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Pro-western liberal, anti-migrant nationalist, or political opportunist: Who precisely is Russian opposition determine Alexey Navalny?

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After his alleged poisoning, accusations that the Kremlin was accountable, then his fast arrest on returning home, Russian opposition determine Alexey Navalny is having fun with notoriety like by no means earlier than. But who’s he, precisely?

Media portrayals of the Moscow street-protest chief have ranged from evaluating him to a western-style liberal, to a far-right radical racist to a persecuted freedom fighter. While many Russians from all factors alongside the political spectrum assist his investigations into corruption on the highest ranges of presidency, there may be little settlement on what he really stands for or how he’d act if he have been one way or the other thrust right into a management function.

A former pupil at America’s Yale University, Navalny first gained worldwide prominence in 2011, over a decade after he first turned lively in politics. Since then, he has been arrested on quite a few events, acquired two suspended sentences, and took part in a Moscow mayoral election. He is well-known for opposing President Vladimir Putin and exposing corruption, however what are his political positions? What does he consider in, aside from merely eradicating Putin?

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For many inside the non-systemic opposition, Navalny’s opinions are unimportant. He represents an actual various to the present administration and is a fighter in opposition to what his followers see as 20 years of oppressive management that has didn’t deal with the endemic corruption of post-Soviet Russia.

For his Western backers, the identical applies. He is just not Putin, and there’s no approach he may be worse than Putin, of their opinion, so he’s value supporting. However, a lot of them sweep beneath the carpet a number of the activist’s unsavory historical past.


Navalny first entered political life in 2000 as a part of the liberal Yabloko social gathering. Despite formally being a member of a left-wing faction, the activist was a fixture of far-right politics, turning into a well-recognized face within the ‘Russian March,’ an ultranationalist gathering that ran with slogans like “Stop Feeding the Caucasus” whereas flying the Russian Empire’s Black-Yellow-White flag.

Yabloko ultimately kicked him out for his far-right leanings. Its management later famous that “infatuation with Navalny and membership of the party are incompatible.”

In 2011, a profile of Navalny within the New York Times famous that Russian liberals have “deep reservations about him,” notably relating to his outward and open racism.

“He has appeared as a speaker alongside neo-Nazis and skinheads, and once starred in a video that compares dark-skinned Caucasus militants to cockroaches. While cockroaches can be killed with a slipper, he says that in the case of humans, ‘I recommend a pistol.’,” the profile learn.

The BBC, which reported on Navalny’s involvement within the ‘Russian March,’ famous that he spoke to a crowd of seven,000 folks, bashing the Kremlin.

“We have problems with illegal migration, we have the problem of the Caucasus, we have a problem of ethnic crimes…,” he mentioned, in accordance to the state-funded British outlet.

Two years later, in 2013, 37-year-old Navalny spoke out in favor of the 2013 Biryulyovo race riots, when as much as 1,000 nationalists attacked Central Asian immigrants within the streets.

He lashed out on his weblog in opposition to “hordes of legal and illegal immigrants,” as soon as once more utilizing his trademark animal imagery, claiming that they “crawl out to the surrounding neighborhoods.”According to the BBC, contributors chanted “Russia for the Russians!” and “White Power!”

2013 appeared to symbolize a turning level for Navalny. As he sought to carry political workplace, he started to scrub up his picture, firming down the nationalist rhetoric of his previous. After coming second within the Moscow mayoral election, the world started to take much more discover of the anti-Kremlin politician.

Subsequently, Navalny largely dropped his racist beliefs, at the least in public, and shifted his motion in the direction of choosing up Russia’s disaffected youth – a lot of whom are Moscow-dwelling and left-leaning. To goal Russians who’ve by no means skilled life with out the presence of Putin in politics, his nationalism took a again seat. However, whereas these views have been entrance and middle in his thirties, it is fairly clear that he has not modified his thoughts in his forties.

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In 2016, he condemned the banning of the far-right Russian March, writing on his weblog that “nationalists are under pressure more than liberals.”

In 2017, in an interview with The Guardian, Navalny was given a possibility to resign his far-right views however refused to apologize.

Then, three years later, in an October 2020 interview with Germany’s Der Spiegel, he as soon as once more admitted that he nonetheless holds the nationalist opinions he did within the early 2000s.

“I have the same views that I held when I went into politics,” he mentioned. “I see no contradiction in promoting trade unions while at the same time demanding a visa requirement for migrants from Central Asia.”


Nowadays, Navalny positions himself – or fairly, has been positioned by others – as a liberal politician with a give attention to rooting out corruption and creating nearer ties to the West. For his supporters, he’s a Mandela or Ghandi-like determine, having been likened by these corresponding to former US Ambassador Michael McFaul to the well-known 20th century civil rights activists.

“Navalny’s heroic struggle is no different from what [Mahatma] Gandhi, [Martin Luther] King, [Nelson] Mandela, and [Václav] Havel fought for,” he wrote, in a bit for The Washington Post. “While Navalny has not succeeded yet, there should be no doubt that his cause is good and just.”

When it involves cash, his politics definitely have been according to liberal concepts. Following the autumn of the Soviet Union, he labored in finance and was a staunch proponent of capitalist economics, calling himself a “market fundamentalist.”

During an ill-fated presidential election run in 2018, when he was refused permission to take part within the contest owing to felony convictions, which he says are politically motivated, he revealed a manifesto itemizing his political positions. Many of his coverage options have been left-wing in nature, together with the introduction of a minimal wage and making medical care and training fully free. It additionally included some frequent pillars of recent neoliberalism, like reducing taxes on small companies and lowering the “presence of the state in the economy as an owner and an economic entity.”

Some different of his flagship insurance policies included ratifying the UN Convention Against Corruption, decentralization, demonopolizing the financial system, and introducing visa regimes for Central Asian international locations, as an alternative of migrants coming “uncontrollably,” as he sees it.

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Taken at face worth, most of Navalny’s revealed positions are broadly much like these of liberal events in Europe. However, a lot of his views do not fairly match up with these of his Western backers. For instance, Navalny has been criticized as an imperialist and believes that Crimea is rightfully part of Russia. The opposition determine has additionally engaged in jingoistic rhetoric throughout the 2008 warfare with Georgia, supporting “serious military and financial assistance” to South Ossetia and Abkhazia. He additionally backed expelling all Georgians from Russian territory. In a weblog submit, he known as for Russia to “fire a cruise missile” on the Georgian General Staff, dubbing the nation’s inhabitants ‘grizuny’ – actually, rodents, in yet one more animal metaphor.


For a section of Navalny’s supporters, his opinions do not matter. He is the embodiment of anti-Putin sentiment and the particular person to open Russia as much as a greater future with western-style liberal democracy. In 2013, as quoted by registered international agent RFE/RL, left-wing Russian-Ukrainian journalist Matvey Ganapolsky labeled him “a tool” to move in the direction of “honest elections,” with “anti-Kremlin” views much like his personal.

Like Ganapolsky, ‘the enemy of my enemy is my pal’ mantra has guided a lot of Navalny’s following. Eight years later, this phrase remains to be uttered, with a lot of his backers urging critics to give attention to the extra essential, fast aim, as they see it – eradicating Putin.

For many of those folks, Navalny is a method to an finish. They don’t desire him to grow to be president, or to come back into any energy, however merely need him to topple the prevailing system and assist push the nation in the direction of a unique political future.

For others, they genuinely consider that Navalny has reformed, and his previous views now not correspond to who he’s right now.

No matter his true opinions, the Russian opposition determine may be the one politician on this planet to have an abundance of home supporters and international cheerleaders who disagree along with his views.


With Navalny’s sturdy racist roots and a decade of courting western assist, it is arduous to know which field he matches in, in 2021. He would possibly nonetheless be a nationalist or he might have grow to be a liberal. Who is aware of? But what is definite is that he has grow to be a particularly shrewd and versatile opportunist.

If Navalny is to succeed, he must create an all-encompassing supporter base, utilizing populism to draw each Russian nationalists and west-leaning liberals. In this regard, as he seems to type a broad anti-Kremlin coalition, his tendency to vary his political stances to the prevailing view of the day could also be his superpower. Navalny might doubtlessly be distinctive in world politics in his skill to garner assist from younger, pro-LGBT rights liberal socialists and far-right monarchists.

However, regardless of their hope that the blogger-turned-activist is the particular person to ultimately take away Putin, Western commenters are possible being disingenuous in projecting a rosy future with Navalny on the helm. His deep-rooted views are extra much like these present in a few of Europe’s most maligned leaders, corresponding to Hungary’s conservative Prime Minister Viktor Orban or French opposition chief Marine Le Pen, than the liberal platforms espoused by Angela Merkel or Emmanuel Macron. In the tip, Western activists might uncover that generally, the enemy of their enemy seems to be an enemy as nicely.

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