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August 25, 2020 Special Dispatch No. 8908

Reactions To Sudden Hospitalization Of Alexei Navalny Reveal 'Cold Civil War' In Russian Society

August 25, 2020
Russia | Special Dispatch No. 8908

Alexei A. Navalny, the anti-corruption fighter and a leading figure in the opposition to Vladimir Putin was flown to Berlin for treatment on Saturday August 22, 2020. He had fallen into a coma in Siberia two days previously after becoming ill aboard a flight from Siberia to Moscow. Navalny's supporters suspected that he had been poisoned; pro-regime outlets claimed that the illness was natural and more malignant tongues referred to alcoholism and even narcotics as possible causes for Navalny's condition. The timing was in the runup to nationwide local elections where in some regions the hold of the ruling United Russia Party is tenuous.

One thing that Putin regime critics and supporters had in common was bewilderment that the regime would seek to make a martyr of Navalny at this particular time. In any case, the incident claimed one prominent columnist, hardly puts Russia and a good light. Other opinion leaders decried the extreme reactions on both sides of the political divide, who were willing to cast accusations and aspersions in the absence of hard facts and one commentator said that the affair indicates that Russia is in the grip of a "cold civil war".

Below is a survey of reactions in Russia to the suspected poisoning of Alexei Navalny:


Navalny arrives a Berlin hospital (Source: Kyivpost.com)

Pro-Putin Commentators: Navalny Is No Threat To The Regime, He Helps Discredit The Opposition

Television presenter Vladimir Soloviev, who uses his program to savage regime critics disparaged both Navalny and the idea that the regime sought his removal. " If we proceed from the formulation 'who benefits', then we will not find here an answer to this question. You can discuss in various ways about for whom and what is beneficial... His ceiling is 2 percent, which is regularly shown by various polls conducted by companies that sympathize with him. So he's beneficial to the authorities, beneficial alive. God forbid that something will happen to him He destroyed everyone who had at least the slightest chance of becoming a noticeable leader in this field."

According to Solovyov, Navalny is very convenient for the authorities: his biography is ideal for criticizing the opposition as a whole. "He is a petty, thieving Kirov official with a number of convictions. Why be afraid of him?" [1]


Vladimir Soloviev (Source: Gazeta.ru)

Ria.ru's commentator Petr Akopov was equally dismissive of Navalny and the accusations:

"...'Navalny, the authorities' most terrible enemy and the future president of Russia, was poisoned by order of the Kremlin' - this is approximately how domestic and foreign admirers of the cult 'Putin is the omnipotent villain' argue. The West is already offering medical assistance, Merkel is sending a plane for Navalny, and Washington is saying that if the Russian authorities are involved in the poisoning, this will affect relations between the two countries. The slogan 'Let Navalny leave!' spreads on social networks: Alexei’s supporters demand permission to transport him to Germany - in order to save his life and 'prevent the authorities from hiding the traces of the crime committed'.

"Only one, completely insignificant, question remains: was there a poisoning? So far, everything points to the fact that there were no poisons, nor a poisoning: doctors talk about metabolic disorders that provoked a drop in blood sugar (a diabetic coma is a possible explanation). The reasons, of course, will be found out, but the poisoning version should be put aside (If one even tries to be honest). But why do that?

"For some, Navalny is an idol and a ray of light in the dark kingdom, for others (and for the author as well) - a provocateur and a potential new [Boris] Yeltsin (who in the fight against the privileges of the party nomenklatura [top officialdom] 'accidentally' destroyed the country)...

"The peak of Navalny’s popularity and activity has long passed (he was popular during 2011-2012, the time of Bolotnaya [riots], our failed "color revolution"). Back then Navalny claimed to become the leader [of the revolution], but the government did not flinch, Russia supported Putin, and not the Moscow revolutionaries disguised as 'friends of the people'. Since then, Navalny has focused on exposing corrupt officials (both real and imaginary), in his work to demonize and dehumanize Vladimir Putin and his associates, and in attempts to delegitimize power per se (which is a necessary step to demolish the system, and then - the country). Everyone is a thief and a scoundrel - but sooner or later we will overthrow this power and build a 'beautiful Russia'. Given Navalny’s close ties to the West, many perceive him simply as a tool in the hands of Russia’s enemies, while others see him as almost an agent of the Kremlin, which is allegedly using an ambitious and anti-systemic politician...

"For the West, Navalny has long become 'Putin's number one enemy' - but he is not content with such an honorary title. He wants to be the leader not of a group of admirers and 'émigré revolutionaries', but of the entire country. However, this goal is unattainable for him: Navalny will never be either the head of state or even the leader of a new revolution (due to its absence). But he will never admit this, even to himself, and therefore all that remains for him is to raise the stakes, to play for escalation...

"In a sense, the feeling of frustration led Navalny to the hospital (health, nervous system has failed him). Nobody poisoned him, neither the authorities (it’s even too banal to mention that they have much more problems with him dead than with his being alive)... Soon Navalny will probably be transported to Germany - and the conclusion of the local doctors will confirm the verdict of the Omsk doctors about the absence of poisoning.

"But those who are now crying about deliberate poisoning, of course, will not believe the doctors and will continue to assure everyone that it was 'the Kremlin, who tried to kill Navalny'. Nothing personal - propaganda and the fight against the government requires constant sacrifices. This time, however, you will have to sacrifice just the truth - but they [the opposition] are no strangers to it."[2]

On the other side of the spectrum Rosbalt columnist Aleksander Zhelenin departed from the premise that it was a poisoning, but admitted confusion over why the regime that had eliminated opponents previously, should resort to this tactic against Navalny now as the title of his column declared "Navalny Dead Is More Dangerous for the Authorities than Alive."

"The most famous opponent of the Kremlin was poisoned and is comatose in intensive care. This story creates more versions than questions.

"For obvious reasons, there are still many questions in the story of the poisoning of the most famous Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny. The only thing that I have no doubt about is that this was poisoning, and not something else...

"The pro-government media and telegram channels propagate versions in the spirit of: 'probably ate / drank something' or 'took some drugs'. Referencing the law enforcement agencies, they were quick to report that security agencies 'are not yet considering' the version of deliberate poisoning.

"Meanwhile, on August 20 Navalny’s press secretary Kira Yarmysh (who accompanied him on this trip and was present both at the Tomsk airport and on the plane) wrote that, Navalny had not eaten anything since morning, he only had tea in an airport cafe. On her Twitter, she wrote: 'I see that the Kremlin’s telegram channels began to work out a new topic: allegedly Navalny drank a lot last night, and today he took a pill for a hangover, which caused the poisoning. It is not true. He didn’t drink yesterday and didn’t take any pills today.'"

"...Public suspicions that something is fishy in this case are only growing.These suspicions are reinforced by the fact that in the Omsk hospital, according to the very same Yarmysh, there are more police, National Guard and FSB officers than doctors. If the case has no criminal connotation, why bring so many people in uniform there? The long silence of the doctors, who, as if they still can’t decide which diagnosis to issue and whether to voice it at all, also leads to somber conclusions"

Russia Has A Record Of Murdering Opponents

"Taking into account of all the circumstances described above, I would like to point out right away, that the version of deliberate poisoning of the opposition figure, seems the most probable to me. However, this version still does not explain all the questions. Of course, suspicions that the current Russian government is behind this, are not groundless, because a number of other similar cases immediately come to mind.

Today many might recall that over the years certain people died or were seriously poisoned: ex-intelligence officers, journalists and public figures, who had one thing in common - they were considered enemies by the Kremlin. [I’m talking about]: [Investigative journalist] Yuri Shchekochikhin, Anna Politkovskaya (who was also poisoned before boarding the plane. She survived, but was assassinated after), Alexander Litvinenko, Sergei and Yulia Skripal, Pyotr Verzilov. Let’s not forget that Navalny himself a year ago, while being in a special detention center, also experienced a similar strange poisoning ...

"However, the current case stands out in this row. To poison the popular investigator against the background of mass Belarusian protests, which are being watched so closely by Russians today, especially those with opposition views? Moreover, to do it three weeks before the regional elections?

"Of course, there is no doubt that in our country there are people in power who reason in the spirit of Stalin: 'if there is a person, there is a problem, if there is no person, there is no problem.' However, this is the 21st century. Let’s not forget that Russia today is ruled by a man, who is considered (even by some opposition activists) to be a political strategist of genius...

"To poison the main non-systemic opposition leader three weeks before the elections means (in the case he survives) to create a halo of a martyr persecuted by the authorities. To do this in the face of economic and epidemiological crises, falling power ratings and growing public discontent amid the upcoming regional elections, means 'to hit oneself below the belt'.

"It seems to be quite obvious (to me) that today a live Navalny is less dangerous for the authorities than a dead one. What happens if he, God forbid, dies? I can’t even predict the reaction of Russian society in the current tense atmosphere ...

"To summarize: should it be conceded that the supreme power is behind Navalny’s poisoning, then in the political-technological sense it greatly deteriorated. Either they simply 'went beserk against the backdrop of series of troubles: Belarus, Khabarovsk, Bashkiria, and so on (I have written even before August that Putin had a streak of bad luck).

If the Kremlin is not behind this, then who?... Did any of the security officials misunderstand the complex hints of the higher authorities? Or, on the contrary, did they by poisoning Navalny, decide to provoke a protest wave so that all oppositionists could be dealt with before the elections to the State Duma? - If so, then this is a very risky game! However, the Kremlin has proven more than once that sometimes they are ready to go all-in ..."[3]

Dmitry Drize: 'This Does Not Happen In Civilized Countries'

Dmitry Drize, political observer for Kommersant, believes that the entire way the case was handled further tarnished Russia's image, and showed that Merkel and Macron cared more for Navalny than did Russia's leadership:

"The news that shocked the world: Alexei Navalny on the way to Moscow from Tomsk felt not only bad, but fainted from pain. The plane made an emergency landing in Omsk. The politician was hospitalized in a critical condition in the local emergency hospital. And since then, it has been the main topic in the Russian information space.

"Alexei Navalny was discussed at a joint press conference following the meeting between Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron. Donald Trump, perhaps, does not know who Alexei Navalny is, but nevertheless he understands that the issue is significant, so he said that he intends to monitor the situation.

"As for Russia, it should be noted separately: almost immediately after the first messages, literally at the time of the event, the so-called versions appeared on various resources.

"Either he poisoned himself, or the day before he got drunk, mixed with pills - in general, this is a man of extremely low moral standards.

"Then all this was replaced by statements that the Russian authorities are blowing any speck of dust off Navalny so that, God forbid, nothing happens there. Be that as it may, the Kremlin reacted neutrally: they say, we wish you recovery, but do not rush to conclusions, we will provide treatment - if necessary, please contact. The impression was that there were no clear instructions on how to behave. True, after the activation of the international and Russian public, there were some advances - Russian doctors flew to Omsk, then they allowed the arrival of German doctors and an aircraft to transport Alexei to Germany. By the way, both Merkel and Macron promised every assistance to this.

"As for the official Russian version of what happened to the opposition politician, everything goes to the point that Alexei Anatolyevich [Navalny], in principle, is not a completely healthy person: something jumped in his blood... an allergy, nerves, metabolism. But this is definitely not deliberate poisoning with poison or something else. It is clear that if a different diagnosis is suddenly made in Germany, certain unpleasant conversations and unnecessary conclusions will arise...

"On the question of politics, or who needed it all. It is known that this is not the first case. Navalny himself arrived at the hospital last year from a special detention center with some strange symptoms.

"One gets the impression that the West is more concerned with this topic than the responsible comrades from Russia. Moreover, Merkel and Macron understand this and therefore consider it their duty to intervene.

"It is generally accepted that this does not happen in civilized countries. And if it happens, the top leadership takes it under personal control, conducts the most thorough investigation, sends the best investigators, doctors, and gives maximum coverage in the official media. Moreover, [it is regarded] as a problem, and not that Navalny got drunk or poisoned himself for self-advertisement. There is a risk of completely losing the remnants of your reputation."[4]

Rostovsky And Markov: The Debate Over Navalny Highlighted Russia's Feverish Political Condition

Mk.ru's observer Mikhail Rostovsky and political scientist Sergei Markov take both sides to task for their reactions to Navalny's hospitalization. Rostovsky wrote:

"As one would expect, the mysterious illness of Russia's most famous opposition politician has become the pretext for a powerful information war on a worldwide scale. It would be absurd to reproach anyone for such a state of affairs. Due to the foible of human nature, it simply could not be otherwise. But here's what is very alarming: given plethora of diverse interpretations, there is a complete absence of what the British call hard facts - irrefutable and undeniable facts about what exactly happened and why Navalny suddenly developed a 'metabolic disorder and a drop in blood sugar levels ".

"Navalny's haters inside Russia do not feel even a shadow of doubt: the country's most popular political blogger fell victim to his shadow curators, who are trying this way to destroy a stable way of life in the country. Navalny's supporters do not even feel a shadow of doubt: what happened is absolutely an obvious attempt at political assassination, behind which stands the 'ruling regime.' However, I still insist on my point: hard facts are extremely important, and their absence is even more important.

"Believe me, we also have enough similar traits. For example, we have this in the totally exaggerated political role of certain charismatic personalities - be it Putin or Navalny - and the insufficient level of differentiation in political institutions. This is shown in the population's tendency to devoutly believe in various 'conspiracy theories.' This is evident in the presence of a wide variety of shadow players capable of devising and practically implementing the most sophisticated political tricks.

"Let us recall the famous saying of Archimedes: "Give me a fulcrum and I will move the earth." It just so happened that Navalny is one of the "fulcrum points", using which you can try, if not to move, then certainly seriously rock Russia. I don't want to be rocked in the dark. I don’t want Russia to turn into Ukraine. I don’t want to be manipulated - and it’s not clear by whom. We must be sure to get to the bottom of the real reasons for Navalny's 'sudden drop in blood sugar' - no matter what the cost."[5]


Mikhail Rostovsky (Source: Mk.ru)

According to Sergey Markov, a political science professor at Moscow State University, the situation with Navalny highlighted one Russian society's problems, namely its unreadiness for dialogue between political opponents, who instead did everything possible to create a civil war atmosphere. Markov, on his Facebook page, reproached the authorities' defenders for accusing Navalny, a serious public figure, of being a drunkard at a time that the comatose opposition figure was fighting for his life.

But Navalny's supporters, who immediately attacked the Russian authorities and Putin personally, were equally guilty. "Why portray the Russian government, your country's government, as criminal and terrorist, if you simply do not like its policies?"

Markov ruefully concluded: "The reaction by various wings of active civil society in Russia displays the atmosphere of a Cold Civil War, not civil peace and civil respectful dialogue.” Markov feared that democracy has no serious chances to take root in such a society.[6]


Sergey Markov (Source: Aif.ru)

 

 

[1] Radiokp.ru, August 20, 2020

[2] Ria.ru, August 21, 2020.

[3] Rosbalt.ru, August 20, 2020.

[4] Kommersant.ru, August 21, 2020.

[5] Mk.ru, August 23, 2020.

[6] Mk.ru, August 23, 2020.

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