Poisoning attempts, court cases, and triggering rallies. The future of Russia’s opposition is undergoing change.

The prominent Russian opposition politician, Alexei Navalny, became an internationally recognised political leader last year when he was poisoned with the Novichok nerve agent shortly before he boarded a flight from Tomsk to Moscow.

He is seen as one of the only figures that opposes the ever-powerful Vladimir Putin and the oligarchical elite that control Russia’s institutions. But what does Navalny himself stand for? What would President Navalny’s Russia look like? 

His main platform has been based on anti-corruption campaigning, his YouTube channel has over 6 million subscribers and posts hundreds of video investigations accusing various members of the Russian government of corruption. Putin is clearly the largest target of Navalny. In his most recent video, which has accumulated over 100m views, he accuses the President of constructing a 100 billion ruble ‘Palace’, funded by bribes and corruption. This has subsequently sparked protests across Russia. In response, the government has detained over 10,000 protestors. 

Navalny started his political life in the left-leaning social democratic party, Yabloko, before being expelled from the organisation due to his nationalistic activities, mainly for his role in co-organising the 2006 Russia March, known for its neo-Nazi attendance. 

Blog posts from several years ago reflect a xenophobic sentiment in Navalny’s world-view. In 2007 he released a video comparing dark skinned migrants from the northern Caucasian regions to cockroaches. In 2015, he criticised Russia’s ‘Muslim Welcoming’ actions and in 2013 he supported anti-migrant riots in Moscow, writing: “If there is no fair way to resolve conflicts and problems, then people will create it themselves, with primitive and desperate measures.”

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The Mackayan is part of the Houghton & Mackay organisation.

We first have to create a coalition of all forces that stand for the alternation of power and for the independence of the courts.

By Matthew Parkes: Political olumnist.

However, Russia’s political landscape is fundamentally different to democratic western countries and it is unfair to reduce Navalny to just a ‘nationalist activist’. He has publicly supported the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States, criticising Russia’s hypocrisy in its treatment of its citizens. 

It is likely that Navalny’s nationalistic stance is one of the fundamental reasons why he has been able to capture the attention of so many Russians. His passion for ethnic Russian causes ensures that he doesn’t get the reputation as a western puppet. 

The outspoken Putin critic has championed ‘smart voting’ in regional elections across the country. An app lets voters know who to vote for in order to have the most chance at kicking out Putin’s ‘United Russia’ politicians. ‘United Russia’ is the largest political party in the country and holds 335 out of the 450 seats in the State Duma. 

This tactic has seen Navalny support a multitude of political ideologies, including communists. Defending this position, the opposition activist said “We first have to create a coalition of all forces that stand for the alternation of power and for the independence of the courts. That’s why, for a while, I tried to unite the opposition’s liberal-nationalist camp.”

Much of Navalny’s political ideology appears, therefore, to be based on a ruthless pragmatism. In a country where dissenting voices are squashed and silenced, an unconventional approach towards opposition may be essential.