The headline of this piece “Alexei Navalny allies call for mass protests in Russia to save his life” shows that the author (Luke Harding) has fully swallowed the line put out by team Navalny. Indeed as this website has pointed out many times all the reporting on Navalny in the Guardian and Independent simply reiterates whatever line is coming out of Navalny HQ at that time. Sometimes they simply copy and paste the email they receive.
The alternative explanation – that this hunger strike and crisis and public drama was all planned before Navalny returned to Russia (knowing that he would be sent to prison) is not even discussed. But, based on observation of Navalny’s modus operandi (to seek publicity and create embarrassing scandals for the authorities), this is much (much) more likely.
Luke Harding’s report seems at one level fairly balanced. He even refers to the poisoning of Navalny in Siberia as something which Navalny “alleges” the Kremlin was responsible for – a notable departure from the usual line that simply accepts Navalny’s claims about this at face value.
But there are two important distortions here. Firstly, Harding writes that Navalny’s deputies Leonid Volkov and Ivan Zhdanov have called for mass protests in Russia on Wednesday. What he has not told his readers is that both Leonid Volkov and Ivan Zhdanov are currently abroad. In fact they seem to have strong connections to Lithuania. Zhdanov has even appeared alongside Lithuanian officials at a meeting in Brussels. This then is not a popular protest movement. It has the appearance of an externally managed coup attempt. (Of course; Leonid Volkov and Ivan Zhdanov might argue that due to political restrictions in Russia they cannot operate their protest movement from within Russia. Nonetheless it remains true that they are calling for protests from the position of being outside the country. And it seems more than likely they are indeed coordinating their work with foreign governments). At any rate it is relevant that they are based abroad and noteable that Harding chooses to skip over this fact.
In a further clampdown, Russia’s prosecutor’s office is set to designate Navalny’s FBK anti-corruption foundation and his regional headquarters as extremist organisations. This would allow the authorities to jail Navalny’s colleagues as “terrorists” for up to six years.
But is this true? Well; in one sense yes and in another no. The effect would be that once the organisations are denoted as extremist it would be a criminal offence to take part in their activities or finance them. But Harding’s statement is thoroughly misleading because he gives the impression that people could be jailed at will by the authorities simply by the act of denoting the organisations as extremist. But people would have the choice. I.e. there is no provision here to automatically allow the authorities to imprison people. People would have to continue their involvement after the ban. (For context – the UK has similar laws about banning extremist organisations though of course Navalny’s curious project which mixes liberalism, mild socialism and anti-immigrant policies and which seeks a radical overturning of the current political settlement in Russia is seen as desirable in the West and not ‘extremist’).