Prominent Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was detained in Moscow after being away from Russia for several months. Navalny makes his return after being treated in Germany for poisoning in the summer, which he believes was planned by the Kremlin and allies, claims that top Russian officials have denied. Despite arrest warnings from local authorities, he made his way back, and he seeks to continue challenging Putin’s government record on state corruption and human rights.
Several countries, including France, Germany, and the United States, have closely monitored Navalny’s case and call for his immediate release. His latest arrest is based on Russia’s account that he “violated probation terms of his suspended sentence on a 2014 money-laundering conviction [and] authorities seek to have him serve a three-and-a-half-year suspended sentence,” according to the Associated Press.
Reuters reports that several European Union countries have called for new sanctions, which would elevate pressure on the Russian government to act on the issue. Officials from the outgoing and incoming presidential administrations in the United States, such as Mike Pompeo and Jake Sullivan respectively, are also displeased with Navalny’s detainment. Despite these calls for action, the Kremlin is unmoved. Its spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, reports that “we can’t and are not going to take these statements into account [and] we will not allow anyone to interfere in it and do not intend to listen to such statements.”
Navalny points out that these actions show Putin’s fear of him, comments which have also been dismissed by the Kremlin. This is all a part of Navalny’s efforts to highlight official corruption and power abuse in Russia, which includes an earlier call with an alleged Federal Security Service (FSB) officer and details on Putin’s alleged Black Sea estate, according to the Associated Press. Furthermore, Navalny called for his supporters to protest on January 23 to continue challenging Putin’s government, which prompted arrests before and during the protests.
Much of this has been in the making for several years. As Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reports, among the first major efforts in support of Navalny go back to 2013 in which protests similar to those today helped suspend a five-year sentence he had. Note that the political climate has evolved since then. Compared to 2013, there is now increasing dissatisfaction with the Russian government among people along with a belief that more must be done to improve Russia’s economic and political situation.
The most recent protests show that Russians are willing to challenge the status quo for better prospects as a whole, even in the face of widespread arrests. What this does is mount more pressure on the Kremlin and other top officials to consider the people’s calls to action since other countries and organizations are keeping a close watch on the evolving situation. Most recently, the United States expressed support and solidarity while condemning the arrests of the past days, Politico reports. With more pressure from human rights groups, other countries, and the persistence of Russians in taking on Navalny’s cause, the Kremlin is likely to be met with resistance in key areas, such as its Nord Stream 2 pipeline project and potentially the START treaty, depending on the outcomes of the situation.
Navalny’s main goals include accountability for Russian officials engaging in corruption and other questionable activity. The basis of the recent events goes back to August 2020, in which he suddenly fell into a comma on a trans-Siberian flight. Shortly after receiving local treatment, he was flown to Germany where doctors determined he was poisoned with a Soviet-era Novichok agent, findings that the Kremlin has brushed off as baseless information.
Russian authorities have also refused to open a detailed investigation into the manner. After spending several months being treated and recovering, he has accused Putin and his allies of planning his failed assassination. Navalny has galvanized support from various parts of Russia, the United Nations, and many Western countries as he continues to challenge Putin’s rule and high-level corruption.
The January 23 protests are likely to continue if the Kremlin continues to ignore the calls for his release and cracks down on protesters. Its defiance is sure to be met with reluctance from key countries to pursue new economic deals and negotiations. Regardless, if countries want to lead the situation in the right direction, accountability and talks on key issues will help.
On the question of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project, the European Parliament “passed a resolution calling on the European Union to ‘immediately’ stop completion” and the United States “sanctioned a Russian pipe-laying vessel,” according to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. While accountability matters, sanctions, and punishment alone cannot resolve the issue. Other European countries and key partners must also encourage talks and negotiations with Russia to reach common ground. Constant refusal to cooperate can be met with elevated consequences but showing a willingness to negotiate and engage in talks will make Russian officials more willing to cooperate. This can and will prompt productive dialogue that leads to an effective solution for Navalny, Russian officials, and other parties involved.