Can Navalny Take Down Putin?
Unlike the protests that roiled Russia in 2011-12 in response to Vladimir Putin’s third presidency, today’s protest movement has a charismatic and sympathetic leader. But Putin has spent the last decade consolidating a police state, and he is prepared to use every available tool to retain power.
MOSCOW – There are arguably two moments in the last century when a wrecking ball was taken to Russia’s political regime. In 1917, the Bolshevik Revolution toppled the country’s teetering monarchy. And, in 1991, an abortive coup by Marxist-Leninist hardliners against the reformist Mikhail Gorbachev accelerated the tottering Soviet Union’s collapse. Does the wave of protests that have swept Russia in recent weeks herald another regime change?
Not likely. To be sure, unlike the protests that roiled Russia in 2011-12 in response to Vladimir Putin’s third inauguration as president, today’s protest movement has a charismatic and sympathetic leader. Not only has Alexei Navalny been a relentless anti-corruption advocate for years; when he was arrested last month, he had just returned from Germany – where he had spent months recovering, after being poisoned with the Kremlin’s favorite nerve agent, Novichok – to continue confronting Putin’s regime.
But, unlike the twilight of the czars and the Soviets, Putin’s regime is neither teetering nor tottering. Putin has spent the last decade consolidating a police state, and he is prepared to use every available tool to retain power. The leader who invaded Ukraine and illegally annexed Crimea in 2014 to bolster his foundering approval rating, and who secured a constitutional amendment last year so that he could remain president for life, is not about to be forced from power by a movement of weekend protesters.