Alexei Navalny and Alexander Lukashenko – these men are at the centre of all focus that Russia receives today. Navalny is nothing like Lukashenko. The latter is an incumbent in his country while the first, an outlaw where he sought to emerge as a political opponent. Lukashenko is ‘friend’ to Putin and Navalny is the Russian leader’s biggest ‘foe.’ The inevitable Russian connection through both these men is unfolding new confrontational stands against the country in Europe.
Navalny’s charisma was a threat to Putin – Moscow’s vulnerability was exposed. The appeal that the new leader held among crowds, especially the middle-working class, was a reminder to Putin that regardless of all the constitutional amendments and oligarchic support, there would be a time when his regime ends. As Navalny himself reveals in a post-recovery interview with The Economist, sending a message out loud to Russia and the world was vital for Putin’s survival as leader– the death of an upcoming politician under ‘mysterious’ circumstances by consumption of a ‘mysterious’ drug would have raised just that. Even though Navalny survived, he believes the traumatic journey that he’s been through still adds up as a message of horror about Kremlin’s new phase of political hegemony. Even though now scarred by hospitalization marks and insomnia, Alexei Navalny lights up when he says that he’s a changed man – no, he’s not backing down from his fight; he’s determined to augment his efforts courtesy of the humaneness and sentimentality that have taken root in him now. The coma of three weeks was certainly the only short pause that Kremlin would have received. That the attempt of murder occurred on German territory furthers the turmoil that Russia unexpectedly finds itself knee-deep in. There’s no doubt that diplomatic cheer has taken a backseat between the two.
The double whammy, of course, is complete with Germany’s invite for Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya. In the meeting between Chancellor Angela Merkel and Tsikhanouskaya early this month, mention was made about the situation that people of Belarus are in following the disputed polls in the country – thousands taking part in protests have been subjected to a crackdown. All the while, Lukashenko has reached out to his dear friend in Moscow for support to put down unrest. Tsikhanouskaya made the visit even more symbolic by going to the Berlin Wall which she said exemplified freedom – something that Lukashenko’s Belarus cannot promise when it’s actively suppressing dissent. Not too later, Russia entered her name in the ‘Wanted List.’ Her name also features in Belarus Investigative Committee’s list. In response to the agency’s action, the Lithuanian President called for EU’s unity and pressed for all European countries to keep their doors open for Tsikhanouskaya. This is precisely what the meeting between Merkel and the Belarusian leader signified – an open door. From the looks of it, Germany seems convinced to shift from its earlier mellowed down approach. Russia may not heed to the eased-out diplomacy practised till date, particularly when Vladimir Putin remains on deck. As Navalny points out in his interview, Kremlin is obsessed with mystique and all things rogue – this puts Germany in a fix. By extending support for modernization, it hoped to calm the chances for a resurfacing of Cold-War residues. But with the kind of expansionism that Putin endorses, it’s impossible to remain elegantly passive or not equip oneself for possible ambushes. Incidents like the 2016 hacking of the Parliament’s network had hinted at a near closure of the tally marks. It certainly does appear that Russia has crossed the threshold for Germany and Europe’s tolerance.
Sanctions against Russia were proposed by both Germany and France. There’s a changing tide of diplomatic positioning and the EU, by acting on these countries’ requests, has further solidified the case for it. By not being responsible and evading accountability at every possible turn, Russia has closed itself off and withdrawn into greater isolation. While Russia’s haphazard action against Crimea in 2014 may have made it the least favourite in all spheres, there still were windows of opportunity that it could have worked on to ensure a way back into international cooperation. But acknowledging what’s wrong and admitting one’s own mistake are two things that do not prominently see a place in Kremlin’s rule-book. Pride and vengeful politics have taken a toll on the regime. It’s rather disheartening to know that a country most associated with the ideas of an egalitarian society – we can set aside the success/failure of the political embodiment of this – has metamorphosed into an oligarch’s paradise. It’s better if Moscow understands that a multipolar world awaits on the other side of this ending year. No attempts to hush change can triumph.