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Russia Reform Monitor - No. 2134

Navalny in the crosshairs;
Russia's growing naval activities in Europe

Edited by Amanda Azinheira and Kaitlyn Johnson
May 23, 2017

April 22:

Despite official rhetoric to the contrary, the Kremlin has begun to view opposition leader Alexei Navalny as a serious threat, and is ramping up its smear campaign against him,
notes the Financial Times. A new video now circulating on YouTube, for example, depicts Navalny as a disciple of Hitler and associates him with the Nazis - a common propaganda tool employed by Soviet (and later Russian) authorities. While the Kremlin denies producing the film, many experts think the Russian government is culpable, and that the video reflects the official view that Navalny is an increasingly serious political challenger.

If the Kremlin was in fact involved in disseminating the video, however, its efforts may have backfired. A number of experts have noted that the YouTube message has not only failed to discredit Navalny, but in fact has garnered him more publicity and solidified his status as an opposition candidate.

April 24:

Russia is supporting Afghanistan's Taliban under the guise of fighting the Islamic State,
the Washington Post reports. According to Gen. John Nicholson, the official in charge of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Moscow is sending weapons to the radical Islamist movement in an effort to bolster its capabilities and allow it to reclaim territory from ISIS. However, Russian-provided weapons have been frequently used outside of affected territories - raising the specter that Moscow's supplies of small arms and equipment to the Taliban, which have increased substantially in the past 18 months, could have a broader destabilizing effect.

April 26:

Has Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev become a political liability for President Vladimir Putin? According to a new poll by independent pollster Levada Center, overall trust in the Prime Minister and his government is at an unprecedented low, with up to 45 percent of Russians thinking that he should step down. Medvedev has been the subject of ongoing bad press for many weeks, and has of late become a major target of opposition activist Alexei Navalny's anti-corruption campaign. His poor standing makes it increasingly likely that Medvedev will be ousted ahead of Russia's 2018 presidential elections, in which Putin is expected to seek a fourth term,
reports Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

[EDITORS' NOTE: Given the effect of Russia's increasingly authoritarian political climate on pollsters and respondents alike, the results of public opinion surveys in Russia should be viewed with some caution.]

April 27:

Moscow is cracking down on opposition groups ahead of national elections next year. The country's prosecutor-general has blacklisted three organizations tied to former oligarch (and current opposition activist) Mikhail Khodorkovsky. The targeted groups will be unable to conduct training or provide organizational or financial support to any candidate or monitoring service in the upcoming mayoral and presidential elections, which could decrease the likelihood of a successful opposition candidate run,
reports Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

April 28:

A Russian intelligence ship has collided with a freighter off the coast of Turkey, bringing attention to the growing activity of Russia's navy around Europe and the Black Sea region. The vessel in question had just returned from supporting Russian operations in Syria and had been spotted near NATO exercises in the Black Sea. Russia's naval capabilities have continued to grow and are essential to the country's activities in Syria. But Moscow is also using its growing maritime clout to keep NATO on edge, and the accident serves as a reminder "that the maritime domains around Europe are once again contested,"
notes the U.S. Naval Institute.

Related Categories: Russia; Russia and Eurasia Program; Ukraine

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