How dangerous is Navalny for Putin?
Thousands have taken to the streets in Russia to protest against corruption. The authorities have reacted with mass arrests. Among those arrested was Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, who has been charged with organising an unauthorised rally in Moscow. Navalny had himself arrested deliberately, commentators suspect, and see Russia on course for major social change.
Navalny calling the Kremlin's bluff
Kremlin critic Navalny has put the Russian leadership in a dilemma, the Neue Zürcher Zeitung explains:
“On the one hand they don't want to turn him into a martyr, on the other hand they don't want the protests to spread. … [Navalny] knows the dilemma Putin is in and deliberately provoked his own arrest on Monday. That the Kremlin is only capable of reacting with repression speaks volumes about the state leadership's paranoia. If Putin really were the universally adored father of the country the state propaganda claims he is he could easily afford to allow Navalny to run for president and guarantee the opposition's right to demonstrate in full.”
The seeds of doubt have been sown
Navalny could change Russia even if he doesn't pose a threat to Putin for the time being, The Times comments:
“As long as Mr Putin holds sway over the police and security machine, as long as judges do his bidding and as long as he can retain his immense network of patronage, he need not fear being toppled by Mr Navalny in presidential elections next March. He can press charges against the dissident, intimidate him, declare his candidature invalid. But if, as expected, Mr Putin runs and wins another six-year term in office, he will have to address the problems raised by his intrepid opponent. Mr Navalny is sowing the seeds of popular doubt in the Kremlin leader.”
Putin's propaganda no longer effective
The social climate in Russia is changing, Neatkarīgā observes:
“The wave of patriotic euphoria caused by the occupation of Crimea is slowly ebbing, and Putin's aura of godly valour has paled. A growing number of people are saying goodbye to the artificial parallel world of the TV propagandists and are returning to reality, where Russia is technologically backward and unattractive for the rest of the world. ... There's no doubt that Russia is back on the path to civilisation. The many demonstrations on Monday and the authorities' reaction show how great the pressure is at home, meaning that we can expect changes in the not-too-distant future.”
Record election result in danger
For Handelsblatt the protests are an expression of the systematic crisis in which Russia finds itself:
“The problem is that after three years of crisis the first tentative signs of economic growth in Russia still aren't noticeable for the people, whose living standards continue to drop. That leads to frustration. The younger generation tends to equate the stability Putin used and still uses to woo the public with stagnation. ... Those who've already settled into managerial positions are sitting pretty, but the way up the career ladder is blocked. ... The demonstrators aren't protesting for Navalny. For them it's not a question of replacing Putin with him, but of changing the system. ... And that poses a serious threat to the Kremlin chief's project of achieving a record election result.”