On Wednesday, February 3rd, a court in Moscow, Russia, sentenced popular anti-Putin figure Alexei Navalny to two years in prison. The reason for the prison sentence was an alleged parole violation relating to a trumped-up political charge from 2014. The sentencing of Navalny triggered mass protests across Russia opposing the corrupt Russian establishment. Putin and friends reacted strongly to the protests with brutal police suppressions. All the chaos that flooded the streets resulted from a single viral video known as “Putin’s palace”.
After Navalny was arrested on his return to Russia, the video known as “Putin’s palace” was released and instantly became viral. The famous video talks about how the luxurious coastal palace was a bribe of epic proportions from the corrupt business leaders who control Russia. The palace symbolizes Russia as it is both a grand symbol of wealth on the outside and a moldy failure on the inside. The idea promoted throughout the video is that the Russian system is similar to a feudal king with rich subjects. This video has been seen by a significant portion of Russia’s population and helped fuel anti-corruption protests.
Russia is politically controlled by a small group of oligarchs and criminal leaders who control most of the country’s wealth while most Russian citizens live unfavorably. The small group of wealthy people lives similar to kings while ordinary people deal with inadequate infrastructure, a worthless currency, and housing scams. This system means that getting approval from the oligarchs is more crucial than actually pleasing the Russian people. As long as the kingmakers are happy, the elections and other processes can be manipulated to keep people in power.
The “Putin’s palace” scandal has placed the infamous Russian leader in a precarious situation. Putin must salvage his image and regain some support or else he might get replaced. Putin could salvage his reputation by running a public image campaign that involves pretending to remove corrupt officials and promote positive government messages. Putin might be replaced by a new political figure that is a puppet sponsored by the unhappy oligarchs if Putin does not fix this situation. Another possible consequence of Putin failing to quell the anger is that the entire Russian system could collapse into chaos.
Russia is at a key crossroads with the anti-corruption movement. A successful quelling of the public by Putin would keep the status quo, and Russia would continue as normal. A complete failure by Putin and friends would turn Russia into chaos which would reduce the eastern bully’s position on the global stage for decades. Another path for Russia would be electing a new, more EU friendly leader that creates a less tense EU relationship and possibly calms tension in Ukraine. Overall, any path that Russia takes will have geopolitical consequences.
Navalny might be imprisoned, but his spirit has invigorated the Russian people to fight the hardest battle of their lives.
Sources: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-56007943, https://www.cnn.com/2021/02/04/europe/russia-navalny-doctor-maximishin-dies-intl/index.html, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/feb/02/russian-opposition-leader-alexei-navalny-jailed