The Kremlin’s latest experimentation with the veneer of democracy has only one possible endgame: Sergei Sobyanin will win the Moscow mayoral election this September with an overwhelming majority of the vote, and Alexei Navalny will go to jail. But in the meantime, what changes will Navalny have been able to effect in the minds of his electorate?
Having shunned the local television debates that, he says, are simply a ploy to take up his time whilst limiting his exposure, Navalny has taken his campaign to the streets, where he says his efforts will bring him face-to-face with 1% of the electorate. (This Guardian piece has the insight into his methods, as well as his illuminating comment that 1% ‘is not many … but the electoral power of each person is enormously powerful. If you speak to 10, you will convince six of them.’ And whilst Navalny makes his way around the country winning voters over to his way of thinking, what of Sobyanin? Vladimir Frolov paints an exciting picture of the effects of Navalny’s campaigning on Vladimir Putin’s puppet and current acting Mayor. Rather than simply ‘adding legitimacy’ to what was to be a shoo-in, Navanly may be also throwing some spanners in the works:
Navalny’s revelations about luxurious realestate registered in the names of Sobyanin’s daughters, allegations of nepotism to help the business of his son-in-law and wasteful spending on city projects have tarred Sobyanin’s reputation. His refusal to participate in the debates exposed his weakness as a politician. His ratings are sliding. A run-off could damage him permanently.
But this is not an accident of democratic process, says Frolov. He argues that this goes exactly to plan, and that high-level tensions in the Kremlin have caused fears amongst ‘others with claims to Putin’s succession’, who want to ensure that Sobyanin will not be able to be named as Putin’s successor in 2017. In other words: don’t expect any surprises. The now-popular narrative of the charismatic and quixotic Navalny mounting a surprising and significant ‘test for the Kremlin’ is exactly what they want you to believe.