Levada Writes an Epitaph for Navalny

Alexei NavalnyLevada’s latest poll (Russian-language link) regarding Alexei Navalny is bad news almost beyond words. It is a political epitaph.

The stunning bottom line:  only 9.7% of Russian citizens both know who Navalny is and would consider voting for members of his political party as candidates for the State Duma. An overwhelming 67% of Russians who know Navalny would not vote for his team.

But there is even worse news for Navalny:  That 9.7% number is even smaller than it was one month ago. Then, 10.3% of Russian citizens both knew who Navalny was and would consider voting for his party.  Navalny is getting weaker, not stronger, as his name recognition is growing. While 51% of Russians knew who Navalny was a month ago, 54% do now.

As for Navalny personally, just 16.2% of Russians both know who he is and have an opinion that is somehow positive about him.  10.8% of those who know him have an opinion that is somehow negative, while the overwhelming majority of Russians either have no idea who Navalny is or know and don’t care.  49% of those who know Navalny have no opinion about him.

Levada didn’t ask its respondents whether they would consider voting for Navalny personally, but that 9.7% who would vote for his party is almost the exact share of the Moscow electorate that Navalny collected when he ran for Mayor.  It appears there is a glass ceiling over Navalny’s head around ten percent.

Navalny faces a whole new round of prosecutions by the Kremlin, and Putin has just upped the ante by actually seizing Navalny’s financial assets, the same thing that happened to Mikhail Khodorkovsky. This move will make it that much more difficult for Navalny to pay his lawyers and defend himself, and makes it clear that the Kremlin has Navalny firmly in its cross hairs.  It’s equally clear that Navalny does not have the kind of political support in the population that might serve to protect him from the Kremlin’s attacks.

The End of Navalny

Alexei NavalnyAn absolutely brutal new poll from Levada, Russia’s most trusted pollster, reveals horrific failure on the part of Alexei Navalny.

Following the saga of Navalny’s conviction, release and rejection at the polls in Moscow, Levada reports (Russian-language link) that if a presidential election were held this weekend Vladimir Putin would have twenty-five percent more support (that is seven more points) than he had before Navalny launched his campaign.

Just. Ouch.

Levada also reports that Putin’s “Party of Crooks and Thieves” (as Navalny has called it), United Russia, would have twenty percent more support (that is, five more points) than before Navalny’s campaign.

But wait, it gets worse.

Navalny’s personal numbers, and those of his party “People’s Alliance,” show absolutely no traction whatsoever. He hasn’t even cracked the 1.5% barrier.

Mind you, Russia is now headed for a double-dip recession. It hasn’t seen quarterly GDP growth rise in more than a year and half, and it has never fully recovered from the disastrous economic collapse of 2009.  Yet even in this climate, Navalny’s opposition movement can make no headway at all.  In its bastion of strength, Moscow, Navalny couldn’t even motivate half of the residents to go to the polls or even as much as 10% of them to support his alternative vision for Russia.

And now, of course, Navalny is headed to prison for five years, and he has not identified any successor who will pick up his flag and carry on while he is in prison.  That may well be for the best, though, because given the extent of his failure the Russian opposition is likely much better off starting with a clean slate.

Shocking Western Misreporting of Moscow Mayoral Election Results

Yesterday, the votes were counted in the first Moscow mayoral election in a decade.

Incumbent Sergei Sobyanin was reelected with 51.37% of the vote (roughly 1.2 million votes).  The runner-up was Alexei Navalny, who finished a whopping 24.13 points behind Sobyanin (collecting roughly 630,000 votes), who in turn nearly doubled Navalny’s vote total.  It was an absolute blowout, and Echo of Moscow radio declared it the cleanest Russian election in history so the issue of cheating by Sobyanin was off the table.

The only bright spot for Navalny was that just days before the election the Levada polling agency had pegged his support at 18%.  He got roughly the same number of votes as Levada predicted, but his share of the total was much larger because, shockingly, Sobyanin did a disgraceful job of getting his voters to the polling place.  Levada had shown Sobyanin with a dominant 60% share of the vote, but apparently overconfident and lazy Sobyanin’s forces sat back and let a big chunk of their support sit out the election.  But Navalny still ended up more than 30,000 votes short of forcing Sobyanin into a runoff.

And this bright spot was more than overshadowed by the astounding fact that two-thirds of Moscow voters (there are roughly 7.25 million of them) did likewise, simply ignoring what Navalny had claimed was the most important election in Russian history.  The world got the clear message that Russians simply don’t care about reform or change even as Putin pushes the Russian economy into a double-dip recession.  It was one of the most depressing moments of recent Russian history.  Moreover, as we previously reported Levada’s polling revealed the astounding fact that far more Muscovites said the would never, ever vote for Navalny than said they might do so. His negatives were far higher than his support. The notion that, as Navalny had repeatedly claimed, Moscow stood behind him and would show it given a fair chance, was absolutely blown to smithereens.

The utterly depressing voter turnout was made worse by absolutely godawful reporting from much of the Western press.

The Financial Times called Sobyanin’s win “narrow” and Fox News called it “close.” Narrow? Close? The actual fact was that Sobyanin won in a massive landslide, collecting twice as many votes as his nearest rival.  Granted, Sobyanin was “close” to being forced into a second-round runoff with Navalny, but in such a runoff election he would have utterly crushed Navalny, not least because of the wake-up call about mobilizing his support.

The headline on the article from the New York Times was that Navalny “says he can force  runoff.”  The entire lead paragraph is devoted to libelous speculation that the result might have been rigged simply because Navalny, who never reached 20% in the pre-election polls, did not win.  Navalny’s only “evidence” of fraud was the his own campaign’s exit polls showed him getting 7 points more support than he was allocated and Sobyanin five points less.  The NYT falsely claims that Navalny “defied expectations” when in fact he did no such thing. Expectations were defied, and brutally disappointed, by the voters of Moscow who sat home in droves, clearly showing they could not care less who rules Moscow.  There is zero evidence that Navalny got significantly more people to vote for him than pre-election polls indicated would do so.

But the most disgraceful reporting of all came from the Guardian in a perfectly wretched piece of garbage from Alex Luhn.  We’re not surprised by this, since the Guardian is the publisher of Miriam Elder, one of the worst Russia correspondents in the history of journalism.  The Guardian claimed that Vladimir Putin, who wasn’t even a candidate in the race, had got his “nose bloodied” by Navalny. It touted Navalny’s statement that the results had been falsified while totally ignoring the fact that nearly every Russian source said that the poll was mostly clean, and likewise ignoring the fact that the Kremlin had actively assisted Navalny in getting on the ballot in the first place. It completely ignore the pathetic level of voter turnout, which meant that in the end a mere 7.5% of all Moscow voters had gone to the polls to support Navalny.  And it ignored the fact that everywhere across the country Putin’s party of power prevailed, except in Ekaterinburg where for a second time the elected mayor is an opposition figure, clearly showing that it is possible for the right opposition candidate to prevail. Interestingly, the opposition candidate in E-burg did not come close to getting a majority but will take office anyway, because there is no requirement of getting a majority in E-burg.  So the standard Navalny wants to impose in Moscow would block the opposition victory in E-burg.

The type of repulsive, nauseating journalistic cheerleading engaged in by the Guardian and other so-called journalists who actively rooted for Navalny, urging him on and ignoring Navalny’s egregious faults (as we previously reported, AFP’s Maria Antonova was a noteworthy exception, highlighting Navalny’s blatant racism), hardly sets the right standard for Russian journalists to emulate and does the opposition movement no favors.  Navalny is a very weak candidate and a very weak leader, who has clearly shown he can’t motivate large number of Russians to join him in his crusade against Putin.  Better reporting might have encouraged a better candidate to come forward.  The opposition has instead squandered its best chance to actually influence politics in Russian capital.

For the third time, Navalny has failed to alter the results of a Russian election as he promised. First Navalny promised he would force a second Duma vote, and it didn’t happen. Then he swore he’d force Putin into a second presidential vote, but that didn’t happen either. And now his promise of actually winning the Moscow mayoral ballot, or at least forcing the incumbent into a runoff, has exploded in his face as well.

Three strikes and you’re out, Mr. Navalny.

Looming Disaster for Alexei Navalny

The latest poll from Levada, Russia’s most trustworthy pollster, on the Moscow mayoral election came out on September 1 (Russian-language link). The results are devastatingly bad for Alexei Navalny.

Levada predicts that incumbent Mayor Sergei Sobyanin will win in a landslide. Levada’s data indicate that Sobyanin will finish with nearly 60% of the vote, three times more than Navalny will receive.  Not only won’t Navalny win, he won’t come close to even forcing Sobyanin into a runoff.

While Levada indicates that Navalny will collect 18% of the vote, it shows that this only amounts to 10% of all Moscow voters (Levada indicates that only about 60% of voters will go to the polls at most, and that only 20% of voters are paying close attention to the race), and Navalny’s negatives are much higher than his positives:  a whopping 23% of respondents say Navalny is the one candidate they definitely would not vote for.  Navalny’s negatives are roughly 50% higher than any other candidate in the race.

Navalny’s puny total of 18% is trailed closely by the Communist candidate, who is garnering 12% support.

But the worst news of all for Navalny is that the Moscow mayoral election may well be the fairest in all of Russian history, and it will be virtually impossible to attack it as being unfair.  The only gripe Navalny could have would be his somewhat restricted access to TV, but the Kremlin did allow him to participate in debates that were televised citywide and Navalny himself has touted his mastery of the Internet, to which the vast majority of Moscow voters have access.

Putin launched a brutal tirade against Navalny on state TV, clearly seeking to rub salt in Navalny’s wounds and jeer at him, as he did at Khodorkovsky. It’s doubtful Putin has the courage, however, to let Navalny answer him on the same program as basic fairness would dictate.

This election is shaping up to strike a fatal blow to Navalny.  It appears that he will be exposed as extremely weak even his his greatest bastion of strength, Moscow, and that his claim to any national power base is totally illusory. When he’s packed off to jail for many years after the election, it will be impossible for him to claim his imprisonment is politically motivated. “Why should the Kremlin need to jail someone who has no chance of winning power?” it will argue.

Navalny Steps on a Rake

rake-take_the-simpsons_951Writing in the Moscow Times, columnist Georgy Bovt observes:  “Navalny has transformed the Moscow mayoral race into more than just a referendum on the best ways to cope with the city’s numerous problems. It has become a vote of confidence in the Kremlin and Putin.” Indeed, Navalny’s campaign slogan is:  “Change Russia. Start with Moscow.

Bovt’s comment highlights that Navalny’s campaign is a serious mistake, and will backfire badly in three important ways.

First, as Georgy notes, he’ll lose badly in his so-called bastion of strength, giving the Kremlin the right to argue he wasn’t jailed for political reasons (why should it fear someone so weak?).

Second, by ignoring the plight of the Moscow voters, whose city is far from perfect, asking them to sacrifice their own interests in order to lash out at Putin, he only alienates them.

Finally, Navalny also harms his image in the West. His barbaric, racist statements about non-Slavs in Moscow go a long way to discrediting him as liberal seeking to reverse Putin’s policies.  He’ll also be discredited there, of course, when his low level of support in his base of operations is exposed by the election.

These are just the latest in a long line of critical miscalculations by Navalny. Yet with all his mistakes he’s still far more successful than any other opposition leader, which is a sad commentary on the state of the opposition. Soon, he’ll be in jail and largely forgotten.

The File on Mr. Navalny


We find ourselves in an odd position these days, as Alexei Navalny vies for the mayoralty of Moscow.  Like Yevgenia Chirikova and other opposition figures, we endorsed Navalny for mayor, but not because he’s a good candidate or qualified for the job and not because we actually want him to be mayor. He’s not a good candidate, and he’s not qualified and we don’t want him to govern.  Our endorsements come because he’s the lesser of many evils in the race, including but not limited to a Putin toady and an avowed Communist, and because it will drive Putin right out of his mind to see Navalny win (or even be competitive).

Don’t get us wrong, Navalny has many good points.  He’s recently come out against the some elements of Russia’s homosexual crackdown, a dangerous thing for him to do politically, and his reporting on Russian corruption has been second to none.  He’s risking his freedom and maybe life to openly challenge Putin; from Starovoitova to Estemirova, we’ve seen what happens to such critics, they get shot and killed.  And he’s created the most effective political brand we’ve yet seen in the Putin opposition, and put the most bodies on the street to show contempt.

But there are many signs that Navalny is just Putin Lite, that the bad outweighs the good, and we think because Putin’s opponents are so desperate for some kind of good news that they’re reluctant to tell the full story on Navalny we’re seeing important parts of the full story on Navalny being told by sources of information for which I usually have contempt, such as the Nation magazine and Kevin Rothrock.  Most importantly, Navalny is quite simply a failure. There is no evidence at all that he can actually achieve anything meaningful as the self-appointed leader of the opposition, and we believe he should step aside.

The critical question on Navalny, which far too few Russia analysts are asking, is a simple one: Is he the best Russia can do? If so, we agree that criticism of him should be muted if not withheld.  If not, it should be louder and stronger.  We’re about as cynical as a person can get on Russia , but we don’t think Navalny is the best Russia can do, and we think it insults the people of Russia more than they deserve to suggest otherwise. As we’ve said before, we think that Navalny himself is a big part of the reason many think he’s the best Russia can do, because he has done a lot to choke off the oxygen supply from his potential rivals.

An important and rare survey of criticism of Navalny in the Russian blogosphere by expert Russian translator Catherine Fitzpatrick was recently published on The Interpreter, and because of the dearth of such reporting elsewhere really amounts to a path-breaking effort to let the Western world in on the full Navalny picture, not just the propaganda.  In my view, Fitzpatrick’s article is the single most important piece of reporting on Navalny in English that has ever been published, and The Interpreter’s work to open a window for English speakers into the Russian blogosphere is simply indispensable.

In our view, though, Fitzpatrick could have gone even a little further.  So we’d like to undertake our own little survey to fill in the blanks.  We don’t think we do Navalny or the Russian opposition any favors by soft-pedaling Navalny’s vices or his failure to achieve his goals.  By doing so, we think we only encourage more of the same.  By telling the full truth about Navalny, we emphatically refute any claim that Fitzpatrick went too far, something that some of Navalny’s cult-like followers may claim.

Continue reading

The Other Side of Navalny

We are disappointed and surprised by the ludicrously one-sided nature of the Western mainstream news coverage of Alexei Navalny. He has many virtues, and he’s vastly preferable to Vladimir Putin, but he’s far from perfect and certainly very far from being the best Russia can hope for. Dishonest reporting about him does nobody any favors, least of all Navalny, who is prevented from being forced to confront his own weaknesses and reform.

For a more complete picture of Navalny, two recent pieces from Global Voices are required reading.  They highlight Navalny’s immaturity, his racism and the surprising lack of difference between Navalny and incumbent Moscow Mayor Sobyanin.  They also comment on the Chirikova blog post, cited below.

Here are three poorly-reported items from the Russian blogosphere (Russian-language links) as examples:

(1) О принятии заявления по поводу ситуации в г. Пугачеве

Navalny votes in favor of “legitimate protest against indigenous people” and complains about attempts to label this as “extremism.”  In other words, using euphemisms, Navalny votes in favor of racism.

(2) Про “чудесное освобождение” Навального

Opposition figure Vladimir Milov chastises Navalny for suggesting that street protests caused his recent release from prison. No thinking person can believe this was the case; the Kremlin clearly wanted Navalny to be free to run for mayor so it could defeat him.

(3) Ошибка кандидата

Opposition figure Yevgenia Chirikova, Russia’s leading environmentalist, chastises the Navalny campaign for having no environmental plank in its platform. (There is also no plank for women’s rights or minority race rights — but she doesn’t mention that). She complains that when she raised this issue she was mercilessly attacked by Navalny’s minions as a traitor to his movement.

In Russia, where Navalny is Concerned, Good News is Bad News

We have seen yet another appalling wave of misreporting from the West’s Russia journalists in reacting to the temporary release of Alexei Navalny from custody. Grossly misrepresenting the reason for the release, many of these idiots have claimed it was caused by the minor street protests that followed Navalny’s jailing (Navalny himself has tried to claim this in a shameless propaganda move seeking to bolster his flagging fortunes). Nothing could be further from the truth.  Indeed, the notion that street protests somehow “forced” the Kremlin to release Navalny is the single most ridiculous assertion we have heard about Russia in the past decade.

In fact, the Kremlin wants Alexei Navalny to run for Mayor of Moscow. It knows he has absolutely no chance of winning, and that when he loses it will score not one but two impressive victories. First, it will legitimize the office of Moscow Mayor, having proved the office was filled after a truly competitive election. It can hold this result up for propaganda purposes over and over whenever challenged about its democratic bona fides.  Second, it will delegitimize Navalny.  If he runs in Moscow, his bastion, and fails, he will be exposed as a charlatan and nobody will be able to claim that Moscow jailed him in a political move to silence a dangerous rival.

On Facebook, Navalny invited over 50,000 Russians to appear at Manezh Square to protest his conviction. Only about 3,000 showed up.  Navalny has now been sentenced to five long years in prison, a conviction that will permanently disqualify him from ever again seeking public office and that will have him behind bars during the next presidential election.

And that’s only the beginning. As with Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the Kremlin has plenty more where that came from, so that it it can keep Navalny in jail as long as it likes. Radio Free Europe explains:

Russian prosecutors have opened three other legal cases against Navalny that could be brought to trial. One involves allegations that an advertising company headed by Navalny defrauded the Union of Rightist Forces political party of some $3 million in 2007. The second charges that a postal services company owned by Navalny and his brother deceived the Yves Rocher cosmetics firm. And the third claims he conspired to illegally privatize the Urzhum distillery in Kirov Oblast.

If this is good news for Navalny and his forces, they’d better get down on their knees and pray for some bad news.

Back in Moscow, Navalny made another one of this infamous promises, this time that he’d win the mayorship.  Those who heard this promise can’t help but remember his other promises:  To force a new Duma vote, to force Vladimir Putin into a runoff and to put a million people on the streets of Moscow in protests.  Needless to say, none of these things happened. Meanwhile, Navalny has been endorsing disturbing racist/nationalist political platforms, collaborating with skinhead nutjobs like Edward Limonov and Sergei Udaltsov, and continuing to perpetuate his own personality cult.  He shows no signs of being able to motivate the mass public, no signs of being willing to share power, and no signs of being anything remotely like a real hope for a better future for Russia.

Many Western scribes are totally ignoring all these harshly negative facts about Navalny. Their “reports” read like Soviet propaganda tracts. It’s just disgusting that even after being humiliated by their grossly, hideously biased statements about Navalny’s protest movement in the past being proved totally wrong, Western journalists can’t be even a little more careful the second time around.  Their gushing, fawning, misleading pseudo-reporting on Navalny only helps Russia speed its way towards oblivion. They are no friends of Russia.  To the contrary, they are Russia’s worst enemies.

Levada Delivers Brutal Cold Facts to Navalny

A pair of recent polls by Levada, Russia’s most-respected polling company, pours icy cold water on the political fantasies involving Alexei Navalny.

The first poll addresses the Kremlin’s prosecution of Navalny in Kirov for alleged corruption.  The second poll deals with Navalny’s quixotic bid for Mayor of Moscow.  Both links are in Russian.

The news these polls deliver to Navalny is relentlessly, brutally bad.

The polls reveal that at most less than a third of Russians know who Navalny is.  The one bit of good news is that among those in that tiny group the overwhelming majority, 67%, believe the charges against him in Kirov are politically motivated.   But that means that less than 15% of the Russian population agrees with Navalny’s closing statement in court that he is being persecuted. The rest have no idea what he’s talking about.

Similarly, the polls show that a mere 5% of likely voters intend to cast their ballots for Navalny, roughly the same number as plan to vote for the Communist Party candidate Ivan Melnikov.  A strong majority of 53%, by contrast, plans to support the incumbent mayor Sergei Sobyanin.  Only 32% of respondents said they knew who candidate Navalny was, compared to 89% for Sobyanin.

The conclusion to be drawn from these polls is inescapable:  Navalny has no chance of being elected Mayor of Moscow and no chance of causing a national scandal if sent to prison for many years.  Most Russians simply don’t know who he is, and don’t care. The reason for that is simple:  Navalny has focused exclusively on the Internet, which most Russians can’t access.  He has failed to raise significant funds and failed to use them to reach out to the main part of Russia’s population.

Bloggers get it Wrong on Navalny

Two of our favorite Russia bloggers are Brian Whitmore (blogging at The Power Vertical) and Vladimir Kara-Murza (blogging at Spotlight on Russia).  So we were deeply disappointed to see both publish highly misleading reports on the activities of their fellow blogger Alexei Navalny.

Recently, both Whitmore and Kara-Murza wrote about the resignation of United Russia State Duma Deputy Vladimir Pekhtin, who was exposed by the blogsphere as owning vast property holdings in the U.S.A. even as he viciously attacked Americans and Russians who sympathize with American values.  Both Whitmore and Kara-Murza credited Navalny with bringing down Pekhtin, with Whitmore writing acidly that Navalny had “claimed a scalp.”

But the actual truth about Pekhtin was not to be found on either Power Vertical or Spotlight on Russia. It was found instead on the website of Andrei Tselikov (a blog called RuNet Echo operated by Global Voices).  Tselikov reveals that it was not Navalny at all who brought down Pekhtin, but an anonymous physicist blogging from Spain under the moniker “Dr. Z.”  As Tselikov reports:  “Curiously, while Navalny thanked Dr. Z for giving him a ‘heads up’ on Pekhtin, he never made it clear that around 80% of the materials he posted were first found and published by Dr. Z.”

“Curiously” is the type of language that the milquetoast bloggers at Global Voices use when they want to denounce outrageous misconduct like plagiarism, which is what Navalny is clearly guilty of.   His failure to give due credit to Dr. Z, attempting to steal the thunder for himself, obviously misled both Whitmore and Kara-Murza, who didn’t look deeply enough before lauding Navalny with credit he simply did not deserve.

Whitmore and Kara-Murza also missed another important component of the story.  Their one-sided reporting implies that the downfall of Pekhtin highlights Navalny’s ever-growing power and influence, but the reality is that it shows the exact opposite.  We are delighted to see Navalny return to his roots, bringing publicity to the work of others in rooting out instances of corruption in Russia, which is where his talents lie. But his doing so only further emphasizes the total and disastrous collapse of Navalny’s so-called “movement” seeking to bring political change in neo-Soviet Russia.  Every promise Navalny ever made about that movement was broken, and now it has completely given up its feeble attempt to run candidates for office.  Whitmore’s grossly misleading headline “Advantage Navalny” has it exactly backwards. Advantage:  Putin.

As we’ve said many times before, there is far too much breathless, fawning, rose-colored reporting about the Russian opposition by those who oppose Vladimir Putin.  What these reports routinely fail to remember is that in the end the opposition faces a fundamental obstacle nearly impossible to overcome:  They are comprised of Russians, and Russian vices inevitably bring them down.  We’ve said from the very beginning that Navalny is a dead-end for Russia, he simply has far too many classically Russian faults to be the country’s Gandhi or Martin Luther King.  He’s not even Che Guevara.  He’s just a pretender, whose exploits have sucked all the oxygen out of the opposition room and prevented a more viable alternative from emerging, something that can only delight Putin and help Russia further down the road to national collapse.