With Navalny dead, his allies keep fighting to undermine Putin's grip on power

Navalny’s Legacy Fuels Allies’ Continued Struggle Against Putin’s Rule

In Tallinn, Estonia, the team behind Alexei Navalny, a significant adversary of Russian President Vladimir Putin, has always operated autonomously. Navalny’s frequent absences due to arrests, assaults, poisonings, or imprisonments were a part of their reality. However, Navalny’s unexpected death at 47 in a remote Arctic prison in February left his team facing a huge challenge. They needed to keep the opposition movement against Putin alive without their defiant and charismatic leader, especially as Putin’s reelection seemed almost certain.

After overcoming the initial shock, Navalny’s closest allies resumed their efforts to weaken Putin’s stronghold on power. A critical moment for them is an election happening on a Sunday, the last of three voting days. This election is largely seen as a mere formality rather than a true democratic process.

Navalny’s team, with the support of his widow, Yulia Navalnaya, is organizing a protest called “Noon Against Putin.” They are urging Russians to gather at polling stations at noon across the country’s 11 time zones to express their dissatisfaction with Putin’s governance and his war against Ukraine.

Yulia Navalnaya, in a video message, described the protest as a simple and safe act that cannot be banned. She emphasized that it would allow millions to see that they are not alone in their opposition to the war, corruption, and lawlessness.

Since Navalny’s death, his followers have experienced a range of emotions, from inspiration to defeat. Maria Obukhova from Moscow, who visited Navalny’s grave, found motivation in the large turnout at his funeral. She was surprised to see such a strong sign of resistance, which contradicted her feeling that Russia had lost its spirit.

Another visitor to Navalny’s grave, Valery, chose not to share his last name for safety reasons. He expressed a loss of hope for the future, feeling something had fundamentally broken within him following Navalny’s death. Despite this, Yulia Navalnaya showed determination to continue her husband’s mission. She has been active, speaking at the European Parliament, meeting with US President Joe Biden, and advocating for the West to not recognize the Russian election results and to impose further sanctions on Putin’s allies.

In the lead-up to the election, Navalny’s team encouraged supporters to vote for anyone but Putin or to spoil their ballots by selecting multiple candidates. They also initiated a phone campaign, making “tens of thousands” of calls to sway public opinion against Putin, as announced by Navalny’s top strategist, Leonid Volkov.

Volkov, in a video message, called for continued resistance, hoping to see Putin’s regime crumble. However, the opposition faces greater challenges with its leaders in exile, as the regime forces critics out of the country, limiting their influence on Russian politics.

The upcoming “Noon Against Putin” protest will test the opposition’s impact from abroad. Efforts to undermine the protest have been reported, including fake emails and instructions to report large gatherings to the police. The Moscow Prosecutor’s Office has warned that unauthorized rallies could lead to criminal charges.

The risks for Putin’s opponents are high, as demonstrated by an attack on Volkov in Lithuania. He was hospitalized after being assaulted with tear gas and a hammer, an act he attributes to “Putin’s henchmen” trying to intimidate the opposition.

With Navalny gone, his supporters, including those who visited his grave, are adjusting their expectations for the opposition’s future. While Yulia Navalnaya has taken up her husband’s cause, some, like Valery, doubt it will have the same impact as when Navalny was alive.