Saturday, August 23, 2014


The Power Vertical

The Moscow Front

Aleksei Navalny presents his election platform on July 1. But will he make it onto the ballot?
Aleksei Navalny presents his election platform on July 1. But will he make it onto the ballot?
With Moscow's election months away and the result likely predetermined, the next big showdown in the Russian capital should come as early as next week.

In the last couple days, more than 6,000 people have already joined a special Facebook page calling on Russians to gather on Moscow's Manezh Square on July 18 to "discuss" the verdict in Aleksei Navalny's controversial trial -- which wraps up in a Kirov court that day.

City authorities, meanwhile, have warned the opposition against staging any unsanctioned rallies, adding that they would take "appropriate measures" to prevent them. Organizers of the Manezh event say Article 31 of the Russian Constitution guarantees their right to peacefully assemble and they don't need any official permission to do so.

The ensuing standoff should mark a fitting end to Navalny's highly politicized trial, which the anticorruption blogger has skillfully used to get his message out despite facing the prospect of a long prison sentence for charges widely seen as fabricated.

In his stirring closing statement last week, Navalny denounced what he called Vladimir Putin's "feudal regime," derided his trial as a bad "soap opera," and said "nobody has the right to neutrality" in Russia's ongoing political struggle. 

WATCH IT IN FULL HERE:


And his message appears to be resonating.

According to a recent poll by the Levada Center, a strong plurality of Russians, 44 percent, believe the case against Navalny is political and was initiated in retaliation for his exposés of official corruption. Just 23 percent believe the charges against him have merit. In Moscow, a healthy majority, 57 percent, view the trial as political revenge.

Navalny, meanwhile, cleared the final hurdle this week to register as a candidate for Moscow's September 8 mayoral elections. Given this, a conviction next week -- as likely as one is -- will appear even more politically motivated.

And although a conviction would disqualify him for running for office, Navalny has stubbornly insisted on carrying on with his campaign. On July 1, he unveiled his platform in a laid-back event that had the vibe of a U.S.-style roll out, using supporters in the room to illustrate various problems in the city's governance and how he would address them.

WATCH IT HERE:


The contrast with incumbent Sergei Sobyanin's clumsy campaign kickoff is striking.

Shortly before announcing his decision to hold early elections, Sobyanin, a close Putin ally, decided to show voters how hip he was. He camped out in Moscow's Jean-Jacques Cafe, a favorite venue of the capital's "creative class," and gave an interview to the weekly "Moskovskie novosti."

The fact that Sobyanin thought such a move was necessary showed that authorities may be more worried about the September 8 elections than they are letting on. And the way it turned out showed why such concern might be well-placed.

To accommodate the mayor, the cafe had to be cleared out and closed, which didn't exactly go over well with its patrons -- the exact constituency he was trying to appeal to. And bloggers soon uncovered, and publicized, that a special throne-like chair was brought to the cafe from City Hall for a photo shoot accompanying the interview.

Sobyanin has also reportedly split his election staff into two teams. One will target working-class voters with traditional methods: showing Sobyanin solving urban problems and visiting construction sites. And another, as gazeta.ru reported recently, will target cool and trendy voters by showcasing projects like bicycle paths and the reconstruction of Gorky Park.

Try as he might, Sobyanin just isn't going to appeal to Moscow's hipster set -- and he probably doesn't have to in order to win. And the fact that he feels the need to do this speaks volumes.

"The minimum task is to prevent the mobilization of the creative class against Sobyanin and to demonstrate that he is not a symbol of the ruling regime," political analyst Mikhail Vinogradov told gazeta.ru.

The capital is slipping -- slowly but surely -- from the Kremlin's grip. And in many ways, the Moscow front is a harbinger of the battle for Russia.

Navalny will probably be convicted on July 18 and could be imprisoned for six years. But a strong majority of Muscovites and a healthy plurality of Russians believe the charges to be trumped-up.

The authorities will easily break up any rally that ensues to support Navalny and denounce the verdict, but that could only serve to further alienate the emerging middle class that represents Russia's future.

And with the administrative resources and mobilization tools of City Hall at his disposal, Sobyanin will win election in September, whether Navalny is on the ballot or in prison. But he will do so with a growing critical mass in the capital hungry for change.

The authorities should win this round. But time is clearly not on their side.

-- Brian Whitmore
This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Eugenio from: Vienna
July 10, 2013 11:31
Aha, another beginning of the end of the bloody Putin's regime :-). Now that the Beavuses brought about the last days of Bashar and so skillfully made Hong Kong and Russia hand Edward Snowden to the US to "face the music", the final victory of Navalny and the sorry demise of Putin are very clearly the next items on the US agenda of never ending successes :-)).
In Response

by: Camel Anaturk from: kurdistan
July 11, 2013 20:43
You are absolutely right,dorogaya Evgenia,and now the only thing we need to make us perfectly happy is to hear Molodets Jack from the USA`s opinion on the subject.Keep up the Moss cow front,fellas,and dont forget to take yer pokhmelin/hangover cure/ pills!!!

by: La Russophobe from: USA
July 11, 2013 18:09
You're right that the outcome of the Moscow mayoral election is predetermined, because Levada polls clearly show the popular incumbent is overwhemingly favored for reelection. Navalny's support for mayor (or president) in Moscow is shockingly slight, and roughly the same as the Communist Party contender.

But you're wrong to praise Navalny's speech, it was as much a miscalculation as his Johnny-come-lately mayoral bid, launched only after the onset of his criminal proceedings. Navaly himself politicized his trial in his speech, when he should have been focusing on the evidence and explaining why the charges against him lack a firm foundation. He invited the Kremlin to accuse him of doing so because he could not defeat the charges themselves.

Your statement about a "strong plurality" is misleading. The poll in question

http://www.levada.ru/04-07-2013/bolotnoe-delo-i-kirovles-ezhemesyachnaya-dinamika

which I'm not sure why you didn't link to directly, states that THOSE WHO KNOW about the Navalny prosecution believe it is political. But a huge segment of the Russian population does NOT even know who Navalny is, much less are the reasonably well informed about his trial in Kirov. So this "plurality" is in fact only a tiny segment of the population. The poll clearly states that the vast majority of Russians know nothing or almost nothing about Navalny and a pathetic 3% follow him closely.

It's a mistake to think that there will be any widespread insurrection if Navalny is sent to jail for a long stretch. It's a mistake to think Navalny has ANY chance to win a fair contest for mayor. In the same way, it was a huge mistake to think Navalny could sustain the protest movement or force any kind of change upon the Kremlin. He is no Mandela, King or Gandhi. The opposition should be looking elsewhere for the kind of leader it needs.

About This Blog

The Power Vertical is a blog written especially for Russia wonks and obsessive Kremlin watchers by Brian Whitmore. It covers 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

Listen