Somalilandsun: Russian president Vladimir Putin denies that Russia was behind the poisoning of opposition politician Alexei Navalny. The report, which recently singled out the Russian security service FSB as guilty, the president calls a “forgery”.
Vladimir Putin held his annual press conference in December, – a rare occasion when journalists and the general public are given the opportunity to hold the Russian president accountable. He then commented on the suspected assassination attempt on the opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who was poisoned by the nerve agent Novitjok on August 20 last year. During question time, Putin claimed that the Kremlin critic was cooperating with the US intelligence service and that the Russian security service FSB had therefore monitored Navalny, several news media outlets reported. It is commonplace for Russian leaders to claim that dissidents are cooperating with foreign, especially western governments in an attempt to divert attention and draw upon the negative sentiment towards the western world and especially the United States. However, the president denied that the FSB was involved in the assassination attempt – Navalny is not “important enough to be a target”, “If they had wanted to poison him, they would probably have quit their jobs,” Putin said.
FSB agents from secret unit
The statement comes only days after the publication of an investigation that points out the FSB as responsible for the assassination attempt. The case has been investigated by the digging journalist group known as Bellingcat in collaboration with the news outlets The Insider, CNN and Der Spiegel. According to the investigation, which was presented recently, extensive telephone and travel data show that the FSB has been monitoring Alexei Navalny for several years. In 2017, 2019 and 2020, FSB agents from a secret unit specialising in toxic substances will have travelled to the same destinations as Alexei Navalny on more than 30 occasions.
Rejects the outcome of the investigation
The report also claims that it is possible that the FSB has tried to poison Alexei Navalny on several previous occasions, including a month before the opposition leader suddenly fell ill on a plane on its way to Moscow. President Putin dismisses the outcome of the investigation, which he believes consists of information from the US intelligence service. It is not an investigation, it is a legitimation of allegations from the American intelligence service, the president said at the press conference.
The opposition leader Alexei Navalny is widely seen as one of the very few people in Russia that can pose a real threat to the power of Vladimir Putin. This has not been the first attempt on the life of Mr Navalny, the Russian regime is known to its harsh stance against the opposition. Those who are considered to stand a chance to challenge the regime are according to analysts either accused of crimes, disqualifying them from running for office or killed.
Will there be change in Russia?
The Russian regimes grip on power seems to be firm at the moment and Russia have a strong tradition of strong leaders making it difficult to challenge the power of the Putin regime. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union many researchers and analysts argued that Russia was on the path towards democracy. However, mistakes made by western creditors and other factors led to financial crisis and the Russian people once again turned towards strong leaders for help.
Russia is a country that lacks a democratic tradition which makes it difficult for pro-democracy parties to gain influence. The Russian traditions and culture also favor hardline, authoritarian leaders like Putin and there is little or no space in the public discourse for those who seeks to challenge his grip on power. In Russia, Putin controls not only all branches of government, but also the media, making it practically impossible to create a public platform or to gain positive coverage for ideas that doesn’t correspond with the narrative of Putin. The regimes control over media is today almost total with no major outlet actively distancing them self from the narrative of the Kremlin, a stark reminder of Soviet times when presenting a story at odds with the official narrative could have consequences, not only for the journalist and his or her outlet but also for their families.
The Russian constitution officially provides for freedom of speech and press; however, government application of law, bureaucratic regulation, and politically motivated criminal investigations have forced the press to exercise self-censorship constraining its coverage of certain controversial issues, resulting in infringements of these rights also making it difficult for the opposition to gain positive coverage.
Democracy is an idea that appeals to many in the younger generation but still the idea of the strong man lives in the minds of the Russian people. If change is to happen the risk is that one strong man will be replaced by another. So far the dreams of democracy and freedom seems distant but if we learned one thing from history, it is that change comes quickly and often unexpected.
By Henrik G.S. Arvidsson & Ruslana Arvidsson