How far can the Navalny protests go?

For the second weekend in a row, tens of thousands have demonstrated in Russia against Navalny's imprisonment, corruption and the absence of the rule of law. The security forces have cracked down brutally on the demonstrations, arresting over 5,000 people across the country. While some commentators believe the protests will fizzle out, others see signs of a turning point.

Open/close all quotes (RU) /

Reclaim a little democracy

In a Facebook post republished by, history professor Ivan Kurilla talks about realistic goals for the protests:

“Is Putin's resignation a real possibility right now? Probably not. But the protests should lead to genuine concessions on the part of the state. The 2011 protests brought about the return of gubernatorial elections - albeit in a neutered form. The current protests should lead to the restoration of constitutional rights - including freedom of assembly, freedom of political association and the right to political agitation. The protests could even turn the Duma elections [in September] into a meaningful vote. They must not 'just peter out'.”

NV (UA) /

Protests should be about freedom for everyone

For Vsevolod Kozhemyako, CEO of the Ukrainian company Agrotrade, the protests stand little chance of success. He writes in NV:

“I personally don't like Navalny. But naturally I welcome any peaceful protest in Russia against the power that kills Ukrainian soldiers in Donbass and stripped us of our territory. Even though I don't think these protests will lead to anything. The regime in Russia is strong enough, and can't be derailed by this number of demonstrators or over this issue. The protests aren't for freedom or democracy, but for Navalny. And as long as protests are personalised, I don't think they can lead to anything.”

Les Echos (FR) /

Taller, younger, more charismatic

Commenting in Les Echos, political scientist Dominique Moïsi, on the other hand, is still optimistic that political change is possible:

“There is a new political reality, due to the concurrence of three factors: Navalny's personality, Biden's election and Covid-19. For the first time, the anti-Putin opposition is embodied by a man who has demonstrated his courage and who is taken seriously by the regime - the attack against him is the best proof of this. Navalny is taller, younger, more attractive and more charismatic than Putin. ... For the first time in a little over twenty years, the Russian regime is facing a real threat. ... In the face of this complex and changing situation, Europe and the US must define a common stance vis-à-vis Moscow.”

Independent Türkçe (TR) /

The Russians are fed up too

Putin's tactics are outdated, political scientist Nadir Devlet writes in Independent Türkçe:

“The fact that there were widespread protests in Siberia despite temperatures of minus 60 degrees just goes to show how fed up people are with this regime. ... Like a number of other leaders, Putin believes that he can get his way using pressure and torture. ... The people have been buttered up, their national and religious feelings have been pandered to, they have been pacified with countless 'fake news' stories and sedated with tales of fictitious foreign enemies. They were paid just enough wages to keep them from starving. But these tactics seem to have stopped working. The world has long since set out in search of new leaders and systems.”

Tages-Anzeiger (CH) /

The Kremlin may yet win this battle

Navalny is the only one left who can mobilise the opposition, fears Tages-Anzeiger:

“After the large-scale demonstrations in 2012, 170,000 people registered to choose a leader for the united opposition - and the choice fell on Alexei Navalny. But today, apart from him, there is effectively no one else left who can do this. ... Some, in particular the lesser-known ringleaders, ended up in prison for years. ... Some have died, Boris Nemtsov, once the great hope of the reformers, was murdered. ... The temptation to eliminate the last remaining real opposition figure is no doubt great. If he is silenced, there will be no one left to call for street protests and build up political pressure.”

Ekho Moskvy (RU) /

It's clear that things will explode

Crime novelist Boris Akunin sees the main potential for conflict in Russia in the suppression of genuine parliamentary opposition. He writes on Echo of Moscow:

“In a problematic country, there will always be an opposition. It will ask the state power awkward questions and make accusations. If there are many such people and they are not allowed into the parliaments, they will take to the streets. ... If they are then subjected to violence, harshness and injustice, more and more people will turn against the state power. ... Fear dulls people's senses and hardens them. Sooner or later the situation will explode - it always does. Stop portraying Navalny as a criminal. He's not a criminal, he's just the leader of the opposition. Finally register his party. ... Let it ask its questions in parliament instead of on the street.”

Rzeczpospolita (PL) /

Talking with students instead of deploying trolls

Putin's tried and tested propaganda weapons no longer work, Rzeczpospolita comments:

“Young people don't watch TV, read newspapers or follow the messages of the leading propagandists. They know Navalny and other independent vloggers (34-year-old Juri Dud has over eight million subscribers on YouTube) because these people speak their language and live in their world. The Kremlin will have to fight for their support in the not so distant future, because many leaders have been toppled by youth protests. The troll army has failed, so Putin is taking matters into his own hands. On Monday, he - one of the most powerful people in the world - spoke to students at Russian universities and spent almost six minutes trying to explain that the palace did not belong to him.”

NV (UA) /

Between empathy, arrogance and resignation

Ukraine is divided in its views of the Russian opposition movement, NV observes:

“For some, the protests show that common sense and major dissatisfaction with Vladimir Putin's regime are alive and kicking in Russia. Others claim that the protests lacked mass participation and that they are very different from the Maidan protests in Kyiv in 2013/2014. Whereas Ukrainians showed great empathy and solidarity with the protests in Belarus, they tend to look down on the Russian protests. ... There is also a group that believes that the whole Navalny affair really doesn't merit that much interest. ... These people think that if Navalny could have changed the political situation in Russia, he would have done so long ago.”

The Observer (GB) /

This man is not a lone warrior

The passion and anger of the demonstrators should make Putin think, writes The Observer:

“As history shows, when Russians' traditional inclination to political passivity and apathy is overwhelmed by a burning demand for change, revolution follows. ... The protests, and crude attempts to suppress them, will further fracture Russian society, whose cohesion has already been undermined by chronic misgovernance and economic mismanagement. The inevitable rigging of national elections, due in September, will add additional stresses. Russia urgently needs root-and-branch political reform - before something breaks. Navalny is not simply a person. He is a movement that cannot be beaten into silence. For Russia's sake, Putin should recognise his time is up.”

La Stampa (IT) /

He has created information plurality

Navalny is beating Putin at his own game, writes Moscow correspondent Anna Zafesova in La Stampa:

“The twenty years of Putin's rule have been characterised by 'information authoritarianism' - as Russian economist Sergei Guriev calls it - a system that was perhaps first patented by Vladimir Putin. ... A system that does not tolerate dissatisfaction and succeeds in removing it from the radar of public opinion because it is too minor in relation to the unanimity of the majority postulated by propaganda. A system like this can only be fought by challenging its virtual reality. That is why Alexei Navalny has now patented a resistance made up of alternative information. His millions upon millions of likes on the Internet have eroded the monolithic image of Putinism.”

De Volkskrant (NL) /

A promising start

The protests give cause for cautious optimism, writes De Volkskrant:

“The fierceness of the demonstrators shows that there is still hope for the Russian opposition after Navalny's arrest. ... The turnout was the largest in years, and yet one senses that the numbers are unsettling for the demonstrators: 'Sixty million people have seen Navalny's documentary, so where are all these people?' said one exhausted woman at the end of the demonstration in Moscow. ... Navalny's team immediately announced new demonstrations for next Saturday. But to make more of an impact on the Kremlin the opposition will need the support of a group that largely remained silent on Saturday: the protesters' parents.”

Rzeczpospolita (PL) /

Political base still not big enough

Navalny has his work cut out for him, says Rzeczpospolita:

“The geographical distribution of the protests means the Kremlin could face serious problems after this year's parliamentary elections (on 9 September). Especially if they are held as they have been in recent years. Navalny has a lot of catching up to do, and quickly, even if he is behind bars. He has supporters, but not a political base beyond the thousands - in a country whose population is 140 million. But at least the events of last Saturday have shown that there is no shortage of people in Russia who are willing to get up off their knees.”

Ria Nowosti (RU) /

Social media belong under state control

The Russian state-owned news agency Ria Novosti vents its anger against the social networks that made the protests possible:

“Russia cannot afford to have media platforms operating freely on its territory that do not prevent or that actually support anti-state propaganda and calls to crime. YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tiktok and all those yet to come must submit to Russian legislation without complaint. It's not just a matter of complying with 'demands for deletion' of content. They must also make every effort to avoid being misused for violations of Russian laws. It is inconceivable and unacceptable that the 'Russian Facebook' is moderated by Ukrainian citizens from centres in Warsaw and Riga.”