Last week, the corruption trial against the Russian journalist-activist Алексей Анатольевич Навальный (Alexej Anatolevich Navalnyj) came to a close with his closing remarks, which are now available in English courtesy of the New York Times. While I don’t feel qualified to judge the quality of the charges against him, it seems worth noting that this case against Navalnyj was previously dismissed for lack of evidence. This doesn’t seem like the most honest judicial process, although we’ll have to wait until July 18 to see the outcome of whatever dishonest might be in play.
In the meantime, I think it’s worth attempting to parse Navalnyj’s intent behind various parts of his statement namely where he declares the existing Russian state to be recreating a “feudal” social system “under which 83 percent of national wealth belongs to 0.5 percent of the population”. He, in fact, expressed gratitude that the case involved the resources in the Kirov Oblast, as there, “you can see that the world of fantasy and fairy tales does not exist” as it’s portrayed by the Putin-headed government. That rhetoric raises at least one question: what makes him think that that’s the argument he should use to rally support in an Oblast (or province) where more than 59 percent of voters in 2012 (supposedly) cast their ballots for Putin?
(Kirov Oblast, marked with the red one, does have a lower degree of support for Putin based on 2012 outcome when compared to most of its neighboring provinces. Only those that are a darker shade of blue provided Putin with a smaller vote share. From here.)
To be fair, he might consider this line of argument to be his only chance at convincing Kirovskie people to heed his political warnings over Putin, but it certainly seems like the fictions of the Putin government are largely believed in the Kirov Oblast in percentages that are comparable for the rest of Russia. Navalnyj does seem capable of using idealism in his arguments, but I don’t want discount him as being pragmatic here. While Kirov did (seemingly) vote for Putin at more or less the national rate, it did have above average support for various anti-capitalist and anti-modernist parties’ candidates.
One interpretation of this that might be worth exploring is whether Putin’s support in the Kirov Oblast and other rural oblasti has eroded or is otherwise more precarious than recent elections suggested. Otherwise, Navalnyj is potentially taking a shot at the ultra-nationalists that are also attempting to make gains against Putin’s government, particularly in more rural regions like the Kirov Oblast. In either case, I hope that Navalnyj is doing something smart here as a way of challenging the political status quo in Russia.