Putin’s nemesis

A poster by street artist Harry Greb depicting Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny in Rome. Reuters

Over the weekend, some 40,000 people in Moscow and thousands more across Russia braved subzero temperatures to turn out in the streets in support of imprisoned Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny. More than 3,000 protesters were arrested, and Navalny called on his followers to prepare for more action in the coming weeks.

But just who is Alexei Navalny, and how significant is the threat that he may pose to Vladimir Putin's stranglehold on power in Russia?


A longtime thorn in Putin's side. Navalny, 44, is a prominent and charismatic anti-corruption crusader with a penchant for social media. He made his mark on Russian politics ten years ago, when he led tens of thousands of people in protests that began over election fraud and corruption but morphed into a broader outcry against Putin.

Since then he has remained a key player in the opposition to the current regime, often publishing exposés detailing corruption among elites close to Putin or the president himself. In 2013, he came in second in the race for mayor of Moscow, getting 27 percent of the vote. A year later he was convicted of graft in a trial viewed as politically motivated, and in 2017 he was briefly detained for protesting against the astonishing wealth of then-PM Dmitri Medvedev.

Last year Navalny was poisoned with a rare Soviet-era nerve agent in an assassination attempt that he and independent observers say was carried out by state security agents. After recovering in Germany, he returned to Russia this week — knowing he'd be arrested upon arrival.

Popular… for some. Navalny has struggled in all his attempts to run for elected office because his support is strongest among urban and younger Russians. Overall, only about 20 percent of the wider population agree with him, and 50 percent oppose his actions. What's more, half of Russians believe his poisoning was either a hoax or that it was carried out by the West.

So, why does he worry Putin? For one thing, Navalny is laser-focused on an issue that affects all Russians — corruption — and has a knack for getting his message out. That can help him broaden his base beyond the the laptop-toting "creative" urban class, and potentially unify Russians from all walks of life across 11 time zones.

As for his other politics, Navalny often takes positions that many in the West would characterize as nationalistic, yet are quite popular in Russia. He defended Russia's invasion of Georgia in 2008, the illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014, and in the past made disparaging comments about Central Asian migrants.

Is this time different? The 2011 protests petered out largely because Navalny then lacked strong support outside of Moscow and St. Petersburg. However, in recent years anti-Putin rallies have increasingly taken place in a host of mid-sized cities, including in remote parts of Siberia.

With Putin — now in his 21st year in power — showing approval ratings near all-time lows (by his own standards) ahead of Duma elections this fall, Navalny has a window of opportunity to raise the stakes. After all, Putin has cleared the way to stay in power until 2036 if he wants.

But let's keep things in perspective. While Navalny's level of support is rising, it's not (yet) enough to pose an existential threat for Putin. Russia's president is not as popular as he once was, but still enjoys an approval rating of more than 60 percent, controls a massive and loyal security apparatus, and has brought the entire business elite to heel.

Navalny's challenge is to put enough people on the streets to scare Putin's cronies and security men into thinking twice about continuing to support him — no easy feat in a country where political apathy is widespread, and fear of 1990s-style instability is real.

The next big test for Navalny will come at Sunday's protest. The turnout will determine his immediate fate as Putin's nemesis.


Note: Story corrected to reflect attendance of protests outside Moscow.

Walmart aspires to become a regenerative company – helping to renew people and planet through our business. We are committed to working towards zero emissions across our global operations by 2040. So far, more than 36% of our global electricity is powered through renewable sources. And through Project Gigaton, we have partnered with suppliers to avoid over 416 million metric tons of CO2e since 2017. Read more about our commitment to the planet in our 2021 ESG report.

Tunisia, the only country that emerged a democracy from the Arab Spring, is now in the middle of its worst political crisis since it got rid of former autocrat Zine El Abidine Ben Ali over a decade ago.

On Sunday, the 64th anniversary of the country's independence from France, President Kais Saied responded to widespread protests over the ailing economy and COVID by firing embattled Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi and suspending parliament for 30 days. Troops have surrounded the legislature, where rival crowds faced off on Monday, with one side chanting in support of the move and the other denouncing it as a coup.

How did we get here, do we even know who's really in charge, and what might come next?

More Show less

Political division, disinformation and, frankly, stupidity are costing lives. It is not authoritarian to mandate vaccines in America. In fact, there is historical precedent. Making vaccine uptake a requirement will save tens of thousands of lives and maybe many more than that. There really aren't two sides to this argument, there is just the science.

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hi, everybody. Ian Bremmer here. Hope you're having a good week. I wanted to kick it off by talking about vaccines. We all know the recent spike in cases and even hospitalizations that we have experienced in this country over the past couple of weeks. It looks like that's going to continue. It is overwhelmingly because of Delta variant. The hospitalizations and deaths are overwhelmingly because too many people are un-vaccinated.

More Show less

24-year-old Ugandan climate activist Vanessa Nakate recounts how in 2020 she was cropped out of a photo at Davos of her with other white climate activists (like Greta Thunberg) and what it revealed about how people of color and people in developing countries, like those in Africa, are frequently excluded from the climate conversation.

Watch the episode of GZERO World with Ian Bremmer: Predictable disaster and the surprising history of shocks

Now that the Tokyo Olympics are finally underway, your Signal crew will be bringing you some fun, intriguing, uplifting, and quirky facts about the Games that have many people on edge.

First up — what's the Refugee Team?

At the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games, the International Olympic Committee created for the first time the Refugee Team to allow those who had fled persecution in their home countries to participate in the Olympics. Up from 10 athletes in 2016, it now has 29 participants across 12 sports from conflict-ridden countries: Afghanistan, Cameroon, Congo, Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Iraq, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, and Venezuela.

A separate team of refugees will also participate at the Paralympics, both of which are managed by the IOC and the UN Refugee Agency.

Iranian-born Kimia Alizadeh, a Germany-based taekwondo champion, narrowly missed out on bronze this week, which would have been the Refugee Team's first ever Olympic medal. Follow the team here.

Dr Anthony Fauci says the US is again "going in the wrong direction" as COVID cases and hospitalizations continue to rise across America. Over the past two weeks, hospitalizations — an apt indicator of serious illness from COVID — have spiked in 45 out of 50 states as a result of the contagious delta variant and rejection of vaccines, which are leading many US states to now have a vaccine surplus. We take a look at the 10 states where hospitalization rates have increased the most in recent weeks, and their corresponding vaccination rates — and unused vaccine rates.

Iraqi PM's face-to-face with Biden: Mustafa al-Kadhimi, Iraq's prime minister, met with President Biden at the White House Monday to discuss the future of US troops in Iraq. The US still has about 2,500 troops stationed in Iraq to engage in "counterterrorism" operations and train Iraqi forces. In an interview published this week, al-Kadhimi called for the withdrawal of all US combat troops, because, he said, Iraqi forces have proven capable of fighting ISIS militants on their own. (Just last week, some 30 Iraqis were killed when ISIS militants attacked a busy Baghdad market.) Al-Kadhimi still wants non-combat US troops to stay on in a training capacity. He became PM in 2020 as a consensus candidate after nationwide protests over corruption and joblessness forced the resignation of the unpopular previous government. At least 500 protesters were killed during a crackdown by Iraqi security forces, fueling demands for fresh elections, which are set to take place this October. The green PM has a tough job: he has to juggle relations with the Biden administration, which just pledged $155 million in aid to Iraq, and ties with Tehran, an influential player in Iraqi politics. (Iraq relies on Iran for energy imports, and Iran-backed militias inside Iraq are a force to be reckoned with.) Local sentiment has soured on the US presence as Iraqis resent being caught in the middle of US-Iran fights inside Iraqi territory.

More Show less

7,100: As a third COVID wave ravages Myanmar, the death toll has now risen above 7,100, a gross undercount because that total includes only those who died in hospitals. Myanmar, which has one of the weakest healthcare systems in Asia, is also dealing with a vaccine hesitancy problem: people are rejecting shots because they see vaccination as validation of the military, which overthrew the democratically elected government earlier this year.

More Show less

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter, Signal

GZERO World with Ian Bremmer. Watch episodes now

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal

GZERO World with Ian Bremmer. Watch episodes now

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal