On Wednesday (9), the Russian court banned the two organizations linked to Alexei Navalni, qualifying them as “extremists” and effectively liquidating the work of the loudest opponent of Vladimir Poutine.
Indeed, the decision came a week before the Russian president met his American counterpart, Joe Biden, at the first summit of the two leaders in Geneva.
The Russian judiciary, although formally independent, is aligned with the Kremlin. The decision of the Moscow City Court was taken in a 12-hour secret session and reached the Navalni Anti-Corruption Fund and an associated entity, the Organization for the Protection of Citizens’ Rights.
The fund had been operating under the “foreign agent” classification 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 sentence that was suspended when, in a coma, he was taken for treatment in Germany for being poisoned in Siberia.
He blames Putin for the episode, which became 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 been annoying Putin since 2017, when he began funding questionable but highly viral journalistic videos about the fortunes of officials, including Putin, who are said to be using a palace on the Black Sea coast.
More than that, the lawyer and blogger took thousands of people to the streets that year in anti-corruption acts organized on the internet. Its operation has always been nebulous, and the authorities have focused on funding issues.
There has been a reduction in activity, but protests have erupted from time to time, and they got huge earlier this year, when Navalni was arrested as he exited the plane from his medical exile in Germany. He then spent two and a half years in prison in a penal colony, and nearly died during a hunger strike.
Additionally, Navalni’s group launched with relative success in 2019 the Smart Vote campaign, which essentially consisted of cheering on any candidate who could beat the ruling United Russia party in local elections.
There have been successes, the Kremlin reacted by creating a second supporting party, but the big test would be the parliamentary elections in September this year. Now, with the demobilization of opponents, the question remains as to what will happen.
Navalni has never been a popular figure in independent polls. But his candidacy for the Kremlin was banned in 2018 and went through the entire process that culminated in Wednesday’s trial, indicating official fear that he was a channel of popular discontent after Putin’s 21 years in power.
It’s not just Navalni. A distant opponent of the activist, Dmitry Gudkov, fled to Ukraine last week, fearing what he called criminal charges against him after his arrest.
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 prison, 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 previously said he will discuss the matter with Putin.
The Russian does not seem to agree. Besides the signs, which come on top of the announcement of 20 new military bases near its European borders, he gave a revealing interview to state television channel Russia-24 on Wednesday.
In it, he made it clear that the Ukrainian issue would 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 east of the neighboring country.
Around 14,000 people have already died in the conflict, which is 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 neighbor.
NATO (Western military alliance) went on high alert and the tension did not dissipate until, in the face of the message and the continued threat, the Russians demobilized – however, leaving behind material for a great deal. exercise planned for September, involving another call. on the European foot, the dictatorship of Belarus.
There, Putin supported his ally Aleksandr Lukashenko in his crackdown on national dissent, which manifested itself in the form of major acts after the rigged elections last August and reached the climax of the hijacking of a flight. Irish commercial to stop a passenger.
The Russian dreams of a union dominated by him with Blearus. 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 explained the geopolitical reasons he doesn’t want NATO to absorb Ukraine: in maybe seven minutes, Western missiles based in Kharkov would be over his head.
NATO’s two waves of eastward expansion, he said, “occurred even when relations between Russia and the West were satisfactory.” “I don’t mean to use harsh words, but they just spat on our interests, and that was it,” the president said.
Biden wants to pose as the company leader in its big external test, mainly targeting the audience of its biggest rival, China. From Putin’s words and actions, this may not be an easy task.