Navalny's criminal record and opportunistic racism means he cannot win - something obvious to everyone except the few liberals who continue to support him
This post first appeared on Russia Insider
News that the Russian ultra-liberal RPR-Parnas party is asking Khodorkovsky and Navalny to join and become its leaders in place of the slain Boris Nemtsov (see "Main Russian Liberal Party Changes Name, Courts Navalny & Khodorkovsky", Russia Insider, 8th July 2015) yet again exposes the perennially poor judgement of Russia’s liberal opposition.
Both Khodorkovsky and Navalny are convicted criminals and fraudsters from whom any sane political party should run a mile.
In Russia itself --- except among liberals --- Khodorkovsky is a toxic figure.
He is someone closely identified in the Russian public’s mind with the country’s economic and moral collapse in the 1990s.
Worse, he is someone convicted of tax fraud on an Herculean scale in proceedings upheld by the European Court of Human Rights.
He is also someone who has been convicted of massive fraud and embezzlement, who was notorious in his heyday for his ruthless treatment of minority shareholders in his companies, and who is now under investigation on a potential murder charge.
Since Khodorkovsky’s case has been discussed exhaustively in many places I will however say nothing more about him here.
Navalny is another matter. Since he has never achieved the prominence of Khodorkovsky many people, on the strength of his anti-corruption activity, continue to sympathise with him and take him at his word.
There is no justification for this
At a political level Navalny’s arrogance and poor judgement have lost him much of the sympathy he once had when he was known simply as an anti-corruption campaigner.
Navalny’s involvement with the ultra-nationalist far right has - for completely understandable reasons - lost him the support of many liberals. Boris Nemtsov, before he was killed, was strongly critical of Navalny because of it.
What is not often realised is that Navalny's flirtation with the ultra-nationalist far right has also proved a total failure on its own terms. It has not won for Navalny the support of more patriotically minded Russians, the great majority of whom are as put off by the thinly disguised racism of some of his comments as liberals are. If Navalny ever thought it would help him break out of the electoral ghetto Russia's liberals have fallen into then he has been proved wrong.
Navalny’s pose as a super-patriot and nationalist is anyway belied by his slavish admiration for the US, which had led him to take positions --- such as opposition to Crimea’s reunification with Russia --- which no genuine Russian nationalist or patriot would ever take.
Navalny’s “nationalism” is in fact so unconvincing that on the one occasion when he put himself forward for election --- in 2013 as Moscow’s mayor --- the voting figures show he gained no significant support from the nationalist or patriotically minded part of Moscow's electorate. In fact all his support came from the same liberal electorate (roughly 12-15% of Moscow’s total electorate) that always votes for the liberal candidate.
Indeed the fact Navalny got in the election only 9% of Moscow’s voters to come out and vote him --- less than the 12% of Moscow voters who voted for Yavlinsky in 2000 and for Prokhorov in 2012 --- shows how Navalny’s “nationalism” far from attracting nationalist voters is instead alienating liberal ones (for my detailed discussion of the 2013 Moscow mayoral election see here).
Beyond this is the simple fact that Navalny --- like Khodorkovsky --- is a twice convicted fraudster, though obviously not a fraudster on anything like Khodorkovsky’s scale.
Russian liberals of course deny this. They deny the validity of the charges brought against Navalny and the legitimacy of his convictions -- just as they deny the validity of the charges brought against Khodorkovsky and the legitimacy of Khodorkovsky's convictions.
The facts however tell a different story --- as I found out for myself when I undertook a detailed investigation of the first case brought against him --- which involved a fraud of a state owned timber company in a province where Navalny abused his position as an unpaid adviser of the local governor to steal from it.
I have not undertaken a comparable investigation of the second case brought against Navalny, which involved the Russian branch of the French company Yves Rocher. However someone who has, has come to the same conclusion -- that Navalny is unquestionably guilty of fraud against Yves Rocher.
I would add that anyone comparing the two cases cannot but fail to be struck by their remarkable similarity.
Both cases involve the parasitical abuse of a state company (the timber company in the first case, the Russian postal service in the second), the fraudulent manipulation of prices, the construction of a company vehicle to carry out the fraud in which Navalny himself is not directly involved, and the involvement of various other individuals acting as front men who were used by Navalny to conceal his own involvement.
Moreover in both cases Navalny --- a trained lawyer --- has hit on the same defence: that the company targeted for the fraud suffered no actual loss -- backed in both cases by “forensic reports” that purport to prove that but which in reality do no such thing.
Indeed the pattern of activity in the two cases is so similar that they effectively settle whatever lingering doubts there may have been about Navalny’s fraudulent intentions in the first case.
When I wrote my analysis of Navalny’s conviction in the timber case in August 2013 I predicted that it would not have the political impact that some expected. As I said at the time:
“Campaigns against miscarriages of justice only gain traction where there actually is a miscarriage of justice. Since there has been no miscarriage of justice in this case public interest in this case (never strong) over time will fade away.”
So it has proved. Navalny today is a much diminished figure from the one he was back in 2013 -- not to mention during the time of the Moscow protests in 2011 and 2012. Even the Western media seems to have lost interest in him.
The one group that seems determined to cling to him despite all the evidence is Russia’s radical liberal opposition. About them I wrote back in 2013:
"As for the radical liberal opposition to Putin, they now have another martyr to add to their list, which however is already full to the brim with various equally dubious and unlikely individuals who like Navalny are deeply unattractive to the great majority of Russians if only because of their criminal records.
"A radical change in political strategy is urgently needed as the complete failure of the radical opposition’s project shows. Dropping their blind support for characters like Khodorkovsky, Navalny, Pussy Riot and (when he comes up for trial) Udaltsov is an imperative political necessity. Getting a proper leader is now the priority and would be a good start."
These words required no great insight when they were written in 2013. They were as obvious then as they are obvious now. Obvious it seems to everyone in Russia except the radical liberal opposition, which is why - whatever name it now gives RPR-Parnas - it is destined to remain stuck with 3-5% support.
This post first appeared on Russia Insider
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