Home European News Vladimir Putin wipes competition out

Vladimir Putin wipes competition out

Vladimir Putin wipes competition out

This past week has been a busy one in Eastern Europe. In Russia, Alexei Navalny, the most famous opponent to Vladimir Putin’s regime, died in the Siberian penal colony he was detained in since last August, while a minor episode of election drama reached its conclusion: the half-opposition, half-system Boris Nadezhdin had been attempting to run for the presidency on an openly anti-war programme.

While the exact causes of Navalny’s death, announced by the Russian prison administration on 16 February, remain unclear at the time of writing, it is clear that the Kremlin regime hated Navalny and wanted to destroy him. In prison, Navalny faced a test of character. The Russian penitentiary system, known for its tendency to cruelty and torture prisoners even without additional encouragement, acted this time on orders from above and used all available means to make the oppositionist’s stay in prison a nightmare. It was clear from the beginning that the regime wanted to destroy Navalny, both physically and mentally.

The death of Alexei Navalny is not the first political assassination in Putin’s Russia, and at this stage it does not reveal any new truth about the regime. It is certainly not an event that should overshadow the everyday Ukrainian victims of Russian aggression. But it is a symbolic death. It reminds us of the fate of political prisoners, not only in Russia. Opposition politicians: Vladimir Kara-Murza and Ilya Yashin are serving draconian sentences there.

Meanwhile, Boris Nadezhdin’s effort went nowhere even after he collected a formidable 200,000 signatures. Russia’s election commission decided that some 10,000 of them did not meet the criteria.

And that was that, the excitement was over. With his candidacy blocked, Nadezhdin will not be running for president, notes Vertska. Once again, it was shown that undemocratic elections are not an effective tool for overthrowing a dictatorship, or even for damaging it.

For a few weeks, Nadezhdin had been the focus of much media attention. Hundreds of thousands of Russian women and men had supported his candidacy, queuing in freezing temperatures at his campaign headquarters to sign their names, as required by the electoral law.

In the second week of February, the media shifted its focus to the visit of US TV personality Tucker Carlson. This ardent Trump supporter and conspiracy theorist was once a journalist, but seems to have parted with the profession, since even Fox News no longer wants him.

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Carlson went to Moscow to interview Vladimir Putin, saying that Americans had not had the chance to get the Russian president’s point of view.

He failed to note that Putin has always been free to talk to the foreign press, including American. But Putin prefers not to deal with real journalists and had been waiting for someone like Carlson who would listen wide-eyed to his lecture on early-mediaeval Russian history.

I recorded my immediate impressions of the interview for Krytyka Polityczna. There was little that was surprising in it, but neither do I have any reassurance to offer. It is true that few Americans will watch or listen to this interview in its entirety. But millions will consume it in the form of short excerpts, selected by Trump’s spin doctors and taken out of context so as to confirm their theses.

The damage has been done and MAGA partisans will find fuel – if a low-octane variety – in this interview. That is, unless they take offence at the Russian president for his unexpectedly warm words towards Biden. For Putin stated outright that he would prefer the US presidential election to be won by the incumbent, who he believes is competent and predictable. Such are the Kremlin’s games.

Clearly, the US election is more exciting for the Russians than their own, where everything has long since been stitched up.

Ukraine war: optimism in short supply

More important matters have been afoot than Carlson’s adventure in the Kremlin.

On the eve of the second anniversary of the Russian invasion, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky dismissed his commander-in-chief, General Valery Zaluzhny. This time definitively: a first attempt to fire the general was aborted in late January.

That previous time, the general could not be persuaded to step down. Reportedly even the Western allies intervened, seeing no reason to remove him. The affair left an aftertaste of scandal in Ukraine and a general belief that Zelensky would get his way anyway. Presidential prerogative allows him to dismiss army commanders, and generals are defenceless in a clash with the president.

An agreement was reached in early February. General Oleksandr Syrskiy, hitherto commander of the ground forces, will replace Zaluzhny as commander of the Ukrainian Armed Forces.

From the moment Zelensky’s intentions towards Zaluzhny became clear, there has been much negative feeling in Ukraine. Like the army, Zaluzhny enjoyed great public popularity.

Meanwhile, Ukraine’s government has begun to lose support in opinion polls. This is a consequence of corruption scandals and some sloppy attempts to limit freedom of speech, which Olga Vorozbyt, editor of the magazine Ukrainian Weekly, wrote about for Krytyka Polityczna.

Setbacks at the front and the dimming prospect of an end to the war have also made President Zelensky and his team the object of public frustration. Zaluzhny’s departure is widely seen – especially among those who dislike Zelensky and his political party – as another political blunder that is harming Ukraine.

But I think it is worth taking a step back and asking what other levers Zelensky has to get Ukraine out of its deadlock.

Personnel changes in the high command are an opportunity to breathe fresh air into the general staff, and to make room for new approaches and strategies. Not least when the previous ones have not always worked.

Of course, it may also turn out that the change worsens the plight of the embattled country. General Syrskiy, who led the defence of Kyiv and the counter-offensive on Kharkiv in 2022, also has a reputation in the military for not reckoning with human losses, which might indirectly account for his effectiveness.

And yet Syrskiy has been part of an essentially defensive war since the beginning of full-scale Russian aggression. So far, the change at top has not turned out to be as big an earthquake as expected, I wrote in Newsweek Polska, and certainly does not imply any betrayal of Ukraine’s interests. These remain unchanged. They are victory over Russia and a lasting peace.

In partnership with Display Europe, cofunded by the European Union. Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or the Directorate‑General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology. Neither the European Union nor the granting authority can be held responsible for them.


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