Vladimir Putin’s grip on power could be failing, with Russia on the brink of revolution as protesters clash with riot police in the streets.
Corruption. Control. Incompetence. Russia’s people have had enough. And a poisoning survivor is riding this wave of resentment in open defiance of Vladimir Putin’s draconian rule.
The triumphant return of opposition figurehead Alexei Navalny has spooked the Kremlin.
Is this 1917 all over again?
The anger is real. Chants of “Putin is a thief” and “Free Navalny!” fill the streets.
The anger is widespread. Demonstrations have flared from Vladivostok in the east to Kaliningrad in the west.
But the response has been brutal. Baton-wielding police have held nothing back.
So far, they’ve had little impact. Plans for protests continue to swirl through social media.
It’s the result of an upwelling of resentment at the lavish lifestyles of Russia’s oligarchs.
It’s an expression of anger at widespread unemployment and economic hardship.
It’s not going away any time soon.
And President Vladimir Putin appears rattled.
REVOLUTIONS COME AROUND
He’s been beaten. He’s been detained. He’s been defamed. He’s being compared to Vladimir Lenin. But, now, after surviving an assassination attempt, Russia’s de facto opposition leader Alexei Navalny has become the figurehead of a people-power movement.
Mr Navalny was sent straight to prison upon his return to Russia after five-months of lifesaving treatment in Germany. His charge: missing parole conditions while he was recovering.
It sparked uproar.
It seems this time, Mr Putin has been too clever for his own good.
“The authorities made two critical mistakes – the poisoning of Navalny and his arrest. Although there would have been no arrest without poisoning,” says Russian political analyst Tatyana Stanovaya.
The use of the secret Russian-developed Novichok nerve-agent was supposed to send a signal.
Behind his smirking denials, Mr Putin wants the world to know he can reach deep into the heart of sovereign democracies to attack his detractors. Nowhere is safe. Nobody is safe.
But it backfired.
“The results of many, many years of the Kremlin’s scrupulous work to squeeze out the real opposition into the (sidelines) today are solemnly buried in one day,” states Stanovaya.
Mr Navalny is now enjoying broader and stronger support than ever before.
Mr Putin’s brutal attacks on detractors – at home and abroad – has served to invigorate the dispossessed. His subjects have taken it as confirmation that their “strongman” leader is just another corrupt dictator. Add to the mix fresh claims that Mr Putin luxuriates in a private secret palace as they suffer, and you have crowds surging into the streets.
The Kremlin’s response has been vicious.
“I think they’re really rattled,” says senior lecturer in politics at Manchester Metropolitan University Eleanor Bindman.
“Navalny has played it really well … despite the fact he’s been detained.”
Its decor is fit for a king. Its walls are festooned with gold-leaf filigree. Fine ornamental furniture fills its halls. There’s a command bunker. And a private strip-club. Its toilet brushes are supposed to be worth $A1,000 each.
Putin says the $A1.7 billion property isn’t his.
But his links to an enormous Black Sea estate are undeniable.
“Russia sells huge amounts of oil, gas, metals, fertiliser, and timber – but people’s incomes keep falling and falling because Putin has his palace,” Navalny declares in an almost two-hour-long YouTube diatribe.
In it, he recounts decades of allegations and evidence that Mr Putin has corrupted Russia’s nascent democracy into a kleptocracy – a nation run by thieves.
He’s been in power for more than 20 years.
Last year, he put aside constitutional constraints limiting his term in office.
He’s now able to contest elections in 2024 and 2030.
Not that those elections mean much. In 2018, Mr Putin’s regime claimed an improbable 77 per cent of the popular vote.
“Russian elections are now state-directed performances that eliminate opposition,” political science professors Regina Smyth and Sarah Oates state. “Random targeted arrests and violence – especially against those who try to lead alternative political movements – are common.”
But corruption weakens political immune systems.
Like Lenin before him, Mr Navalny is a “plague bacillus” eating away the heart of Putin’s empire.
Winston Churchill wrote that, in April 1917, a train out of Switzerland “turned upon Russia the most grisly of all weapons. They transported Lenin in a sealed truck like a plague bacillus from Switzerland to Russia”.
By October, he had sparked a revolution.
PUTIN’S QUEST FOR POWER https://youtu.be/6_rcoCsEaJQ