The Kremlin has done everything in its power to control Russia’s upcoming presidential election in 2018.
The main opposition candidate, anti-corruption crusader Alexei Navalny, has been recently banned by the election commission due to an embezzlement conviction that his supporters say was politically motivated. They argue that the charges were felony in nature precisely to prevent Mr. Navalny from running, per Russian election law.
His offices have also been raided and he’s been detained multiple times for holding “illegal” rallies across Russia in different cities.
Add to that a recent attack by sausage-throwing bandits in the airport upon returning to Moscow — in addition to having a green chemical liquid thrown in his face, which caused him to travel abroad to Spain for surgery on his left eye.
And yet, Mr. Navalny keeps pushing.
In his most recent affront to Moscow, upon being denied permission to compete against Russian President Vladimir Putin in March’s polls, Mr. Navalny has called for an election boycott.
“I assure you, a huge amount of people will not go to this election, would actively boycott this election,” he said. “Going to the polls right now is to vote for lies and corruption … We refuse to call the reappointment of Putin an election.”
This did not sit well with the Kremlin. Now there are reports that a criminal investigation has been opened against Mr. Navalny for his boycott comments.
To take things up another notch, the 41-year-old Moscow native also called for nationwide rallies in over 85 cities across the Russian Federation to protest what he calls an illegal election contest. This infuriated those in power in Russia.
If there is one thing the Russian leadership despises, and fears, it is civil unrest. The “color revolutions” of recent decades in Ukraine and elsewhere, along with the “Arab Spring,” have shown Moscow in real time what can happen when a political movement spirals beyond control.
The problem with oligarchs in power is that their whole way of life and business interests are intertwined with holding onto the seats of power. If they get swept aside, billions in business deals, contracts, and all the luxury the accompanies it, could be lost quickly as well.
Most likely, the theatrics coming out of the Russian side of the Syrian theater, the declarations that the Islamic State is defeated, and Russia is removing troops (although they also just announced a permanent presence in the Mediterranean and the air base at Khmeimim), are meant for the domestic population to hear just before the election.
The Russian people have seen their standards of living decline, and social services cut in favor of military spending over the last several years.
In short, the trappings exist right now for a good old-fashioned spate of civil disobedience.
The Kremlin knows this. They thought they had all the T’s crossed and the I’s dotted. Then along comes Mr. Navalny calling for massive demonstrations across Russia a mere few weeks before the nation goes to vote.
If Mr. Putin pushes back too hard against Mr. Navalny, he could be outed as too authoritarian and his carefully crafted PR campaign and image could be tarnished. If he goes to soft, and let’s Mr. Navalny keep going, Russia could be in for some serious political unrest.
We have a showdown at the Moscow corral.
My bet is on Mr. Putin. I think he will shut Mr. Navalny down by any means necessary. There is simply too much on the line for the government he has built over the last few decades.
Mr. Putin is also counting on the Russian people, who are in no mood for a revolution, as they have seen how that can work out. The Bolsheviks destroyed Russia for a hundred years, with no idea what to put in its place.
In any event, the next few weeks in the Russian Federation will be extremely interesting. Get the popcorn.
• L. Todd Wood is a former special operations helicopter pilot and Wall Street debt trader, and has contributed to Fox Business, The Moscow Times, National Review, the New York Post and many other publications. He can be reached through his website, LToddWood.com.