The Demise of Alexei Navalny—And His Russia of Choice

The Demise of Alexei Navalny—And His Russia of Choice

Alexei Navalny

We are deeply concerned over the unexpected death of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who was imprisoned, at the age of 47. This is a tale of reckless cruelty, hopelessness, apathetic society, and bereaved families in private. It is also a story about the Russian government, both structurally, as it does not accept competition, and publicly, as many people had the same reactions to the news of Navalny’s death—which came as a shock as the events of February 24, 2024—regarding what caused it.

Just as Russian society survived and either freely or forcibly normalized the two prior shocks—the beginning of the “special operation” against Ukraine and the partial mobilization later that same year—so too will it survive this one. More accurately, the majority of Russian society will survive this shock. “You have to defend your homeland in times of need; we were attacked.” There are always going to be excuses; the key is to remain composed and exonerate oneself of all accountability. This time, too, the real backbone of Russia’s semi-totalitarian regime—passive conformists—will succeed in doing so.

The fact that Navalny passed away during the presidential campaign makes it all the more heartbreaking. Although it may appear that Putin has no opponents, he actually does—more so in a “existential” sense than in an electoral one, as those in positions of authority like to say. The name of his rival was well recognized. First, at the start of this quasi-electoral contest in December, Navalny was transferred to the Arctic Circle to finish serving several jail terms that were mostly seen as retaliation for his political activities. Our ultimate leader can no longer be challenged, as his opponent has passed away. He is now a lone king, or solus rex.

Navalny and the late Yevgeny Prigozhin, a mercenary turned mutineer, had nothing in common, but their absence has left the autocrat even more isolated on his Mount Olympus. All the objectives of the 2020 summer constitutional amendment referendum, which permitted Putin to govern almost endlessly, have been fulfilled. Not only has power been maintained, it is unwavering.

Navalny was expected to die following that same vote in 2020 after being poisoned with the lethal nerve toxin Novichok; instead, his death was just postponed. In essence, there was only one option available to voters: either install an autocrat on the throne or allow for the hypothetical prospect of power rotation. The majority, the obliging conformists, were indifferent and made all the decisions.

The loss of Navalny is unexpected. However, similar to what happened in February 2022, it’s a shock that was somewhat anticipated because there was still optimism that the worst would not occur. Now, February 16, 2024 and February 24, 2022—two days that not only altered people’s lives in two nations but also transformed the global order into a disorder—will be remembered as two signs of an impending catastrophe.

The political fallout from this event will only heighten the ruling class’s and its repressive apparatus’ sense of total omnipotence and impunity. This implies that the silent segment of the population, which values autocratic initiatives over free expression, will either become even more reclusive or may even begin to show fervent support for the ruling class. Some passive conformists will realize that they must become active conformists in order to maintain their own mental health.

The authorities do not perceive any threat since, in their opinion, there is a powerful apparatus of tyranny and an equally powerful body of oppressive laws, and those who do not remain silent will simply solidify their status as adversaries. Those who oppose the dictatorship will just speak out more louder and more forcefully, while those who stay silent will keep their mouths shut.

After receiving medical attention in Germany after his assassination attempt Alexei Navalny returned to Russia in January 2021 to carry on his political struggle domestically. His quick arrest upon landing at a Moscow airport led to the last significant demonstrations the nation had ever witnessed. The police are certain that there won’t be any protests of this kind in response to his passing. They are hoping that people would eventually get over their shock and forget about Navalny.

Navalny was going back to a different Russia, even in 2021. He could no longer engage in political activity, participate in elections (as he did when he campaigned for Moscow mayor back in 2013), lead large-scale protests, or conduct the most intense investigations the nation had ever seen into the unending corruption and cynicism of the nation’s leaders. (A fifth of Russians viewed an expose online titled “A Palace for Putin.”). By 2021, the 2020 constitutional revisions had established an everlasting rule system, which marked a slight departure from the previous regime. Despite their previous attempts to kill him, he kept coming back.

It is somewhat reasonable for the administration to anticipate that memories of Navalny will wane. According to a survey conducted by the Levada Center a year earlier, in February 2022, 14% of respondents claimed they “did not know” who Navalny was; by February 2023, that percentage had increased to 23%. This raises the question of whether prudence has actually caused this “ignorance” to become learnt. During that same time span, sentiments toward Navalny had also deteriorated, with more people likely to think that he had been imprisoned for a legitimate crime as opposed to merely settling a score.

The political government had become more authoritarian, Navalny had become less visible in the public eye, and the obedient conformists had come to their own conclusions. However, Navalny was one of the four most well-liked leaders in Russia in 2021—and this was in a nation that was already extremely conservative, cynical, and hardened and had lost all confidence in humanity. In the same year, Navalny, together with fellow opposition figures Lyubov Sobol and Ilya Yashin, was the most popular politician among Muscovites (despite a high disapproval rating concurrently).

Avoid seeing or hearing anything negative, keep your distance from the most recent terrible news, and only trust the official narrative—that is, the conformist majority acted consistently in all comparable circumstances, including the poisoning of Navalny. A few months after the poisoning, a different Levada Center poll conducted in December 2020 found that 30% of respondents believed the poisoning was staged, 19% thought it was a provocation by Western intelligence services, and only 15% thought it was an attempt by the authorities to kill a political opponent. Living and thinking that way, or not thinking at all, is easier.It should come as no surprise that this majority supported the “special operation” in its entirety as well as all justifications for carrying it out, since they were prepared for whatever the authorities could think of.

Once again, the Levada Center reports that the reaction to Navalny’s detention among the intelligentsia was one of humiliation for the Russian people, exhaustion, confusion, and despair. Maybe the feelings that many individuals with consciences and the capacity for reflection are going through right now are shame and hopelessness. Since those constitutional reforms that reset the clock on presidential terms approved in 2020, they have felt very little else. Of course, it was equally disgraceful in 2000 when a KGB agent was invited to take charge of the nation, and in 2004 when democracy was sacrificed in return for oil rent.

It was disgraceful in 2012, when Putin took office again after serving as prime minister, and it was disgraceful again in 2018, when he was reelected with a resounding win. However, in each of these instances, guilt is not genuinely felt by those who ought to feel ashamed.The memory of Alexei Navalny will live on. In a nation where traditional politics is outright prohibited under danger of retaliation, he was a rare example of a daring politician. He could have been the next president of the United States in a typical political contest. Furthermore, he possessed a distinct vision for Russia’s future, in contrast to the unyielding regime that is currently experiencing a lengthy crisis in goals. There was a moment when Putin and Navalny’s stalemate could be considered the sum total of Russian politics, even in circumstances of extremely restricted competition.

Additionally, Navalny will not be forgotten in the FSB headquarters, the Kremlin, or any other official location. He offered a different perspective to a sizable country and served as an alternative to them. Only Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin, each in his own unique manner and with differing levels of support among the masses who desired changes in their country, have fulfilled that position for the last fifty years at the very least.

Unlike those who stumbled into history, Alexei marched into it with his head held high. History has its own timelines and criteria for assessing the importance of any particular person, and whether or not they served as head of state has nothing to do with it. Navalny was a rare leader in Russian history who wished the best not for himself, but for the entire nation. He stood up to be counted, and he will still be given his due. His efforts did not go unnoticed and they will certainly not be forgotten. 

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