Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny may be in a prison colony, but his Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) has said his exile will not hinder its push to make political gains and urge western governments to hurt Russia’s elite.
“The seemingly stable regime of Putin is getting weaker and weaker by the day,” FBK’s executive director Vladimir Ashurkov told Newsweek.
It certainly appears rattled. Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Tuesday that the European Union and the United States talk about sanctions “with maniacal persistency.”
Foreign affairs spokeswoman Maria Zakharova has warned that Moscow would retaliate against any U.S. sanctions, suggesting that there is considerable Kremlin concern at what the international response to a dramatic last month in Russia might be.
Anger at the Russian authorities within and outside Russia has been building since Navalny’s arrest on January 17 at a Moscow airport after his arrival from Berlin where he had been recovering from a Novichok nerve agent attack.
Discontent displayed throughout the country in protests calling for Navalny’s release, was ramped up after his suspended sentence on a 2014 charge of embezzlement was swapped this month for a two year eight-month term in a corrective labor colony.
The Russian legal system, which rubber stamps the Kremlin’s wishes, continues to throw the kitchen sink at Navalny.
He is also charged with slandering a World War Two veteran, Ignat Artemenko, whom he criticized for his role in a video supporting constitutional changes that allow Putin to stay in power until 2036. The protocol was described as “bizarre,” by Ashurkov, who is communicating with Navalny via his lawyer in Moscow.
“He will turn this trial into a place from which he delivers damning statements against the court system and against the Russian political system,” Ashurkov said, “he is a fighter.”
Navalny’s flair for a memorable soundbite from the dock was on display earlier this month when he called Putin the “underwear poisoner,” referring to the garment where the Novichok which nearly killed him was placed. The Kremlin denies responsibility.
Western governments are weighing up their response and last month the FBK submitted a list of 35 people to the administration of President Joe Biden which read like a Russian who’s who of oligarchs, power brokers and political figures.
“Too often, the west was tolerant to corruption and human rights abuse that has been seeping out of Russia over the last few years and it’s in the west’s interest to stem the flow of dirty money and unlawfulness,” Ashurkov said.
Europe is where many of those on the list have properties while U.S. sanctions would harm their access to the international financial system.
“Western countries should implement them not just for the sake of the Russians and to bring forward any political change that is going to happen in Russia but to police their own turf,” Ashurkov said.
Prior to the protests across the country, the documentary Putin’s Palace was released outlining a Black Sea coastal property the size of Monaco worth $1.3 billion allegedly belonging to the president. It has been seen 110 million times.
“It is just a video,” Ashurkov said, “We see that it does have a discernible impact on how people look at Putin and at this system in general, so I think it is very impactful. Whether it is a turning point—we don’t really think in these kinds of labels.”
The heavy-handed approach by Russia’s security forces last month saw 11,000 people arrested. Concerned at how further widespread arrests might impact its goal of making gains in parliamentary elections in September, protests were reportedly postponed until Spring.
The FBK called for people to go to their courtyards last Sunday in a flashlight demonstration that avoided confronting the security police head on as demonstration tactics in the coming months are expected to evolve.
Ashurkov said: “We understand we and the democratic forces in jail are not strong enough to take on the authorities head on.
“At the same time we see that the seemingly stable regime of Putin is getting weaker and weaker by the day and our goal is to strengthen our organization to gain more supporters.
“Support for Putin is ebbing,” he told Newsweek, “Alexei’s and our team’s struggle didn’t start yesterday and it is not going to end tomorrow.”
The graphic below provided by Statista shows Russian President Vladimir Putin’s time in power.