Alexei Navalny Has Wrong-Footed Putin From Inside a Jail Cell
The Russian autocrat and his cronies don’t know what to do with him.
The Russian government allegedly tried to kill him with poison and it didn’t work and now there are protests by all over Russia in support of Alexei Navalny, the opposition leader currently detained in a Moscow jail. These protests included a remarkable one in Siberia that took place on a day in which the temperature hit minus-50 centigrade. The crackdown has been brutal. Demonstrators have been beaten in the streets, and an estimated 3,000 of them have been jailed so far. It is possible that Vladmir Putin’s government had no Plan B if its neurotoxin didn’t work. Navalny has wrong-footed them from inside a cell.
His vehicle is a two-hour video in which Navalny claims that Putin has built a $1 billion enclave on the Black Sea, a personal retreat that Navalny calls “a kingdom.” Navalny, who achieved his popularity as a fierce opponent of the kleptocracy ruling Russia, says Putin built his private semi-state with public money—which would surprise approximately nobody—thanks to a massive leak of corporate documents in 2016 called The Panama Papers. It was this treasure trove of documents, expropriated from a crooked Panamanian law firm, that first brought Navalny to general attention in the West. From a 2016 report in the Los Angeles Times:
Russian opposition figures were hopeful that the Panama Papers revelations would tarnish Putin’s image. “The report is based on the leaked data from just one of Panamanian law firms,” opposition leader and anti-corruption crusader Alexei Navalny said in statement. “Yet, this small part is good enough for [Putin’s] impeachment.” Navalny cut his teeth as the author of detailed reports on corruption among Russian officials, including Putin’s closest friends. He recently called Putin a “czar of corruption.” His latest investigation, a YouTube video accusing Russia’s prosecutor general, Viktor Chaika, of having ties to organized crime and corrupt businesses, has been seen more than 4.7 million times since its release in December — or slightly more than 3% of Russians.
A year later, another colossal document dump, the so-called “Paradise Papers,” leaked from offshore law firms specializing in hiding money for people with a lot of it. The names involved were a lot showier—Queen Elizabeth and her son, Prince Charles, Queen Noor of Jordan, three former Canadian prime ministers, and Wilbur Ross, the periodically narcoleptic Secretary of Commerce here. The Paradise Papers didn’t hit with the impact of the Panama Papers, but they did focus even more attention on Putin and his cronies, and they did give Navalny more ammunition for his anti-corruption campaign. Then, last year, they tried to kill him. And didn’t.
Now, frankly, it doesn’t appear they know what to do with him. There’s so much light on him at this point that, if he were to “fall out a window,” or suffer a blunt-force injury tripping over the ghost of Ivan the Terrible in a hotel room, nobody would buy it, and if they just executed him, the entire country might be thrown into disarray. If people will protest at 50-below, they’re likely to do anything, and it’s not like the Russian people don’t have experience at storming winter palaces.