Can Putin die
Russia - impending death of Navalny: Putin risks total escalation
Alexei Navalny is in mortal danger, will Putin let him die? In the case of the Kremlin critic and with war games in the Ukraine conflict, the president relies on targeted escalations.The plan is risky.
The health of the Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny is deteriorating and his life is in danger. His doctors warn of cardiac arrest. His lawyers complain that Navalny is not getting any medical help. And while his supporters take to the streets in Russia, the Navalny case turns into an international conflict with grave consequences for Russia should the 44-year-old die in captivity.
Alexej Navalny has to serve a prison sentence in a Russian prison camp: his health is worrying. (Source: dpa)
At the same time, Russia is currently in a multitude of other crises and conflicts: tens of thousands of Russian soldiers and tanks are marching on the Ukrainian-Russian border, the corona pandemic and major economic problems plague the population.
Some of these escalations are deliberate and follow President Vladimir Putin's plan. But actually Moscow can neither allow the death of the Kremlin critic nor a flare-up conflict in Ukraine. Nevertheless, Putin is continuing his risky game with fire. Why and how does it fit together?
Why did Navalny go back to Russia voluntarily?
The president's ultimate goal is the stability of his regime. It's not shaky yet, but resistance against Putin is growing. His own approval ratings and those of his party "United Russia" are in the basement and parliamentary elections are due in the autumn. The economy is also in crisis due to the corona pandemic, and the ruble is plummeting. The people also blame Putin's policies for this.
In this situation, Navalny repeatedly proved to be a disruptive factor for the Kremlin. At a time when many Russians are threatened by poverty, he exposed corruption in the Putin regime and published details about the show in which the Russian president is living. His arrest, therefore, came as no surprise. He is now where the Kremlin loves him best: in the penal camp for three and a half years.
The Kremlin critic, however, had apparently not expected this. After being poisoned, presumably by the FSB secret service, he returned to Russia. Navalny actually knew that he was in danger. "All that's missing is for Putin to hang a large poster over the Kremlin with the words 'Alexej, don't come back home on any account'," he said before leaving Berlin in January. "I'm not going to do him that favor."
After surviving his poisoning and in the focus of the international press, he felt safe and read the comparisons between himself and Vladimir Lenin. But that was a fallacy, even the supporters - whom he mobilized before his departure - could not protect him.
"Death is only a matter of days"
Four months later he went on a hunger strike in one of the notorious Russian prison camps and has now been transferred. The Russian penal system said he had come to a hospital on the premises of another prison camp. The state of health of the opponent was therefore described as "satisfactory". Nawalny's team, however, said the 44-year-old was only taken to another prison camp - and not to a clinic.
Navalny has not eaten for almost three weeks in order to enforce a doctor's visit. His team called Nawalny's health condition threatening over the weekend. It issued an urgent warning of an impending cardiac arrest because of critical potassium levels in the blood. The opposition politician recently complained of back problems, paralysis in the limbs, fever and cough.
His spokeswoman Kira Jarmysch wrote with haunting words: "Alexej is dying." Death is only a matter of days. The information cannot be checked independently. The Kremlin sticks to its statement that Navalny's health is "satisfactory".
Putin cannot actually let Navalny die
A propaganda war is raging around the case. The mood is heated, thousands of Navalny supporters are protesting in the streets. The result is arrests, tear gas by the police and security forces. The great violence with which Putin countered the protests shows above all that he is afraid of further destabilization of the country.
The Kremlin would like to pacify Navalny and, in the best case scenario, make an example of the oppositionist. His case also serves as a diversion from major domestic problems. Nevertheless, Putin cannot actually let Navalny die because that would cause great political damage to his country.
There are different reasons for this:
► The international attention in the case of Navalny is immense after his poisoning.
► The Russian government wants to get rid of the sanctions imposed by the West in order to alleviate the economic crisis in their own country. Should Navalny die, the European Union and the US would presumably have moreEconomic sanctions react that would hit Russia hard.
► Russia is currently doing a lot, its own worldwideCorona vaccine Sputnik V to sell. Navalny's death would make doing business with Europe difficult.
► The Kremlin wants to sell the image of a united Russia fighting the pandemic, especially before the autumn election. Should Navalny die, so would they Protests of his supporters to grow. That doesn't fit into Putin's strategy either at the moment.
► Ultimately, Navalny may be a nuisance to Putin, but he is in Russia politically not important enoughthan the Kremlin would risk the above-mentioned consequences.
Putin presumably did not expect the Kremlin critic to go on hunger strike and that his health would deteriorate in a short period of time. His condemnation was a farce, and Putin is being held responsible for it. His death would be a political worst-case scenario and the president's political reputation would suffer.
Putin felt offended
Russia is currently in a similar dilemma in the Ukraine conflict, the Kremlin is moving tanks and tens of thousands of soldiers to the Ukrainian-Russian border, and is setting up large military camps. The effort is colossal. But if Russia should detonate the situation in eastern Ukraine again or even invade Ukraine, there is a threat of similar - but much harder - reactions from the West than in the event of Navalny's death.
Wars are expensive and the Russian population is also tired of war. In addition, on June 21, Russia celebrates a special holiday, the 80th anniversary of the attack by Hitler's Germany on the Soviet Union. The Kremlin will not want to invade a neighboring country during this time, a war is not in Putin's interest.
But the military muscle games are - as in the Navalny case - part of Putin's risky strategy. He will have taken it as a personal insult when US President Joe Biden indirectly referred to him as a "murderer" and the US canceled a summit meeting between him and Biden for the time being.
Putin was transported back to the time of the former US President Barack Obama, who at the time described Russia as a "regional power". The tanks and the soldiers are now a show of force, a signal to NATO and the USA. It is also another sign of how great Russia's fear of NATO expansion is.
Very close to a disaster
The military alliance does not accept any states whose external borders are raging conflicts in which NATO states could become involved. It is therefore in the interests of the Russian President that the conflicts in Ukraine or Georgia - which are considered candidate countries - continue. Already at the NATO summit in Bucharest in 2008, Putin said that he would not just watch another NATO expansion to the east. He has been making this announcement in Eastern Europe for years.
He seems to be achieving this strategic goal. Russia is back at the negotiating table, Biden calls Moscow, suddenly wants a face-to-face meeting with Putin. "The US is not out to initiate a cycle of escalation and conflict with Russia," said the US President.
But relations between Russia and NATO have been in this cycle for years; there is only a dialogue if there has been an escalation beforehand. This is also the experience of Putin, who, for example, turned the NATO countries off with the offer of a common security architecture. Since then, the relationship has been a constant up and down.
This form of diplomatic relations is becoming more and more problematic. After all, tens of thousands of soldiers on the border with Ukraine also mean that a wrong decision can lead to disaster.
Navalny's future and the Ukraine conflict could worsen relations between many Western states and Russia. The low point may not be reached yet.
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