The Kremlin has finally decided to take on Alexey Navalny, four sources tell the independent television station Dozhd. According to two of the sources (identified only as “individuals close to the Kremlin”), the campaign against Russia’s opposition leader will start sometime soon.
Putin’s deputy chief of staff, Sergey Kirienko, has reversed the Kremlin’s longheld position that Navalny poses no genuine threat to the regime, according to a source who regularly meets with Kirienko. The administration’s concern is reportedly that Navalny could mar Putin’s likely re-election next March, when the Kremlin is counting on a “beautiful victory,” with high turnout and without the need for open repression against the political opposition.
According to Dozhd’s report, a special team from Putin’s domestic policy crew has set up a war room somewhere outside the Kremlin to generate material designed to discredit Navalny. Dozhd says Alexander Kharichev and Andrei Yarin — two of Putin’s top domestic policy officials — will oversee the mudslinging effort.
“They’re filming videos, making viral clips, and designing little video games to discredit Navalny. They’re fighting him like he’s Hitler,” a source told Dozhd.
Political analysts told Dozhd that the public can expect the campaign against Navalny to resemble the character assassination of former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, whose race for a seat in the State Duma derailed last year, after Russian network television aired hidden-camera footage of him cheating on his wife, which also precipitated a collapse of Russia’s democratic opposition alliance.
Online, where Navalny enjoys his greatest support and popularity, Russians are already mocking the news that the Kremlin is working on “videogames” to discredit the country’s most visible anti-corruption activist. “I can’t wait for the release of the videogame that will discredit Alexey Navalny,” Perm-based artist Anton Semakin tweeted sarcastically. “After the protests against corruption, the Kremlin has decided to crack down on Navalny, not on corruption,” the Russian comedian “Bob Farber” joked.
According to Dozhd’s sources, it was last month’s nationwide anti-corruption protests, spearheaded almost single-handedly by Navalny, that provoked the Kremlin’s new response. While the crowds may have represented only an infinitesimal sliver of the Russian population, Navalny’s anti-corruption efforts have undeniably coalesced into a larger movement. See RuNet Echo's March 28 report on “Russia's Youngster Uprising.”
And there’s statistical evidence that supports Navalny’s rising political profile: In early April, the Levada Center polling agency recorded a 10-percent drop in Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev’s approval ratings after Navalny released a bombshell investigation accusing Medvedev of widescale corruption.
Packaged in a sleek and entertaining video presentation, Navalny’s allegations have attracted more than 19 million views on YouTube.