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How Secure is Putin?

Jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has become an even greater thorn in President Vladimir Putin’s side following his recovery from what was almost certainly a Kremlin-ordered poisoning last August. And the Putin regime’s brutal suppression of recent Navalny-inspired protests may intensify the country’s political polarization, forcing ordinary Russians to choose which side they are on.

In this Big Picture, Navalny, in an interview with Dozhd TV’s Tikhon Dzyadko, sees the assassination attempt against him as a sign of the Putin regime’s decay, and pledges to continue opposing the Kremlin by appealing to the Russian people. But Sławomir Sierakowski of the Institute for Advanced Study in Warsaw highlights Putin’s continuing power of incumbency, and doubts that opposition to him will match the scale and impact of the protests in neighboring Belarus following that country’s fraudulent presidential election in August 2020.

But Andrei Kolesnikov of the Carnegie Moscow Center regards the recent mass arrests of protesters as evidence that Putin is on the defensive and views popular support for Navalny as a genuine threat. Sergei Guriev of Sciences Po suggests an important reason: Russia’s economic stagnation – largely the result of Putin’s policy failures – means that the president cannot base his regime’s legitimacy on quality-of-life improvements.

And while Putin’s police state can deal with the current street protests easily enough, argues Nina L. Khrushcheva of The New School, growing resentment among Russia’s political elites – fueled by Western sanctions – may eventually trigger a palace coup.

In the meantime, former Spanish foreign minister Ana Palacio hopes that the recent ill-fated visit to Moscow by Josep Borrell, the European Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, will catalyze progress toward a coherent European Russia policy. To that end, Mark Leonard of the European Council on Foreign Relations urges EU leaders to stop vacillating between resets and crackdowns vis-à-vis Russia, and instead pursue a policy of “principled indifference” toward Putin’s regime.

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