Who Is Alexei Navalny?

As a new wave of protests is picking up in Russia, Western journalists have already started writing silly, uninformed things about what is going on. So I want to explain what is happening to those of my readers who want the facts and not the silly hype.

Navalny is a blogger who became famous as a result of conducting detailed and very productive investigations into the impossible corruption taking place in his country. He has done especially valuable work in uncovering evidence of corruption in Russia’s immense oil and gas industry. In this sense, Navalny is a Russian Assange of sorts who has brought to light really shocking instances of Russia’s political leaders robbing their own citizens blind.

As a result of his blogging, Navalny developed a huge following, especially among the younger generation of Internet users. However, Navalny’s greatest admirers and supporters are Russia’s neo-Nazis. The very blond and very Slavic Navalny has become their greatest hope of rising to power in the country. The neo-Nazis detest Putin and see him as a traitor to the cause of creating a state dominated completely by Russians.

Navalny at a nationalist ‘Russian March’ in 2011.

A while ago, photos surfaced of Navalny marching with the neo-Nazis and raising his arm in a Heil salute.

“I was just walking by and stopped to see what was going on,” the blogger explained when questioned about his connection to the Nazis. “The sun was shining too brightly, so I raised my arm to protect my eyes from the glare.”

Later, however, he was forced to acknowledge that he had been a regular participant in neo-Nazi marches and said he was doing it to make sure there was at least one decent person there.

Another endearing characteristic of Navalny is that he is into the “stand your ground” type of behavior in a way that makes Zimmerman look like a tree-hugging peacenik of the century. Once, during a political debate held in a night-club (yeah, Russians are like that, whatever), Navalny took offense to somebody saying something to somebody else, whipped out a gun, and started shooting at the talkative stranger. Remember the riddle about the bandit wars where I asked why the music was always turned up to an unbearable volume in the FSU countries in the 1990s? It was precisely to avoid this kind of situations where bandits would overhear (or believe they overheard) something somebody said to somebody else, take offense, and shoot up the room. Apparently, the bandit war mentality is still very relevant for Navalny.

Recently, Navalny announced he was going to run for Mayor of Moscow, a position of immense power in Russia. Since all of the head offices of major companies and governmental institutions are located in Moscow, the Mayor can exercise an enormous control over them (“Don’t do what I say? Prepare to be evicted / lose your water license / your fire department approval, etc.”). Navalny has a crowd of young, energetic supporters who are willing to do anything to make sure he wins. If he does – and even if he doesn’t – this election is obviously a trial run for Navalny’s future bid for President of Russia.

Putin became understandably threatened by this young and promising candidate and decided to put him in jail. According to new legislation, a conviction would disqualify Navalny from running in the future elections. Navalny was accused of corruption (pretty hilarious considering how he rose to fame) and sentenced to five years in jail. It’s impossible to say if he is guilty of anything but it is very telling that none of the people whose really massive crimes he uncovered and publicized on his blog have been punished for their corruption.

When the sentence was announced, people got angry and took to the streets. In the meanwhile, it was announced that Navalny would not go to jail for the moment but instead would be RORed, even though his conviction was not overturned. This is probably in no way related to the protests but the protests are going on.

This situation is very much in keeping with the famous saying that has defined the history of Russia as a struggle between ignorance and injustice. On the one hand, Putin is horrible and it’s great that there has appeared at least a remote possibility of an alternative candidate. Until now, there hasn’t been anybody who could play that role. However, the hope of displacing Putin that Navalny offers comes at a price of a radicalized, Nazified Russia. With all his numerous and major faults, Putin is keeping the neo-Nazis from power. Whether Navalny will ever be able to shake his Nazi connections remains a big question.