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Daily News Analysis

Both the West and Kremlin have mishandled the Navalny phenomenon

Crescent International

The euphoria of Western regimes and their corporate media over the latest anti-government protests in Russia is one reason why these will not deliver significant results.

The Western media has a habit of creating opposition “heroes” of highly pro-Western figures and projecting them as national leaders.

The ground reality is often very different.

Gary Kasparov, the famous chess player but politically irrelevant in Russia, and the conman of Iraq, Ahmed Chalabi are cases in point.

Nevertheless, the latest protests in Russia are not as minor as some might assume.

They do carry some political weight, and probably more than the non-Western camp is willing to believe.

Let’s first look at why they will have no major impact on the socio-political future of Russia in the near to mid-term.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Western policies towards Russia have been quite condescending.

This has created a huge distrust of the West among a significant portion of Russian society.

Also, many Russians are nostalgic for the superpower status they enjoyed during the Soviet era.

And Vladimir Putin is seen by many as the leader who is restoring that superpower status.

The more the Western regimes espouse hatred toward Putin, the more his vision gains support among Russians.

The reality is that since Putin came to power more than 20 years ago, he has brought significant improvements in Russia.

Between 1999 and 2008, Russian GDP grew by 94% and per capita GDP doubled.

No amount of Western bashing of Putin is, therefore, going to change this reality.

However, due to internal and external successes, the Putin-guided system and officials working for it have become over confident and at times even arrogant.

This is the reason why Alexey Navalny’s arrest combined with his recent video alleging Putin owns a luxury palace, triggered widespread protests in many parts of Russia.

Even though only a few hundred thousand people out of a population of nearly 150 million came out to protest across Russia, they were backed by a broad spectrum of political forces.

And it was not merely the pro-Western Navalny supporters.

From prominent leftist Maxim Shevchenko to Russian nationalist Dmitry Demushkin, support for the protest to call out the current government for its corrupt practices was broad, but not massive.

Navalny’s palace video was viewed more than 80 million times and created widespread dissatisfaction among many Russians.

While the video is well-produced, the allegation does not provide concrete evidence that Putin is actually the owner of the palace.

However, because the government has mishandled Navalny’s oppositionist activities for several years, he managed to transform himself from a marginal activist with a limited social base into a truly public figure.

Those familiar with Russia can make a good case that Navalny’s ideas appeal to many middle-class urbanites.

Rural Russia is largely oblivious of his political views and sees them as opposing traditional Russian societal outlook.

Nevertheless, because the government has dealt with Navalny’s activities through its security apparatus, it unintentionally assisted in promoting his image as a fighter for social justice.

This approach comes from the fact that the current Russian state system is run by personnel drawn primarily from the security forces.

As the saying goes, if you have a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.

In a broader sense, the government’s inability to politically marginalize Navalny years ago when he was a minor figure, is a sign of the system’s lack of political sophistication.

It once again highlights the fact that Putin’s system is primarily dependent on him personally and for it to function well, it requires his micromanagement.

How this will play out for Russia once Putin is out of the picture is yet to be seen, but Western powers have certainly noticed this weakness.

Nevertheless, Russian state institutions and their support base are closely monitoring the evolving situation.

If they learn from their mistakes, and it appears they are, and respond to Navalny’s activities politically, the dissatisfaction wave in Russia will die down.

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