Petrov: The Kremlin no longer needs to create the impression of real political competition

PONARS Eurasia
09 Feb 2017

(CSM) The legal odyssey of Russia's best-known opposition leader, anti-corruption blogger Alexei Navalny, has been mindbogglingly complicated, full of twists and turns.

Nevertheless, experts say, it has wound up with a simple and totally predictable political result. Thanks to a regional court's ruling Wednesday that upheld Mr. Navalny's embezzlement conviction and handed him a five-year suspended sentence, it will be almost impossible for him to run against President Vladmir Putin, or his anointed successor, in elections in March 2018.

That's significant because unlike much of Russia's fragmented and fractious opposition – especially the liberals who are associated in the public mind with the disastrous 1990s – Navalny seemed to be a new type of insurgent politician who could unite anti-Kremlin support among a wide range of Russians. [...]

"Navalny was able to consolidate all Moscow voters who were against the authorities in general and Sobyanin in particular," says Nikolai Petrov, a professor at the Higher School of Economics at Moscow's National Research University. "In Moscow, that's a lot of people. Not just liberals and people of the creative class, but many middle-class professionals and others who heard his anticorruption message."

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"A lot of people who supported Navalny in 2013 became inspired to support the annexation of Crimea and embraced Putin's leadership. The Kremlin no longer needs to create the impression of real political competition, indeed, it's against the idea," says Petrov. "As military chieftain, Putin should not be challenged or criticized. If Putin decides to run again, he should get overwhelming support."

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