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Navalny the West's errand boy

While in this country soon everyone understands English in addition to their own mother tongue and, for example, in the USA, with the exception of the Hispanos, no one speaks a language other than their own, the “American English”, there is another language that is understood or even spoken by only a few people outside the country because of the Cyrillic letters: the Russian language. This has noticeable consequences, not least in the media. In the USA, for example, Stephen F. Cohen, a professor emeritus of Russian studies at New York University, is one of the few publicists who really knew and understood Russia. He also had his say in the well-known, left-liberal magazine “The Nation” from a European point of view. Unfortunately, he died on the very same day that the left-liberal Supreme Court judge Joan Ruth Bader Ginsburg died, on 18 September 2020. So the whole public interest has fallen on the political consequences of the Supreme Court judge’s death, because President Donald Trump was still able to determine the successor-with potentially far-reaching consequences. Stephen F. Cohen, on the other hand, remained largely overlooked and with him there was also a lot of interest in really understanding a distant and large country and its inhabitants: the “unknown” Russia. After all, the New York Times and the Washington Post devoted in-depth obituaries to him.

A new remarkable voice from the USA

Only a few American publicists know Russia and what is called “the Russian soul” really well, and only a few speak out. Mark Episkopos, who usually observes the military armaments of other countries, has now drawn attention to something in the renowned – politically classified as “conservative” – magazine “The National Interest” that has so far received little attention and consideration: the actions of Alexei Navalny, supported by the West primarily in the media but now also financially, could have an unexpected effect in Russia. The threat of Russia “from outside” could lead to a new wave of approval and sympathy for the Kremlin and Vladimir Putin.

Episkopos (19 January) writes: “Navalny’s arrest could serve as a further impetus for a new US sanctions package against Moscow at the start of Joe Biden’s presidency, a measure that enjoys steady bipartisan support in the Senate. It could also give a boost to ongoing American efforts to stop the construction of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline between Russia and Germany, which already seems to be more and more uncertain. Open Western threats in the Navalny affair, however, could have a paradoxical effect on Russian civil society: with every further demand from Brussels or Washington, (Russian) leniency towards Navalny is compared to the Western appeasement policy despised in Russia. The result would then be a kind of negative feedback that even hinders the emergence of a lively opposition culture. [ … ] Sanctions and other forms of punishment of Russia, which entail considerable costs for Russian prestige and even more for the Russian economy, seem to unite the Russian people in their reservations towards the West and even strengthen Putin’s determination not to capitulate under pressure. Traditionally, there is nothing in Russia that harms the legitimacy of a government more than when it shows weakness.”

A look back in history confirms Episkopos ' prediction

One remembers: when, 80 years ago, in 1941, Hitler had his troops invade Russia, Stalin was at the helm in Russia, a dictator who was not loved by all Russians. Nevertheless, the readiness of the Russian population to defend itself against the prospect of German foreign rule was infinitely large. And it was indeed the troops of the then Soviet Union who defeated Hitler’s troops militarily in Stalingrad and Kursk – also to the delight of the Allies, notabene. And how Western influence can have an impact, the Russians also experienced impressively in the time of the then US President Bill Clinton morally and financially supported President Yeltsin: as chaos, in which some became billionaires through the privatizations and the others did not even receive their pensions – still one of the main reasons why the majority of Russians still support Putin: after the disastrous years under Yeltsin, he ensured order and that the people at least received their salary or pension again.

The article by Mark Episkopos warning of unexpected consequences of Navalny’s support appeared on January 19, even before the demonstrations on Saturday, January 23. After that, on January 25, Episkopos doubled down and drew attention to another phenomenon: the current occasion of Navalny’s arrest upon his arrival from Germany at the airport simply brought all Putin opponents to the streets. However, the demonstrators were not at all a homogeneous society. Episkopos: “And then there are the protesters themselves. They were a random coalition of liberals, radical socialists, communists and various shades of nationalists, united less by political affiliation with Navalny than by their common opposition to the Kremlin. Outside Moscow, many of those who took part in Saturday’s demonstrations were regional activists protesting what they see as the Kremlin’s negligent handling of Russia’s Far Eastern periphery. Many others were teenagers and schoolchildren who were carried away by viral posts on social media. The demonstrations covered a broad section of the complex and amorphous Russian opposition culture. At least one thing is clear: the anti-Kremlin demonstrators were not a homogeneous ideological bloc, they have no common political demands. [ … ] Individual groups not only do not support pro-EU or pro - NATO approaches, many of them even believe that Putin’s policies were too accommodating towards the West-among them, for example, the Communists, who were prominently represented in the protests.”

“Certainly none to Western taste …”

Episkopos concludes: “Saturday’s protests confirm what has been clear since the protests in Bolotnaya Square in 2011, when national Bolsheviks, monarchists, communists, anarchists, LGBT activists, separatists from the Far East and a number of self-proclaimed liberals joined forces in a makeshift attempt to expel Putin from the Kremlin. There is no singular “opposition” that could be supported by Washington, no unified alternative ideology, certainly none that would be palatable to the West to replace the current Russian state and its institutions.”

Mark Episkopos is of course anything but a friend of Russia as an American journalist specialising in “security policy” and as a paid employee of the conservative magazine “The National Interest”. But at least he takes the trouble to take a closer look. Politically, simply relying on the person Navalny and supporting him “morally”, as most major media in the West currently do, or even cheering him up, he considers a very dangerous policy.