Opposition Leader Alexei Navalny has had his prison sentence suspended, though his conviction for fraud still precludes him from running for public office, at least for now (read our full analysis of here). Below, Slon, an independent news outlet, has posted comments from several high-profile politicians and political thinkers. – Ed.
Pavlovsky: “I don’t think it’s a question here of a subtle game behind the scenes or a deal with Navalny.”
Sergei Guriyev, former rector of the Russian School of Economics:
If Alexei had become a political prisoner, the people who voted for him and campaigned for him would have gone out on the street. I am very glad that the government had a rational understanding of the situation, and changed the sentence in the end.
It’s clear that what has happened illustrates how important it was that Navalny ran in the Moscow elections, and although the suspended sentence prohibits him from engaging in active politics and running for elections again, for example, to the Moscow City Duma, Alexei can do more at large than he can in prison. I am very glad, because now there is a space for political life. Of course, the judge issued an unlawful decision, even without severe consequences, so it is impossible to speak of some kind of justice.
It is ridiculous to even speak of 2018. I am not sure that presidential elections will take place before 2018, everything could change by that time. If we return to the Moscow elections, I think that none of you could have predicted that these elections would take place – a few months before they were scheduled, Sergei Sobyanin said that early elections were a bad idea. Then no one could have predicted that Navalny would gather the signatures and then get so many votes. Will the elections take place in the Moscow City Duma in a year, and will they register Navalny’s party? These are all important questions. Alexei has shown that he has outstanding qualities, if he can take part in the elections, then it will be a completely different campaign. On the other hand, even if he can’t, his party and his supporters will be perceived as like-minded, and with their help, he will take part. There is a program, there is a selection of priorities, he can go and campaign for them.
I don’t see any reason why he shouldn’t be helped [with writing economic programs for the campaign—Slon]. We see many things alike, and many things differently, likely this can be discussed and we can come to an agreement. On the whole, I’m very happy that this specific person, who did not do anything wrong, is free and can get involved with what he likes.
Eduard Limonov, leader of Other Russia:
I kept saying there would be a suspended sentence. I take pride in the fact that I have great experience, both in court, and with my own criminal case, with the National Bolsheviks and trials and police – unfortunately, this is a topic dear to me. For me it was entirely obvious that a person who was sentenced on 18 July to five years and who on 19 July was freed, made a deal with the government. For naïve, inexperienced white-ribboners [a reference to anti-Putin protests where demonstrators wore white ribbons—Ed], this may seem incomprehensible. But for me it is completely clear, that at first the government let him out of prison, then it gave him the municipal deputies [whose signatures were needed to get on the ballot—Ed]. Some people may not believe it, but evidently on the evening of 18 July, he agreed to everything with the government; such miracles do not happen on their own. They turned him into a system politician; it’s bad that he pollutes the opposition environment with his presence.
Now he will take part in all elections. Just you wait, he will be amnestied. The amnesty applies even to those who are under investigation, and he will be able to take part in the elections to the Moscow City Duma. Putin was given a draft decree for a wide amnesty on 15 October, and he will issue it by the beginning of November.
Konstantin Kostin, head of the Fund for Civil Society Development:
If you look at the forecasts among those elites and experts who believe that Navalny is guilty, they predicted a suspended sentence, but he was given a real punishment, which surprised them. There had already been the defendant Opalev who had made a deal with the investigation and received a suspended sentence. It wasn’t clear why Navalny and Ofitserov got the exact same sentence for the same crime, and even one with imprisonment. In this case, justice has been restored; the president in fact spoke of this.
Navalny’s positions after the elections did not change, they are fairly good. The question is to what extent he is ready to become involved in the system’s public politics on a permanent basis, and not only in the regimen of an election campaign. Can he create a party, how prepared is he to make alliances and work out compromises with other liberal parties who are also planning to get into the Moscow City Duma? Most importantly, what crimes will fall under the amnesty, can Navalny participate in his personal capacity, or will that be through nomination of his [party] list? To what extent will Navalny’s party and coalition be able to prepare the single-mandate candidates who will work with the regional agenda? As we recall, the Moscow elections took place on a strictly federal agenda. There was no particular attention paid to Moscow issues, to all questions, Navalny would reply: if there is a second round, professionals will gather around me, who will answer all such questions.
Glen Pavlovsky, head of the Foundation for Effective Policy:
The game with Navalny is not a new one. It has dragged on at least since the summer of this year, and it is not very systemic. The system itself is weakening. Out of habit, we search for consistency in actions and the implementation of projects with planning, but in reality, it’s a question of the government maneuvering between its own internal groups of influence, without having its own final perspective on a single question. Including about Navalny.
On the one hand, this is good, because it provides the opportunity for some kind of deals and compromises, in an entire range of cases (and the sentence for Navalny and Ofitserov is not the only such case) – and on the other hand, it easily sacrifices quality over other issues. Like the topic of the unification of the courts, not to mention such things as the Greenpeace case or the psychiatric clinic for Kosenko. That is, there is no logic here, there are only opportunities, which some in society can use, some groups, and some not. Therefore to speak about some strong partner that makes a deal with another strong partners is really ridiculous. Navalny sensed this and exploits well this internal systemic weakness of the government; that is his right as a politician, and I think that he is not the only one who senses this and not the only one who exploits it.
On the other hand, this amoral situation is still preserved, whereby a prominent politician can at any moment be put back in a labor camp, because he has a suspended sentence – if the line changes or the level of danger or another grouping gets closer to the center of power. I don’t think that this is a question here of a subtle game behind the scenes or a deal with Navalny. I don’t think that Putin is the source of every decision which is taken. We have a Brownian motion here, only this is the motion of several groups around Putin, and to guess which one of them is behind which compromise is a fascinating occupation for commentators but it shouldn’t be called a policy to increase competition.
Navalny is convenient to them now, while he is organizationally bare, while he is the idol of the Moscow urban middle class, but without an organization [i.e. registered party—Ed]. I don’t know how the authorities will behave when Navalny does have one.
Navalny has a corridor of action, and the length of this corridor is not known – a year, perhaps less. And he may create for himself the opportunity to win another year, and perhaps the removal of the sentence. I think that he has the next political season and the opportunities to act. Now the next task is the elections. All other elections that there are. He has to represent his party at these elections, he doesn’t have one, so that’s what he has to get busy with. Now he is a man without a party, but when he is a man with a party, then he can wind up as a man already with a no longer suspended sentence. The suspended sentence can always be recalled – this will be a means of control over his behavior, like a bracelet on his leg.
But within the framework of the so-called new policy of increasing the competitiveness of the opposition, it is proposed to storm not the palaces, but the earth-works, the municipal positions, the legislative assemblies, at a maximum, the posts of mayor of a city. Governors are beyond the realm of possibilities.