How not to help the Russian opposition

The Moscow Times is reporting that the Russian authorities are planning to imprison opposition activist Aleksei Navalny for 13.5 years. This would consist of 3.5 years, previously suspended, for his earlier conviction for fraud in the Yves Rocher case, and an additional 10 years for new charges which allege that Navalny stole contributions given to his campaign by supporters.

I have no idea if this is true, but it is not implausible. The Moscow Times remarks that the reason for this sharp turn in policy towards Navalny ‘comes from the Kremlin’s belief that Navalny is a Western cutout.’ Support for this hypothesis came with a statement by the head of the Security Council, Nikolai Patrushev, who told the newspaper Argumenty i Fakty that the West was using Navalny to destabilize Russia from inside, with the aim of producing a result similar to the Maidan revolution in Ukraine. ‘The West needs this new leader [Navalny] to destabilize the situation in Russia, for social upheaval, strikes, and new Maidans,’ said Patrushev.

It’s clear, then, that the line the Kremlin plans to take against Navalny, and associated oppositionists, is that they are a tool of hostile Western powers. One might imagine, therefore, that those Western powers, if they really want to help the Russian opposition, would try to dispel this perception, to distance themselves from the opposition as much as possible, and so allow it to claim that it is truly an autonomous phenomenon.

Instead of this, however, Western pundits are lining up with proposals which seem to be designed to justify everything that Patrushev had to say, and so to discredit Navalny and the Russian opposition as a bunch of Western stooges.  

Take for instance one-time US diplomat Richard Haass, who now serves as head of the prestigious Council for Foreign Relations, considered by many to be the American establishment think-tank par excellence. On Monday, he posted the following message on Twitter:

A suggestion: the next Nobel Peace Prize recipient ought to be Alexei Navalny for advocating peaceful protest against corruption in Putin’s Russia. Doing so would not only be right on the merits but would provide some much needed protection & a boost to Navalny & his supporters.

I suppose that would be like how the Nobel prize for literature protected Boris Pasternak and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn from persecution from the Soviet authorities (not!). In reality, the effect of such a move would likely be just to discredit the Nobel committee in the eyes of the Russian government, and to reinforce the impression that Navalny is a tool of the West.

Haass isn’t the only one making bad recommendations. For instance, an editorial in the Financial Times on Tuesday argued that the West must hold the Kremlin ‘to account for Mr Navalny’s imprisonment, and how it treats his supporters.’ Meanwhile The Times made the same point. Germany should cancel the North Stream 2 pipeline, it said, while the United Kingdom should seize the money of Russians hiding their wealth in London, so that the Kremlin’s lackeys in the UK ‘start to feel the pinch.’

The prize for worst advice, however, surely belongs to Mark Galeotti, who posted the following on Twitter:

I’d also like to see diplomats accompanying marchers in hope moderates state behaviour and esp media crews covering protests.

One can scarcely conceive of anything better designed to justify the authorities’ claims that Navalny and his supporters are in the pay of the West. Let’s imagine that Russian diplomats accompanied protestors in the United States or some other Western country – the outrage would be enormous. Why would it be any different in the case of Western diplomats joining political protests in Russia?

And just imagine what the Russian media would make of such a thing? They’d love it – pictures of Western diplomats ‘interfering’ in Russian affairs would be all over the TV, allowing the talk show hosts to make hay with claims that it was proof positive of how the protests were being orchestrated from abroad. It really is a truly misguided suggestion.

But it follows a pattern. Underlying a lot of these proposals is a sense that Russia is teetering on the brink of social collapse and political revolution. ‘Acting together, the West can send Mr Putin reeling,’ claims The Times. The West must prepare for Russia’s inevitable ‘rupture’, says Janusz Bugajski, a senior fellow at the Jamestown Foundation in Washington, DC, in an article for the Washington Examiner.

In these circumstances, it’s felt that all the West needs to do is give Russia a push and the whole rotten edifice will come crumbling down. But this isn’t correct. The system is much more stable than its critics like to think, and the current scale of protest is both far from unprecedented and far from sufficient to bring the system to its knees. A bit of help from foreign powers isn’t going to change that.

What it will do, though, is taint Russia’s opposition even more than it is tainted already. Right now, Navalny’s fate hangs in the balance. The authorities might yet decide not to go down too hard on him and others like him. But if the pundits above have their way, the response could well be very harsh. The more the West is seen as interfering in Russia’s affairs with hostile intent, the harder the state will clamp down on its opponents.

In brief, the last thing the Russian opposition needs is more ‘help’ from the West. I realize that saying that deflates our collective ego, by depriving us of a positive role in the unfurling of events. But in this case, as in so many others, a bit of humility might do everyone a lot of good.

42 thoughts on “How not to help the Russian opposition”

    1. The top 3 posts at this past Tuesday’s JRL:

      1. Twitter: Richard Haass, Nobel Peace Prize for Navalny.
      2. Washington Examiner: Janusz Bugalski, Biden must prepare for an imploding Russia.
      3. Meduza: ‘This isn’t how politics is done’ Putin compares opposition protests in Russia to the storming of the U.S. Capitol.

      When referencing a venue like the Strategic Culture Foundation (which isn’t comparatively as often as some others – neocon/neolib and JRL court appointed Russia friendly), JRL will typically post the SCF towards the bottom.


    2. Some truth in the below excerpted:

      “There is plenty of evidence that the Russian people are getting fed-up with what they see is a rather weak, if not lame, attitude of Russian officials, especially against the constant flow of petty harassment measures against Russian interests. Folks in the West are never told this (after all, informing is not the mission of the corporate media), but the ‘patriotic’ opposition to the Kremlin is much more dangerous than the hopelessly discredited pro-western ‘liberal’ one (more about that below). The calls for a much more energetic “push-back” are now regularly heard, including from rather mainstream politicians.”


      Compare Mark Sleboda’s recent performance on France 24 to a certain Mr. Sotnikov on some not too distant Al Jazeera telecasts. No disrespect to the latter. More effective English language communicators who counter-punch with brief and concise hits is the better route.

      In addition to Sleboda, Dima Babich performs well, in addition to some non-JRL court appointed Russia friendly folks out there.


  1. Hmm. Shouldn’t one also consider the actual charges, the alleged crimes? Is there any discussion of those in the Western media?

    I mean, do Galeotti and others seriously suggest that criminals must be freed if they oppose the government and make cool videos? What about QAnon Shaman, then?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Mao, the charges are ‘trumped up’. Surely you know that?

      Actually, they might well be. I haven’t investigated them, so I can’t tell for sure, but the ECHR found that Navalny had not received a fair trial in the Yves Rocher case, and the Russian government even paid him some compensation, although it didn’t reverse the verdict.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Okay, but for Yves Rocher he got a suspended sentence. What about the new charges, the additional 10 years?

        It reminds me of Steve Bannon. From wikipedia:

        “On August 20, 2020, a federal grand jury indictment was unsealed against Bannon and three others, charging them with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and money laundering. Each charge has a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison upon conviction.[241][242][243] Federal prosecutors of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York allege that Bannon, United States Air Force veteran Brian Kolfage and the two other defendants used funds received from the We Build the Wall fundraising campaign, marketed to support the building of a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico, in a way which was “inconsistent” with how they were advertised for use to the public.”

        Bannon, of course was pardoned, but anyhow it sounds like it’s the same crime, and there it’s up to 20 years in prison. Bannon is also an anti-government activist. Is he an anti-government activist and a criminal? So, it is possible, it does happen?


      2. Regarding Yves Rocher,

        They tried him again and got the same result.

        His brother went to prison – what did the ECHR say about him?

        Liked by 1 person

  2. “‘comes from the Kremlin’s belief that Navalny is a Western cutout.’ Support for this hypothesis came with a statement by the head of the Security Council, Nikolai Patrushev,”

    The voice of “no Putin lover” Helmer agrees:

    “Linguistic analysis of Navalny’s video on the Gelendzhik palace indicates the English subtitles were written first, and then translated for Navalny to speak in Russian. The English is American, not British; and certainly not the English of the German and American operatives who provided the video production technology, editing, and special effects at the Black Forest Studios in Kirchzarten, Germany. According to a German press report from Kirchzarten, “the studio bosses remember that at the beginning of December, a request by email came from a production company in Los Angeles. There was talk of a documentary…In terms of content, the Black Forest Studios have nothing to do with the film, the studio owners emphasize. They only provided the technology and the location and organized the shooting.”

    But there is much more of an analysis of Putin’s actual “power” in the RF and the push of Juan Guiado Navalny for president:

    “US sanctions have struck at the businesses of Putin’s cronies ineffectually. But by compelling them and every other Russian business to conceal and camouflage their operations and assets, the sanctions campaign is destroying the openness of Russia’s capital markets and the freedom of the Russian press to investigate them and report. The free press of Russia which existed in 2014 is now regimented by information warfare; this hobbles investigative journalism like mine as an aid to the enemy. To be clear, this Russian press is not half so regimented and unfree as the press of the Anglo-American world.”

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Curious, I know Kirchzarten well. I had close friends there earlier, later friends in Freiburg working initially on documentaries, part of the wider left scene. One of them received an Oscar in 1994: Best Short Subject.

      Strictly I tried to figure out the background of Navalny’s video messages. Maybe his protectors took him to some place not easy to recognize. It surely wasn’t Ibach either.

      Never heard about anyone studying script or camera in Hollywood. Curious too that the two Kirchzarten locals had only bought the equipment needed, as the Stuttgart paper suggests, from a bankrupt Swizz company only a couple of weeks earlier. … If that isn’t meant to suggestive only.

      Helmer has good links in Germany. Did Telepolis pick up on this?


  3. Why are all these prominent government representatives so interested in this person if he is not working for them?

    Navalny history from his beginnings as a racist through to his rebranding as an “anti corruption campaigner”. Does not warrant all this attention unless he is a paid agent of the west.

    He behaves like a western stooge.

    The whole Novichok sage
    Collaboration with Belingcat
    The obvious collaboration with big tech to push his videos

    Liked by 2 people

    1. What if he is? The timing of this all is indeed a bit suspicious – first drawing all attention with the Novichok thing and then releasing the video that was obviously prepared for a long time just after that. We can’t really know and it doesn’t matter.

      The important thing is that he has pretty much demonstrated Putin’s massive corruption and equally massive incompetence of his criminal subordinates. There’s absolutely no need to assume a man like Putin as we known now is necessary for Russia’s benefit. Others can replace him and should.


      1. “There’s absolutely no need to assume a man like Putin as we known now is necessary for Russia’s benefit. Others can replace him and should”.

        The Russian people disagree, and it’s up to them to decide and not up to the West. The West has no say in the matter whatsoever. You know what the Russians are saying about this “Putin’s corruption”: “If Putin wants a palace, let him have one – he’s earned it”. But most don’t believe it.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Sorry, Tatu, but what corruption did Navalny demonstrated? I’m not saying there is no corruption in Russia, but making propagandist films based on conjectures and outright lies has nothing to do with exposing corruption. For the starters, watched 6minutes YouTube video by Mash published on 29th (sorry, it’s in Russian as nobody paid for English subtitles). See what journalist from Mash saw inside the “Putin’s” palace for yourself – empty shell of a building.


  4. But in this case, as in so many others, a bit of humility might do everyone a lot of good.

    And what makes it impossible. The domestic PR benefits from “being tough” with Putler/supporting Navalny far outweigh the reputational damage to the Navalnyites. Though, not that the latter care to think about it, they feel honored by the attention they are getting from the West so it’s really a moot point so far as they are both concerned.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Everyweek these media master manipulators report back to their paymasters how well they are doing with the break down of Russia.
    These statements are not meant to convince anyone neutral – just convince the people paying them that they are doing well.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. The much overhyped/overrated Galeotti has been discussed at this venue way too many times than what he’s actually worth.

    Janusz Bugajski is on par with Brzezinski. As for Richard Haass and the org he heads:

    What I do to them is on par with what the top Negro League ball players used to do Major League Baseball in exhibition games, before the latter became integrated.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Wow! I wander what the likes of Galeotti would say about Russian diplomats campaigning for Assange’s release? I can only imagine what the British press would be writing if the Russian Ambassador turned up to Westminster Magistrates’ Court. It would be the greatest disservice to Assange anyone could think of.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. It’s amazing that the west still trots out the narrative that Russia is moments alway from collapse. Not that I’m surprised, when nothing they say ever needs to be backed up with fact, what can we expect.

    Ironic that it’s the western system that is in actual fact closer to the edge of collapse, at least in US and large parts of Western Europe. That’s the strategy right, accuse your foe of that which you are guilty of…

    Liked by 1 person

  9. “The more the West is seen as interfering in Russia’s affairs with hostile intent, the harder the state will clamp down on its opponents. “

    Joe Biden and G7 press Russia′s Vladimir Putin over Alexei Navalny arrest

    For the students and fans of the Russian language, the word of the week is “зашквар“. Example of use: “Западные хозяева зашкварили своего агента Сисяна”.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. UPD.

      Also I’m shocked, SHOCKED and dismayed that you, Professor, failed to mention the hottest of takes, coming from the printing organ of the Clintonistas Democrats the one and only “Foreign Police Policy”:

      Russia Is in Agony, but Putin’s Dictatorship Is Going Down
      Garry Kasparov on why this weekend’s protests may be the beginning of the end of autocracy in Russia.

      THAT’S the real winner! I mean, by throwing the spears into a cave painting of the tiger while the shaman chants the magic(k)al words is a scientifically proven way to succeed in the hunt, right? That’s the accepted mainstream views among the liberal clergy?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Btw, the interview contains horrible, terrible politically incorrect and un-handshakable things said by our Luminary Gary Kimovich, namely:

        “And I can proudly say that the demonstrations were peaceful as well. No burned cars, no looted stores, no excessive violence as we saw in the American streets last summer.

        Azokhen vey! Shocking, shocking right-wing dog-whistling see I here, hmmm! Another weaponized migrant needs to be reminded (Illarionov style) of zir* status vis-a-vis the Bastion of Freedom?

        “It reminds me of the review I wrote of his book”

        Some 4 (four) years later I:

        A) Want to reiterate, that “Big Blue would make a better (or at least – more honest) leader of Russian opposition”. Glory to Robots (c)!

        B) Wonder out loud how the great patriot of the Ukraine userperson “cortez” from that past comment section is doing in his day to day life?

        *) See? I’m *learning* not to assume someone’s gender! 😉


  10. There is a Russian Opposition and the West has actually tried to hinder them – they are called the Communist Party of the Russian Federation. What we in the West want is a Russia that we want, not a Russia how it is. I also cannot think of something worse than diplomats marching with protestors. Victoria Nuland probably helped stoke the insurrection in the Donbas and the surrender of Crimea (as nobody in the Peninsula resisted and many did not even want to).

    All diplomats marching with Navalny types would do is solidify support for Putin among many Russians who would otherwise quite like to see him go because if the alternative is a western stooge and a return to the 1990s, they will support the guy who at least appears to care and stand up for the country somewhat as opposed to a tool of foreign powers.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. My best guess: Navalny would have preferred to remain in “civilized” Europe, living the good life. But Europe’s Imperial Masters ordered him to return home, to become sacrificial goat. For what purpose? God only know. Must be something big coming along…

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Good conspiracy theory which I’ve been pondering. The offset being that Navalny knows that Russia isn’t the police state which it’s made out to be, in conjunction with his ego factor.


    2. Reminded of what John Brennan Tweeted during the US presidential campaign about imaging a world with Biden and Navalny as head of state of their respective country.


    3. Nope, consider how strategically Navalny planned his return. I stumbled across some opinions over here that have the same mixed feelings about matters. Were Russian services aware he would release the video? If so, I would understand much better the fix they were in. …

      Random link via Google translate, not sure how well that works. First link that popped up searching Navalny + Marketing

      “I am sitting” is a literal slang translation of I am imprisoned. They picked up on earlier thoughts along those lines. Interesting is the speculation that he Instagram account is not fed from Russia.

      From the moment he could, he said he would return; just as Russian authorities announced they would arrest him. At what point in time exactly did he violate parole conditions? Before his collapse, or after he left Charité Berlin? In Germany, it’s a standard procedure to sent you to a rehabilitation clinic after release. His case would fit into that standard routine. Where do you report in Russia? In Germany its police, if he should have reported here somewhere, where exactly?

      How big was the impact of his earlier documentary about Dmitry Medvedev? Considering “the prelude” from a marketing perspective this one is going to be bigger in Russia too.


      1. That’s interesting. Yes, a human familiar with Russian would translate, instead of “I am sitting” as “I am in jail.”
        Which reminds me of my favorite joke (you’re probably heard this one before, sorry!), namely that KirovLes spelled backwards is Sel Vorik. (“The little thief went to jail!”) haha


      2. They say that he violated his bail conditions 7 times before the “poisoning”. They let him be until after he was officially released from the hospital on October 12. They tried to get in touch with him many times after that at no avail. So finally they put him on Wanted list on December 29. Russian authorities treat him with kid’s gloves.


      3. Thanks, emma, iI read a short article on RT on that topic. It wasn’t as extensive as your response. Why did they extend the parole for another year? Had he violated it earlier already? During the initially, not sure, 5 years?


      4. yalensis,
        I realized too late that my changes and cuts may have been a bit hasty.

        They indeed were:
        “I am sitting” is a literal slang translation of I am imprisoned. They picked up on earlier thoughts along those lines.

        The second sentence isn’t related to the first. As you realized? Maybe I erased a line break, maybe some babbling? Looking into the results of Google translate? “They” should be “Deutschlandradio” or “Magoley/Kid/Grieß”..

        You understood? Anyway? “They” picked up on the somewhat wider irritation or inability to adjust to the timeline of unfolding events, considering the shift from victim, multiple survivor to marking corruption campaigner.

        Joke looks familiar. Not nearly enough though. Names are smoke and mirror.


  12. Another point that has not been made is about how the western countries encourage behaviour they would not tolerate in their own country.

    Navalny and his gang are traitors.

    And ordinary people in Russia see this and it highlights real hypocrisy.

    I would also like to ask why every time there is a demonstration in Russia the western media don’t report the facts that’s total of 50,000 out of 146,000,000. Went to protest.

    Instead of analysis of who they are – what they are protesting etc as not all care about Navalny.

    (I have seen a Chechen arrested and Ukrainians and 18 year old tik-tok Vloggers )

    We get wishful thinking about Russia collapse, Something no Russian in their right mind would ever bring on – been there – and just look at Ukraine

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Hi Paul
    If you read Russian you could have a look link just put Макфол to search window and you will see what people think about him))) and another things that you writing about
    Regarding democrats there is an old meme: Democracy is a power of democrats and they are ready to fight for it to last non-democrat

    Liked by 2 people

  14. The late Zbignew Brzezinski outlined Washington’s ultimate plan for Russia more than twenty years ago. Couched in the usual politicized neoliberal jargon, it reads, “Given (Russia’s) size and diversity, a decentralized political system and free-market economics would be most likely to unleash the creative potential of the Russian people and Russia’s vast natural resources. A loosely confederated Russia — composed of a European Russia, a Siberian Republic, and a Far Eastern Republic — would also find it easier to cultivate closer economic relations with its neighbors. Each of the confederated entitles would be able to tap its local creative potential, stifled for centuries by Moscow’s heavy bureaucratic hand. In turn, a decentralized Russia would be less susceptible to imperial mobilization.” (Zbigniew Brzezinski, “A Geostrategy for Eurasia”, Foreign Affairs, 76:5, September/October 1997)

    This is the American game plan for Russia. In order to eliminate an economic rival and allow the US to help itself to its vast natural resources, Russia must cease to exist as a national entity, instead becoming three weakened entities more vulnerable to foreign exploitation.


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