The doctors have recommended that he avoid politics for now, but Alexey Navalny is feeling the need to get back in the game. In an Instagram post this past weekend, he made a number of claims that were sure to cause a stir, saying the plan behind his poisoning was that he would fall ill on a plane, where no one could help him: “The killer’s plan was simple: I will feel bad 20 minutes after take-off, after another 15 minutes I will pass out. Medical assistance will be guaranteed to be unavailable, and in another hour I will continue my journey in a black plastic bag on the last row of seats, terrifying passengers going to the toilet,” Navalny wrote.
According to the politician, this plan was foiled by a “chain of fortunate accidents” and the actions of people whose names he does not know, and thus could only call “good unknown friends.” That is, “the pilots and the first doctors, who gave me only 15-20 hours to live. Everything that followed was very dramatic and deserves a separate story,” concluded Navalny.
Western public opinion, usually very distracted when it comes to what is happening in Russia, has shown quite a bit of interest in the figure of Navalny after his apparent poisoning in Tomsk on August 20. He is being presented in the press as the main opponent of Vladimir Putin. But is that really true? Who is he, really? And what is his political program?
Originally from Moscow, Alexey Navalny graduated in Economics in 1976 from Lumumba University, where the cadres of the communist parties from half the world used to be educated. He began his political career at the age of 25, joining the liberal party Yabloko, where he quickly ascended to leadership thanks to his energy and oratorical skills.
In 2007, he left that party to join the Narod (“The People”) National-Democratic Movement: a hodgepodge where many former members of Limonov’s National-Bolshevik party came together, and which abandoned its red-brown roots and veered towards the neo-fascist black. Its proposals of rigid control of internal migration and a strong state told the story of a political force that would never take off, since that political space is jealously guarded by Vladimir Zirinovsky.
Navalny has said many times that nationalism was one of the “key and determining points” of his ideology, and calls himself a “normal Russian nationalist,” a characteristic that leads him to take a positive view even of czarist and imperial Russia. It’s the reason why he participated for a number of years in the Russky Marsh, a manifestation of the extreme right where black flags with Celtic crosses and effigies of Ivan the Terrible abound. The participants have no qualms about declaring themselves anti-Semitic and homophobic.
Navalny stopped parading with the fascists only shortly before he started his run as a candidate for mayor of Moscow, as his spin doctors advised him to take a more moderate approach to win the support of the capital’s youth electorate, educated on the principles of Western-style liberalism.
But the disguise doesn’t sit very well with him, and his positions on civil rights resemble those of Matteo Salvini: “My idea is that there should be no taboos on this subject. It must be admitted that migrants, including those from the Caucasus, often go to Russia with their very peculiar values. The Russians had already overcome this level of prejudice in the days of Yaroslav the Wise. For example, in Chechnya, women who walk around without their veils are tazed … Then, these Chechens come to Moscow. I have a wife and daughter here. And I don’t like it when people say that women should be hit …”
He declared himself against the construction of mosques in the capital, and called for the undocumented Tajiks “to be deported, which is always the best solution in such cases.” The attacks on Putin, especially on corruption issues, which resonated with young people with high levels of education who were excluded from social mobility, together with the stoking of prejudices against migrants, allowed him to reach 27.2% in the Moscow mayoral election in 2013.
In the meantime, Navalny took part in the great demonstrations during the months before against the presidential election fraud that Putin’s staff was accused of. He was one of the leaders of the protests, and was willing to collaborate with another rising star of Moscow politics, Andrey Udaltsov, who years later would found the Left Front.
He came out strengthened and decided to create his own party, centered on his own figure: the Progress Party (now Russia of the Future).
Rejecting any kind of collaboration with other political forces, both those in parliament and those with similar outlooks, all the party’s activity has been focused on participation in local or national elections, where its successes, however, remain limited to the conquest of a few city councilors, especially in Siberia, as well as in Moscow. It has used new technologies efficiently, creating a number of blogs and its own online TV station. The liberals have been wary of it, as it fits in the right-wing populist mold (it is no coincidence that for some time, Navalny used to praise Marine Le Pen, until she became associated with the hated Putin).
The political scientist Stanislav Belkovsky argues that “Navalny is a young Putin, which is why he enjoys the support of many people who loved Vladimir Putin at the beginning of his rise, who were fascinated by him as a Russian Pinochet and were disappointed by him.” Belkovsky delivers a harsh and uncompromising verdict: “Navalny wants to become both king and leader. But Alexey Anatolyevich believes that it doesn’t make any sense to fight for power if you don’t become the next Putin or Stalin, not in an ideological sense, but as a model of power.”
Navalny doesn’t like to talk much about foreign policy, but he has often found himself in agreement with the Russian president in this area, starting from the wars in Chechnya and Georgia. Last year, in one of his very rare interviews with ANSA, he claimed to have sympathy for the Five Star Movement, while saying he didn’t understand their alliance with Salvini: however, the attack on the Lega leader was a stand-in for an attack on Putin, given the ties between United Russia and the Lega.
This is the man whom many in Europe would now like to see awarded with the Nobel Peace Prize. This is much more than natural human solidarity would call for, if it is proved definitively that he was poisoned; it is support for a character who is unlike either Adenauer or Churchill, but most resembles Pinochet: extreme economic liberalism and a political iron fist, “Chicago boys” style. Are the European chancelleries that support him today happy with risking such an outcome? Do they merely want to replace one autocrat with another, just one a little more pliant to Western interests?
Subscribe To Our Newsletter
Your weekly briefing of progressive news.