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Navalny Wins A Round


Aleksei Navalny speaks outside the Moscow Election Commission shortly before being briefly detained by police.

Aleksei Navalny speaks outside the Moscow Election Commission shortly before being briefly detained by police.

One has to wonder whether the Moscow police aren't secretly working for Aleksei Navalny.

Accompanied by hundreds of supporters and with video cameras rolling, the anticorruption blogger and opposition figure walked down the capital's central Tverskaya Street to the city's election commission on July 10 to register as a candidate.

When Navalny came out of the building to address his supporters and speak to journalists, he was inexplicably seized by police and hauled into a waiting paddy wagon. Chanting "shame," "Navalny is our mayor," and "release him," the crowd surrounded the bus.

And then, after a tense standoff, the police let Navalny go -- and reportedly apologized to him.

"Thus begins our spectacular election campaign," he told his cheering supporters, who then fanned out to stump for their newly minted candidate.

"Thank you everyone! Thank you that you didn't disperse and didn't leave me alone in this. Because of you they let me go. Let's be like this for everyone. One for all!" he said.

And the crowd chanted back: "And all for one!"

It could easily be turned into an advertisement -- and perhaps will be. The video, in any event, is clearly destined to go viral. (You can watch the whole thing from start to finish here or here.)

WATCH NAVALNY BEING DETAINED HERE:


AND WATCH HIM SPEAK TO SUPPORTERS AFTER BEING RELASED HERE:



As a metaphor for -- and a microcosm of -- the battle Navalny finds himself in, the whole incident was pretty fitting.

Today he started his campaign for Moscow mayor, an uphill struggle under the best of circumstances.

And next week, on July 18, a court in Kirov Oblast is due to issue a verdict in Navalny's highly politicized trial on embezzlement charges widely viewed as trumped-up. If the expected guilty verdict comes down, Navalny could find himself incarcerated for a lot longer than the brief stint he spent in a paddy wagon.

But with thousands of people already pledged to take to the streets in his defense, locking up Navalny for the six years prosecutors -- and thus the Kremlin -- are asking for will not be without cost.

Which gets to the heart of the asymmetrical tactics Navalny has long deployed.

If I'm right about him, and I think I am, he's playing a long game, building up a reservoir of goodwill and street cred that make him the clear eventual alternative to Vladimir Putin's regime.

In his closing statement in court last week, when he vowed to "liquidate the feudal system that is stealing from us all," Navalny acted like someone who knows he owns the future.

"Despite the fact that you sit in judgement of me and can imprison me, I will fight for you," he said.

"And if anybody thinks I am afraid of this six years I am threatened with and will run away abroad or somewhere, they are seriously mistaken. I will wait it out. I cannot run away from myself. I don't want to do anything but help my fellow citizens."

This is a man who just might be even more dangerous to the Kremlin in prison than he is on the street.

NOTE TO READERS: I wasn't planning on blogging on Navalny for the second day in a row, but today's events left me little choice.

About This Blog

The Power Vertical
The Power Vertical

The Power Vertical is a blog written especially for Russia wonks and obsessive Kremlin watchers by Brian Whitmore. It offers Brian's personal take on emerging and developing trends in Russian politics, shining a spotlight on the high-stakes power struggles, machinations, and clashing interests that shape Kremlin policy today. Check out The Power Vertical Facebook page or

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