The administration of Russian President Vladimir Putin is relentlessly attempting to ostracize a central figure in the anti-government movement. The administration should immediately halt its political crackdown and human rights violations, and take seriously the widespread criticism of the administration.
Alexei Navalny, the leader of the anti-government movement, was detained immediately after returning to Russia from Germany. He had been given a suspended sentence in a past fraud case, but is now expected to be sentenced to prison for failing to communicate regularly during his suspended sentence.
The situation is completely unreasonable. Navalny insists that the fraud case is a politically motivated fabrication, and the European Court of Human Rights has found that the conviction is unjust.
Navalny was recuperating in a German hospital last year after he was nearly killed by a highly poisonous nerve agent. The involvement of the Russian government is suspected in the attempted poisoning murder.
The first thing the Putin administration should do is investigate what really happened. It is no wonder that the court’s decision to jail Navalny is being viewed as a reflection of the administration’s intentions to eliminate a political foe.
Protests against the administration calling for the release of Navalny have been taking place across Russia. Demonstrations in January spread to as many as 200 cities, and a total of about 10,000 people were temporarily detained.
The demonstrations have been characterized by the presence of many first-time participants and young people who are not afraid of intimidation by the authorities. This may be a sign that criticism of the administration is running deeper. The administration’s stance of using violence to suppress peaceful demonstrations is unforgivable.
Demonstrations are growing against a backdrop of a sense of stagnation in society due to such factors as the economic slump under the long-term administration and the coronavirus crisis.
A video in which Navalny’s side reveals the existence of “Putin’s luxurious palace” has been viewed more than 100 million times. Although Putin has denied the claim, the fact that a wealthy friend of his has come forward as the “owner” of the palace has certainly heightened resentment over corruption at the heart of the administration.
A revision of the Russian Constitution last year made it possible for Putin to serve as president until 2036. He will also acquire the privilege of immunity from arrest accorded to former presidents and the right to become a life member of the Federal Council, the upper house of the Russian federal assembly.
This may be a reflection of his fear that his position may be threatened once his grip of power is loosened.
With the approval ratings of Putin and the ruling United Russia party on the decline, there are fears that the administration will further tighten its control over society in the run-up to the election of the lower house State Duma in September.
The international community must unite and continue to call on the Russian side for the immediate and unconditional release of Navalny and improvement of the human rights situation.
— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Feb. 6, 2021.