For the past 5 years I have been presenting materials on Democracy, teaching the foundations of just what a democracy is and does. An important part of my course has always been the truth that, "Democracies don't run on automatic. They require constant work." And that has been the learning of the United States.
In Russia, Alexei Navalny is working against tremendous odds to bring a more democratic governing system to the people. After being poisoned, he returned to Russia upon which he was immediately jailed.
In preparation for his return, he made a video for all Russians to view. Navalny's video included information of "Putin's Palace", evidence of the theft and corruption in Putin's government. The palace is a grand edifice, a testament to the rampant larceny throughout the Russian elite as Vladimir Putin takes his cut.
The Panama Papers were a peek into the inner dealings of the ultra wealthy around the world. As taxes are avoided and deals are done, vast sums of money are hidden, far away from the people. But the Palace on the Black Sea is not hidden. Putin needed to construct his palace, one so grand as to rival those in other parts of the world. It is his proclamation that his a a tsar, he is an emperor, he is a prince of Russia.
The level of corruption in Russia has meant that the people are sentenced to poverty or mediocrity. And if you have the moxie to 'get ahead", you will pay. You will pay at each and every step of your progress.
In Putin's Russia, the ruling elite continue to retain position and money, precisely because they paid their dues to the head of government. Leaving the promised reforms unaddressed. Navalny is using his life to fight for change, to fight for reform of the corrupt system. By putting his life on the line, he is seeking to destroy the corruption that robs the Russian people of their future. He has engaged the people to bring pressure upon Putin and the elite, but without question, the protests are significant, while only a first sign of pressure.
A most revealing moment of pressure this video has brought upon Putin was during an interview in which he defended himself against the charges, stating, "I haven’t watched the film, simply because I don’t have the free time to watch such information, but I scrolled through video compilations."
“...Nothing of what was indicated there as my property belongs either to me or to my relatives and never has belonged (to us). Never,” he said. (Reuters, 1/25/21)
Not his property? Sure, Vladimir. You technically keep it in an account that purposefully does not include your name, nor your family members name. Sure, Vlad. It all sounds very straight up as you make it clear to the Russian people that you have nothing to do with a structure and secure grounds to which you seem to own. When you retire to this property, are we to believe you are simply the groundskeeper?
Pressure forced Putin to address his palace, a topic he is loath to speak about in public. He feels the pressure to defend himself. Putin doesn't like to see the protests in Russia. And he doe not like that millions have viewed the video. He is not setting the agenda, his enemy has set the agenda, for the moment.
Navalny is effectively pressuring Putin, but Putin may apply his own form of pressure by harming someone Navalny cares for. This battle of wills has just begun. And while Putin certainly has the upper hand, it will be the people who will have a say in this fight for democratic representation. After thousands have been arrested, unless the people in the streets risk their safety, their lives in the pursuit of democratic justice, this will become yet another footnote in Russian power games.
It's a high-stakes game that has begun, one for which Navalny may pay with his life. Certainly he has already factored in the cost his is willing to pay for his country.
If you have not viewed Navalny's video, it is important to take the time. Alexei Navalny is fighting for democracy in any form for the future of Russia. The protests in over 109 cities throughout the many times zones attest to his power. But it is his power that Putin fears. Putin fears a color revolution. Putin fears a Russian spring.
Link to the video on YouTube: