union, who has been somewhat smooth on Moscow.
The Kremlin’s high-visibility persecution dangers turning Mr Navalny right into a rallying level for home opposition. He have to be efficient if Mr Putin fears him a lot. The Russian chief doesn’t appear to care that allotting with due course of makes Mr Navalny a logo of the abuses of an authoritarian regime. However the west should.