Categorized | World

Brooding Russian blogger crafts Putin’s fall from grace

Posted on 27 December 2011

This is a 60-second summary of the Associated Press article here.

Imagine trying to out-man Vladimir Putin, the motorbike-riding, judo-practicing, moose-hunting Prime Minister of Russia.

Check out my long rod

Yes, hold this image in your head and now look at this guy.

Bzzt! Bzzt!

Meet Alexei Navalny. A 35-year-old corruption-fighting lawyer and popular blogger who reaches tens of thousands through his blog, consistently among the top three on Live Journal, and has more than 167,000 followers on Twitter.

He was also one of the most anticipated speakers at a rally last Saturday, which drew an estimated 70,000 to 100,000 people. It is said to be the in the largest protest in the country since the demonstrations that swept away the Soviet Union two decades ago.

Navalny first made his name a few years ago by fighting corruption. Using his rights as a minority shareholder, he gathered evidence of corruption at state-controlled oil and gas companies and banks. Cases he filed against some of the biggest names in Russian business have made little progress in court, but he exposed some seemingly outrageous practices.

He also has used his skills to attack corruption inside government at all levels. About a year ago he set up a website where he posts government documents announcing tenders for various goods and services. His team of lawyers studies them and he also invites anyone who is interested to review the documents online. Navalny claims the government has withdrawn scandalous tenders worth millions of dollars after they were exposed by his site. In one telling example, the Interior Ministry canceled an order for a hand-carved gilded bed intended for one of its residences.

But anyone can start a blog, stir up some shit, and speak at a rally right? Yes, but not everyone gets thrown into jail in Russia and emerges alive.

Navalny was arrested after leading a protest march in defiance of police the day after Dec. 4 parliamentary elections. Putin’s ruling party, like the PAP in Singapore, had won but by a much lower margin than before. In Putin’s case, he barely scraped by, winning with just more than 50% of the votes.

Navalny was jailed for 15 days and released last week. He said he felt that he had been “jailed in one country and freed in another,” which is a slightly more poetic way of dancing to MC Hammer.

Can't touch this

Not everyone is in favor of the broody blogger however.

“Society, unlike a crowd, demands respect,” Alexander Podrabinek, a former Soviet dissident and political prisoner, wrote in a commentary on Grani.ru. “If you openly manipulate it as Navalny does, the best part of it will be reluctant to show up at the next rally. Rallies of the liberal opposition will then turn into something similar to the Russian Marches.”

Navalny took part in last month’s Russian March in which thousands of nationalists marched through Moscow to call on ethnic Russians to “take back” their country, some raising their hands in a Nazi salute.

Many Russians resent the influx of dark-skinned Muslims into Moscow and other cities. Many also resent the disproportionate amount of budget money sent to Chechnya and other Caucasus republics, seen as a Kremlin effort to buy loyalty after two separatist wars.

Navalny defends his association with nationalists by saying their concerns are widespread and need to be addressed as part of any broad movement pushing for democratic change, but many in the liberal opposition fear that he is playing with fire.

Some opposition leaders also seem alarmed by Navalny’s soaring popularity.

“We are already seeing signs of a Navalny cult,” Vladimir Milov wrote in a column in the online Gazeta.ru. “I wouldn’t be surprised if grandmothers from the provinces start showing up here asking where they can find him so he can cure their illnesses.”

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Joey is an intern at New Nation. He hopes to be as funny as Belmont one day and get laid at least twice a month.

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