People want me to comment on Navalny.
I have avoided doing so because I just don’t know. There are plenty of other people who don’t know either but are writing about it anyway so why would I waste my time and your time on this.
I don’t know what the poison was. It probably was a poison, at least one of the Omsk doctors’ versions that it was caused by a sudden fall in blood sugar levels due to fasting seems quite ridiculous. There are date rape drugs that make people act in uninhibited ways, as if heavily drunk. A couple of weeks ago, I speculated that perhaps one of Prigozhin’s goons – perhaps the same ones who had splashed Navalny with zelyonka back in 2017 – slipped some sodium oxybate or custom derivative into his tea. Being low tier goons, they overestimated the dosage and what they hoped would be a discrediting video of airplane debauchery turned into a life-threatening emergency. But perhaps novichok, sure, why not. Russia produces novichok. But it’s hardly some super-secret chemical weapon, the formulae are well-known, nothing stopping other countries and actors from producing it. I am not any kind of biochemist so I am not in a position to assess the claims of that German clinic. Though I would imagine that maintaining a conspiracy of silence amongst dozens of medical staff in what is, all things said and done, an “open society”, would be very far from trivial to put it mildly.
I don’t know who poisoned Navalny. Maybe it was Putler, to eliminate or incapacitate the “leader of the opposition” (as he is presented, not entirely accurately but neither entirely inaccurately, in the Western media). Maybe it was rogue elements within the intelligence services. (Not sure any of them would willingly stick their necks out like that, though). Or maybe it was a faction within the Kremlin that happened to want to settle its own scores with Navalny. There are persistent rumors and some circumstantial evidence that Navalny is the sieve through which the siloviks keep liberal technocrats in line by spilling kompromat on them in the form of Navalny’s ceaseless “corruption investigations” (which have
never rarely touched on Igor Sechin, long considered the #2 after Putin in Russia’s power structures). That’s not the world’s safest occupation, even if Putin is your secret BFF.
I also don’t know what will come out of it in the long run. On the one hand, a non-lethal poisoning that official Russia will deny had anything to do with it is not quite the same as a successful assassination. On the other hand, Navalny could well become the next big “Victim of the Regime”, replacing Magnitsky in that capacity. This is especially likely if Biden wins the US Presidency this November. Perhaps Germany could use this as a convenient pretext to finally shut down Nord Stream, after Russia has already invested $10 billion into it. Or perhaps it will be used in an attempt to cockblock Russia from annexing Belarus – much like, perhaps, grander plans for Novorossiya in 2014 may have been torpedoed by that unfortunate incident with the Malaysian airliner (there are rich conspiracy theories over what exactly Burkhalter communicated to Putin a day before he withdrew his authorization for the use of military force in Ukraine). Though the two goals would seem to rather go against each other – if Nord Stream is shut down, which would represent not just a significant financial loss but also a major political humiliation, then securing Belarus would become all the more important.
I just don’t know and neither do any of the high profile hacks writing about this and probably even many of the key players are not that clued in either.
However, the one concrete observation I would make, and one which I will admit is not even original to myself but which I first saw from Egor Prosvirnin, but which I have not yet seen made in the Anglosphere, is that this episode marks an end to Navalny’s political career. And not because he might still die, nor because he might become physically or mentally incapacitated, nor even because the kremlins, Ramzan Kadyrov, the CIA, the Jews, or the reptiloids (cross out as per your particular obsession) will have successfully intimidated him from further participation in political life. No, I am reasonably sure he will continue his corruption investigations, and I would even put better than 50/50 odds on him making a return to politicking in Russia.
Navalny’s big problem is that his entire image is built on him being a “man of the people” revealing how Russia’s oligarchs and regime insiders preach solidarity and “spiritual values” (духовные скрепы) within while maintaining Italian villas and holidaying in Courchevel and getting treated at elite European clinics without. This is the last remaining thing about Navalny that could potentially make him appealing to the popular masses in the event that Putin and his system somehow becomes massively discredited and delegitimized. His current “base” within Russia consist of radical SJWs who hate their own country and its cultural and religious traditions, and who are far more radical than Navalny himself on these questions (this is not an exaggeration – read the highly agitated Twitter replies to him wishing his flock a Happy Easter, or expressing condolences on the death of Russian nationalist Konstantin Krylov). He’ll get their support, but that’s ~2% of the population. Although Navalny used to express ethnonationalist rhetoric, infamously comparing Gastarbeiters to cockroaches in one video, that was more than a decade ago – only kremlinoid hacks still push the tired old propaganda that he is some kind of nationalist or even Nazi when all of his closest confidants have long become internationalist, multi-national neolibs. Certainly almost no Russian nationalists have considered him as one of their own since 2014, when he supported the Ukraine over Russia on Crimea (not that Ukrainians themselves appreciated the gesture, many of whose own nationalists bizarrely consider him a Russian imperialist little better than Putler and expressed approval of his poisoning in one of the many weird horseshoes you see in identity politics).
So again, I repeat, Navalny has no hardcore support amongst any major ideological Russian groups apart from very online schoolchildren, university students, and Western NGO employees. But what he does still have is his image as the consummate populist, living in an “ordinary” Moscow apartment, suffering the “hardships” of the common folk (if not with his daughter, whom he sent off to an American Ivy school) while pointing out the Russian elite’s manifold and undeniable hypocrisies and rootlessness. This might not be very relevant while the “Putin system” remains strong, but it could suddenly become very relevant in the event of its complete or even partial discreditation, as happened with Yanukovych in 2013-14 and with Lukashenko in 2020.
But here’s the problem. No ordinary Russian is ever going to be airlifted out of a run down hospital in a Siberian rustbelt city into one of Germany’s top clinics, paid for by a tycoon telecoms family (the Zimins) and at the personal invitation of Chancellor Merkel herself. And not just any ordinary Russian – not even any Russian high official. The closest example from amongst the Russian “elites” that would come to mind is… the DNR supporter and washed out Soviet-era crooner Kobzon. Hilariously, Navalny has de facto ended up far more “apatride” than any of the big targets of his political invective in the past decade.
Though TBH, this almost makes me sad for Navalny… he was in a comma, so the decision was hardly his own choice, but presumably belonged to his wife, Yulia Navalnaya. His situation at the Omsk hospital had stabilized, it was clear he was not going to die by the time he was medically evacuated. For better quality of care without too much damage in the way of optics, Navalny could have at least been evacuated to a private Moscow clinic, there are several of them that are at the level of Charité, the German clinic where he was subsequently treated and diagnosed with Novichok poisoning. But Berlin it had to be. In fulfilling her spousal duty of care to her husband, Navalny’s wife inadvertently – in all likelihood – torpedoed his future chances of becoming a second Yeltsin.
Incidentally, this is also the most succinct explanation for why the kremlins had no objections to sending Navalny to Germany.