Navalny’s return, his arrest and the protest.

Some first thoughts.

1. Navalny in Germany had to make a difficult choice: to stay in exile, healthy and alive, but becoming insignificant or to return to stay significant (and may be even rise more), but under risk for his freedom and life.

2. I can’t imaging that Navalny and his team thought that his return and even his arrest might provoke a „revolutionary situation“ in Russia like we’ve seen in Ukraine earlier or Belarus now. He’s a too experienced politician for such a misjudgment. He’s rather playing the long game.

3. He had to wage his wishes and the risk and preferred the possibility of a rather long imprisonment to the perspective of insignificance in exile. He’s more than 20 years younger than Putin. The medium-term goal will be „smart voting“ in the Duma elections next September. In the longer run he might aim at the presidential election in 2024.

4. Nobody predict can with certainty, where the tipping point of political developments in Russia is. No revolutionary moment was ever predicted. Lenin did not know that he will succeed, when he returned to Russia in 1917. What he knew was that there was a crises. There is a multiple crisis in Russia right now, too. None of them alone is really worrying for Putin. But they are together worrying enough for the Kremlin to be obviously afraid of an upcoming challenger like Nawalny and the attempt not to let him become too strong. So far, Putin’s main strategy towards any opposition was to use as much force as needed only. Not more. This is a strategy that demands certain skills in the first place, skills, which are increasingly lacking in the Kremlin, and it comes inevitably at one point to a natural end, because only force is left.

5. For any political contender there are always two main problems. First: People almost never prefer a contender to a ruling politician, because they find him so much better and so much more likeable. A contender has always to wait for mistakes. What s/he can do however, is to raise pressure to make mistakes more likely. That’s what Navalny, quite skilfully, is doing all the time. Second: No contender knows the right time to call for the final attack in advance. S/he has to guess and to try. This most probably includes many times of fail, of try again, of failing better and so on. All this by the threat of exhaustion and disappointment of his followers and, even more important, those, who will follow only, when they smell her/his victory coming. The dilemma is that the latter people are the deciding one.

6. Navalny has one more important disadvantage. In Russia a deep crisis of trust (in politics in general and politicians particularly) is prevailing for many years now. Its not likely to end soon. Putin until recently managed to stay aside of it. But now it seems, he’s been drawn into it, too. But one Soviet heritage (may be it’s even an old pre-revolutionary, Russian one) still supports his case: the famous „double thinking“ of the people, identified by Yury Levada in his concept of a Homo Sovieticus. Most people in Russia don’t trust state institutions and those who are in charge of them. But their predominant experience is that in the end the state remains the only hope left. The state today is Putin and he will remain the state until he will leave or will have to leave.

7. What has Navalny achieved so far?

First: He’s build the first and only nationwide network of supporters except of those the Kremlin controls.

Second: This network seems to work sufficiently good even without his direct involvement, as it showed, when he was one year under house arrest in the mid 2010s.

Third: The poisoning and his return have both been boosting his name recognition and partly even his popularity. He’s now undoubtedly the number two politician in the country, may be even the only politician besides Putin.

Forth: He seems to mobilise even people, who are not content with his political agenda or opinion, but with his approach of being Putin’s contender.

Conclusion: If he and his supporters will be able to translate the protest on Saturday into something that can be, with some plausibility, declared a victory over the Kremlin, the announced „smart voting“ campaign in the Duma election in September might become a new challenge for the Kremlin. It might be forced to more and more open falsifications of the election, which might provoke some new protest. This might Navalny help to get even stronger and, most important, to stay alive.