Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The Power Vertical

Advantage: Navalny

The Kremlin has turned Aleksei Navalny from a cult blogger into a legend.
The Kremlin has turned Aleksei Navalny from a cult blogger into a legend.
For somebody facing multiple criminal probes, Aleksei Navalny seems to be having the time of his life.
The Investigative Committee has accused the anticorruption blogger of a dizzying series of crimes: stealing lumber, fleecing a cosmetics company, embezzling funds from a long-defunct political party, and helping to illegally privatize a distillery.

"Cases against Navalny have been flying from the pens of investigators like woodchips from a sawmill," commentator Anastasiya Rodionova wrote recently in the daily "Moskovsky komsomolets."

"There have been meaningful statements from officials and there have been raids on opposition figures' homes, the photographs of which look so impressive on the front pages of the federal newspapers. But the investigations have produced no clear evidence of Navalny's guilt."
Navalny, meanwhile, has been busy producing plenty of clear evidence of apparent law breaking by Russian officials.
Using a virtual army of online volunteers, Navalny has been digging up information about the undeclared foreign real estate holdings of Russian officials and posting his discoveries online.
Navalny's campaign has already claimed one scalp, that of United Russia State Duma Deputy Vladimir Pekhtin. The lawmaker was forced first to relinquish his chairmanship of the Ethics Committee and later resign from the Duma itself, after Navalny uncovered real estate worth an estimated $2 million that he owns in Florida.

In violation of the law, Pekhtin did not include the property -- which includes two condos, a plot of land, and a house with a swimming pool -- on his income and property declaration.

Navalny's outing of Pekhtin's Florida holdings came right after President Vladimir Putin introduced legislation barring certain categories of Russian officials from holding assets abroad -- upstaging the Kremlin's efforts to pretend to care about corruption.
Remarkably, the state-run Channel One gave Navalny credit on the air for uncovering Pekhtin's real estate in the Sunshine State.

Adding insult to injury, a viral video mocking Pekhtin -- splicing up a speech where he claims to "love Russia" and replacing it with "I love Miami" -- has since gone viral.

It was all reminiscent of Navalny's exposure of Investigative Committee head Aleksandr Bastrykin's undeclared assets in the Czech Republic last year, after which the blogger dubbed him "Иностранный агент Бастрыкин" (foreign agent Bastrykin).

The Pekhtin affair made the Kremlin look pretty silly, gave Navalny a big stick to beat the regime with, and presented a dispirited opposition an issue to rally around.
"Navalny has manifestly put Pekhtin, the ruling party, and the Kremlin in an extremely uncomfortable position," political analyst Tatyana Stanovaya wrote recently on

At a time when the Kremlin has pledged to crack down on corruption, it has exposed Putin's inability -- or unwillingness -- to police top officials.
And at a time when the authorities are branding NGOs who receive funding from abroad as "foreign agents," one of the top lawmakers in the country is secretly holding multimillion-dollar properties abroad.

"If Aleksey Navalny has ferreted out published documents, the Russian security services are also perfectly capable of probing officials with regard to their exclusive loyalty to the Russian Federation," Stanovaya wrote, adding that Putin apparently "does not have sufficient resources to move against the bureaucracy."

The multiple criminal cases against Navalny and the Kremlin's newfound desire to root out corruption and force officials to repatriate their assets are two sides of the same coin.
The authorities are seeking to discredit Navalny while at the same time co-opting his signature issue. But the effort is clearly backfiring. Nobody believes the Kremlin is serious about corruption, and Navalny's stature is only growing as he exposes wrongdoing in high places.
"Navalny has changed from a cult blogger...into a figure of federal significance," Rodionova wrote in "Moskovsky komsomolets." 

"Aleksandr Bastrykin's Investigative Committee is successfully turning him into a legend."
-- Brian Whitmore

NOTE: This post has been updated to reflect Vladimir Pekhtin's resignation from the State Duma on February 20. A big thanks to RFE/RL's Pavel Butorin, proprietor of the must-follow Twitter feed @RusPoliceWatch for helping me compile material for this post.

Tags: Aleksei Navalny

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Anonymous from: USA
February 20, 2013 04:40
The US should offer to help the Russian government find all these Duma members' assets in my country, except we'll be accused of interfering in Russian internal affairs...

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
February 20, 2013 08:57
Navalny should have been given for adoption in the United States when he was a child.
In Response

by: Asehpe from: the Netherlands
February 20, 2013 23:15
What? And make Putin cry about yet another case of 'abuse'?... Are you so anti-Russian that you really want to increase the number of poor Russian children sent abroad to labor camps? Have you no soul?
In Response

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
February 21, 2013 11:01
You just put your finger on it, Asehpe - I have no heart :-))). As a matter of fact, I would love to have seen Navalny to become one of those brave US soldiers who go to countries like Iraq or Afghanistan to bring the poor people living there such universal values as freedom and democracy. And then, who knows, he could aspire to become a US ambassador to Lybia one day :-)).

by: Ray F. from: Lawrence, KS
February 20, 2013 14:33
Nice article, but not sure he has the advantage. How many divisions does Navalny command? How many police brigades? If current trends continue, it will only be a matter of time before this outspoken blogger will be sitting behind bars.
In Response

by: wordorsag from: USA
February 20, 2013 22:13
Yeah, if anything he seems to have lost momentum. Demos have died off, and those tapes of him that are going to figure prominently into his trial aren't helpful to his image as a "corruption fighter." He did win one round here, but As a political figure, I don't think that he has that much of a future. As much as many Russia watchers here in the US would like to see him rise to the Presidency in the future and create a Russia highly conducive to US political military and economic interests and corporate investment, I can't see it. Americans don't get to vote in Russian elections, and a lot of Russians (particularly outside of the non-state-affiliated Moscow middle class) see him as a CIA agent...
In Response

by: Anonymous
February 20, 2013 23:17
Yep, but nobody will believe the evidence presented against him. That's the point: behind bars, he'll make an even more compelling case than Khodorkovsky about how irrational and casuistic the Russian legal system is. It will be a discredit to the system. I'm even wondering if Putin isn't toying with the idea of leaving Novalny free just because of that, so that he (Putin) can claim: 'see? we don't automatically jail our enemies here!'...
In Response

by: Marko from: USA
February 21, 2013 11:56
Anonymous, are you saying that Khodorkovsky didn't commit crimes or that justice was selective? I could respect the second argument as intellectually honest... the first, no...

Mark O

by: La Russophobe from: USA
February 25, 2013 07:57
You've got it very wrong. Navalny isn't responsible for this work. In fact, to some extent it's plagiarism. Read the accurate account here:

What's more, this story shows Navalny returning to his roots, abandoning the whole notion of politics and simply picking off corrupt political and business officials as he was doing before he ever dreamed of a political role. It highlights the absolute failure of his so-called political movement.

by: Ben
March 04, 2013 14:17
why the liberal-leftist media booms Navalny who supports the ecstreme rights and participate the fascist` marches? -because aims justified means- his political activity-to stir up the power -is leftist media`s goal. After the marxism`s collapse leftists have lost their pseudo-scientific base.Leftism turne into the religion that means:1) you can`t convince the believer of anything,2) Their Toqyya allows them the any lies.You notice this every day.

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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