Alexei Navalny

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By GILBERTO LOPES*

A Russian Guaido?

The stakes have gone up. If last year Russia maintained an enviable stability in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, on January 23, protests erupted in Moscow, “the biggest demonstrations in decades”, according to supporters of opposition leader Alexei Navalny. Navalny had returned from Berlin, where he underwent medical treatment for five months. He had been sent to Germany after feeling unwell during a four-hour flight from Tomsky, in the center of the country, to Moscow on the 20th of August. After just over an hour of flight time, the plane was diverted to Omsk, where Navalny was hospitalized and placed in an induced coma. In serious condition, he was suspected of poisoning.

Then, a worldwide mobilization began. Germany has offered to receive and serve you. With the authorization of the Russian government, he sent a plane two days later to take him to the Charité university hospital in Berlin, one of the most modern in Europe. On September 7, Navalny came out of his medically-induced coma, but the debate about the nature of his problem had already begun. Chancellor Angela Merkel visited him. Two weeks later he left the hospital.

England joined the debate. The first information spoke of poisoning with the nerve agent Novichok. Foreign Minister Dominic Raab said it was "completely unacceptable that a banned chemical weapon was used" to try to kill Navalny and demanded that Russia carry out a full and transparent investigation. Merkel said there was "unequivocal evidence" that Navalny had been poisoned with a "Soviet-era nerve agent".

The “Navalny affair” was beginning to become a key element on the international scene, particularly in western Europe's relations with Russia. The United States would join next. At the center of it all were pressure to sink Nord Stream 2, a pipeline that will link Europe (and, above all, Germany) to Russian gas supplies, a project that the Trump White House has energetically opposed. The Swiss company Allseas, manufacturer of the tubes, decided to abandon the project in the face of the threat of US sanctions. This is a gas pipeline of approximately 1.220 km, which connects the bay of Narva, on the Soviet coast, with northern Germany, through the bottom of the Baltic Sea. “After the Navalny poisoning, we need a strong European response,” said Norbert Röttgen, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee of the Bundestag, the German parliament, a member of the conservative CSU [Christian Social Union in Bavaria], an ally of Merkel. “The European Union must stop the construction of Nord Stream 2,” he said. It was the same thesis expressed by the German Greens in parliament.

The project had been approved in 2005 by the then Social Democratic German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and there was just over 150 km left for completion. Its eventual cancellation is a complicated decision for Germany, which needs to guarantee the supply of gas and has no safer or cheaper offer than the Russian one.

A Russian Guaido?

Like most modern Russian politicians – according to Alexey Sakhnin, a member of the Russian opposition of the “Left Front” in an article published on the portalJacobinon January 31st –, Navalny's worldview was formed under the total influence of the right, of the liberal ideology of the market. In 2000, he joined the liberal Yabloko party. In those years, “he was a classic neoliberal, supporting a regime of low public spending, radical privatizations, reduced social guarantees, 'small government' and total freedom for business”.

In the late 90s, he declared himself a nationalist and participated in demonstrations by the Russian extreme right against illegal immigration. And then – continues Sakhnin – he found a niche that made him a hero “beyond the radical right-wing subculture: he became the main leader in the fight against corruption”. It is impossible to forget here the suggestion of Samantha Power, former US ambassador to the UN and senior director of the National Security Council in the Obama administration, which we already referred to last week. This is her article.The can-do power”, published in the January-February issue of the magazine Foreign Affairs, in which he suggests to the Biden administration to resume the international initiative in three areas: the distribution of vaccines against Covid-19, the offer of greater opportunities to foreign students in the United States and the adoption of a high profile for the fight against corruption, both at home and abroad.

Applied in Latin America, the “anti-corruption” scheme served as the basis for bringing conservative groups aligned with US interests to power. Why not try it out in Russia? Then came a film in which Navalny denounced the luxuries of President Vladimir Putin, whom he accused of being the owner of a palace worth over a billion dollars. The film was shown on January 20, and within a week it had over 100 million views.

“Who could be supplying you with exclusive materials about the life of the country's elite?” asks Sakhnin. It doesn't matter if they have a real base, they have a real impact, fueling distrust and divisions at the top of power,” he said. Next September, reminds Sakhnin, there will be parliamentary elections in Russia. And the results will be important in deciding who holds political control of the country.

Borrell vs Lavrov

On February 14th, “Friendship Day”, The Guardian informs us that “about 300 women” made a human chain on Arbat Street in Moscow, with a temperature of 13 degrees below zero, wearing a white ribbon in support of Navalny's wife. Another 100 would have gathered in St. Petersburg. Navalny's wife, Julia, has been in Germany for four days. This is not asylum. She flew from Moscow and Navalny's team indicated that this was a temporary absence. There is no information about the reasons or purpose of the trip.

Just a week earlier, on February 5, the European Union's (EU) High Representative for Foreign Policy, Spanish Socialist Josep Borrell, had visited Moscow. He met with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sergei Lavrov, and with representatives of Russian “civil society”, without specifying with whom. “Of course, we spoke about the Navalny case and the people detained in the demonstrations, I conveyed to Minister Lavrov our deep concern and reiterated to him our call for an impartial investigation into his poisoning”, said Borrell at a press conference together with his Russian counterpart, quoted by the German agency Deutsche Welle.

Borrell's trip was a preparatory trip for the debates within the EU. In March, a meeting of the European Council will take place, when EU leaders will discuss how to handle the future relationship with Russia. On the agenda, the situation in Belarus, where the EU also supports an opposition that seeks to overthrow President Alexander Lukashenko, with the belligerent involvement of the Baltic countries; in Ukraine, where he supported the coup that ousted President Víktor Yanukóvych in 2014, and now hopes to turn support for Navalny into a political alternative to Vladimir Putin. A European Guaidó!

This was the first trip to Russia in four years by an EU foreign policy chief. Navalny had just been sentenced to three and a half years in prison on a fraud case. Borrell had told Lavrov that bilateral relations were at a "low point" due to Navalny's poisoning and arrest, but he defended the convenience of his trip, stressing that they should find spaces to work together and develop mutual trust. Lavrov told Borrell that Russia was ready to answer any question he wanted to ask. “We will try not to disappoint,” he said, noting that “the biggest problem they faced was the lack of normalcy in relations between Russia and the EU, two major players in the Eurasian space.” “We are building our life on the fact that the European Union is an unreliable partner, at least at this stage,” he noted.

Lavrov reiterated the Russian position, which questions the Navalny poisoning and the results of the investigation by German scientists and criticizes what he considers the “double standards” used by Western media in covering the case. He said that neither Germany, nor France, nor Sweden, nor the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons had "provided any proof of Navalny's poisoning", despite Russian requests. “The international reaction to the arrest of the 'blogger' represents an attempt to divert attention from the deep crisis in which the liberal model finds itself,” he said.

Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the Kremlin did not intend to pay attention to statements by foreign governments about Navalny. Borrell acknowledged that no EU country had proposed sanctions against Russia in this case, and said he would continue to discuss it at the Council of Foreign Ministers in March.

the end of humanity

The Russian view of international reality was addressed by President Putin in an online speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos, last January 28th. Putin's speech at the "Agenda 2021" introductory meeting in Davos already compares with his speech in Munich in 2007, according to Russian analyst Rostislav Ishchenko.

“There is something in common between the two speeches”, he says. “Both are as complete and comprehensive as Russian President Joseph Stalin's 'Brothers and Sisters' speech on July 3, 1941, in the midst of war, and 'To the great Russian people', at the end of that war in 1945”. “The 2007 Munich speech showed that Russia fully accepted the challenge presented to it by the 'West'. The Russians didn't attack: they attacked us. We offered peace, but the enemy chose war. The Russians will not capitulate. The Russians will win the war. We suggest, before it's too late, that everyone come to their senses and end the aggression," was Putin's message.

If this speech was evidence that Russia was entering a new Patriotic War (as the Russians call the Second World War) - Ishchenko said - Putin's speech in Davos, in his opinion, sums up the results of this war. A friend of the founder and president of the Forum, the German Klaus Schwab, Putin began his speech by recalling the many meetings with Schwab.

The pandemic has exacerbated the accumulated imbalances in the world, and although the situation has no parallel in history, “some experts compare the current situation with the one the world experienced in the 30s”. “And I respect that opinion,” Putin added. “International institutions are increasingly weakened, regional conflicts are multiplying and the global security system has deteriorated,” he said. It was referring to Trump's decision not to extend the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), which Biden finally extended in the face of its imminent expiration.

The inability to find substantive solutions to these problems led us, in the 2000th century, to the catastrophe of World War II. Today, Putin recalled, a conflict of this nature would be the end of humanity. Quickly analyzing the nature of economic growth in recent decades, Putin highlighted data that indicate growing social polarization, particularly in developed countries. “According to the World Bank, in 3,6, 5,5 million people lived in the United States with an income of less than 2016 dollars a day. In 5,6, that number increased to XNUMX million people. However, on the other hand, globalization has led to a significant increase in the income of large multinational companies, especially American and European ones”, the result of a policy “often vulgar and dogmatic”, based on the “Washington Consensus”.

“The economic effects of the pandemic have been devastating,” he said. Last July, the labor market had lost around 500 million jobs, although some of these jobs have been recovered. Wage losses reached $3,5 trillion, while public and private debt approached 200% of global GDP. Putin insisted on the importance of "honestly assessing the situation and focusing on real global problems, not artificial or fake problems, on removing critical imbalances for the entire international community." Obviously, “the era of attempts to build a centralized, unipolar world order is over,” he said.

*Gilberto Lopes is a journalist, PhD in Society and Cultural Studies from the Universidad de Costa Rica (UCR).

Translation: Fernando Lima das Neves.

 

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