18 June, 2024
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Analysis: Death of leading critic is a reminder of Putin’s paranoia


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Munich, Germany CNN  —  The what is known, but the how may never be clear. It is the why that is already the largest question, after the untimely death of Alexey Navalny. We don’t know whether the Kremlin had a hand in his death, but they certainly failed in their duty of care of their most famous prisoner.

Why did this happen now? We know Putin can be calm, pragmatic, and opportunistic. But this death comes at a unexpected time for Russia and the Kremlin. It does not seem that Putin needed Navalny to die now. The dissident’s voice had been quietened. He had been reduced to a whisper from the Arctic Circle, confined to a prison regime that might itself have proven a threat to the health of a man who had already survived a vicious poison attack on a plane in 2020.

Presidential elections are a month away. Navalny was not a candidate, and never stood a chance to be one in the closed system of managed democracy Putin has espoused since 2004. He was the most courageous and active opponent Putin faced for decades. Yet his imprisonment in Correctional facility number 3, up in the Yamalo-Nenets autonomous region, served to some degree as a reminder of what happens to those who stand up to the Kremlin. And with his death, Putin is in a riskier position.

Globally, the focus has switched from Russia’s ascendancy and recovery in its illegal invasion of Ukraine, to its vicious silencing of even the quietest voices of dissent. The Munich Security Conference, set this morning to be an anxious series of reassurances from Vice President Kamala Harris over Trump’s recent remarks and the future of NATO, will now be reminded of Putin’s real and present threat to anyone to stands up to him.

It speaks to a far from relaxed Kremlin. The circumstances of Navalny’s death will be known only in the fullness of time, and always – it is likely – through information supplied by the Kremlin. But they failed to keep him alive, at the very least. He joins a long list of Kremlin opponents who died before their time. Anna Politkovskaya – shot dead in her stairwell in 2004. Alexander Litvinenko – poisoned in London in 2006. Boris Berezovsky – a former confidante found dead in his bathroom in 2013. And most recently Yevgeny Prigozhin – former confidante who died with much of his Wagner mercenary elite in a suspicious plane crash last year.

The Prigozhin death, critics of the Kremlin, had felt, was to some degree inevitable. Indeed, it was the forgiveness Putin displayed, after the man who used to be known as his “chef” led an ill-fated and poorly conceived rebellion in June last year, that seemed the outlier. He called Wagner into the Kremlin and seemed to just let their march on Moscow go. When the plane Prigozhin and his entire top team blew up in the sky weeks later, the patience and ruthlessness that Putin had always been known for came back into view.

But the timing of Prigozhin’s death worked in Putin’s favor. It may have terrified his elite, but it was planned, and a basic reminder of his enduring punishment of traitors. Putin has always reserved special, preternatural contempt for traitors. Those who concluded he was behind it would only have been reminded of his patience, cunning and endurance.

Navalny’s death is a reminder of Putin’s paranoia. He does not seem able to tolerate the risk of having his most outspoken opponent alive: Russia’s prisons, it is fair to argue, could easily have kept him safe and healthy indefinitely, were that their mandated task. We do not have full transparency of their involvement, but this is not a Kremlin unafraid of the future.

Does it presage a change in how the war in Ukraine is fought? That is unclear, and Moscow is for now stretched far, although possibly regaining its feet. Does it alter the likelihood of Putin’s continued seat in the Kremlin? Not at all.

Does it speak of a man burdened by worry, and happy to endure the global outrage of Navalny’s death if it removes the tiniest possible risks to his rule? Yes.

And that may be the lasting legacy of Navalny’s courage and sacrifice. That his death spoke of a Putin more on edge, isolated, paranoid and out of control than his public image projected.

The post Analysis: Death of leading critic is a reminder of Putin’s paranoia appeared first on Egypt Independent.