Many will remember the cries of pain coming from Alexei Navalny — Russia’s most prominent opposition member — the day he was poisoned with a nerve agent while traveling through Siberia. The video, taken by one of the passengers, was shared across the world, by most news agencies and simple citizens who wanted to find out more about the attempted murder of such a prominent political figure in one of the world’s most dubious democracies. Many will also remember the calls to protest coming from Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, which began right after his arrest once back from Germany, where he received life-saving treatment against his poisoning. Hundreds of thousands of people of all ages and from all over Russia took to the streets, facing jail time, physical opposition from governmental security forces, as instructed by the Kremlin, and every sort of social obstacle, reaching the possibility of students getting suspended from schools if participation in protests took place.
Seeing the images of popular strength and determination against the status quo of Vladimir Putin’s Russia was a sign of hope that had not been seen in the country for years. A sign of hope that was captured by Alexander Lukashenko’s Belarus and its people, after a heavily fraudulent election granted him with his sixth presidential term. Once again, a country that had been the victim of alterations of democracy was seen rising up against her autocratic government; an act of extreme courage as dissidents were met with torture and violent mass arrests. As the possibility of Lukashenko’s regime getting toppled by popular revolution grew even wider, the Kremlin was determined to prevent similar results as protests in favor of Navalny’s release from prison were spreading throughout the nation, quicker than anyone could ever expect. The solution to the issue of social pressure as a tool against autocracy, as envisioned by Vladimir Putin’s administration, was clear. In order for Russia’s President and his political party, United Russia, to maintain its position of power in spite of growing social and political opposition, the 2021 legislative election had to appear valid and any obstacle to such a target had to be essentially eliminated. The shameless way that the Russian judicial system managed to suffocate the true core of the country’s political opposition was impressive, as Alexei Navalny was sentenced to two and a half years of prison in a corrective labor colony for failing to report to the police regarding a 2014 conviction while he was hospitalized in Germany. He was not alone, as his own Anti-Corruption Foundation was dismantled and many of his colleagues were either imprisoned or forced into exile.
As Russia’s non-systemic opposition, made up of independent candidates and parties, has been crushed and limited from the country’s political scenario – either through means of intimidation, threats, or judicial measures – the remaining systemic opposition, made up of three seemingly irrelevant political parties, is what Putin’s Kremlin hoped would give a sense of balanced democratic representation and choice to the Russian people in view of the 2021 elections. While Putin’s United Russia did gain a 50 percent majority in the State Duma, the country’s lower house, which translates into a voting power of 324 seats out of 450, the legitimacy of the election can be said to have been permanently damaged as the country’s new online voting system — which was meant to boost turnouts — is said to have been rigged in a way that redistributed or increased the actual amount of votes that United Russia had gained in comparison to the opposition parties that were allowed to compete. As this theory is brought forward by most independent international and internal observers and validated by most political institutions such as the European Union, the country’s citizens are beginning to resent an anti-democratic system that seems to be making their representative power a joke. After all, how can United Russia have gained 50 percent of all State Duma’s seats despite most recent polls indicating a less than 30 percent approval rate? How did a party that seemed to be losing in most major cities, after in-person votes were counted, make major and game-changing gains once the online voting system started giving back its results?
As I’m considering these questions freely and asking you readers to do the same.Russia’s non-systemic opposition has no gateway from a system of political oppression that has built a wall of seemingly impenetrable power over the past twenty-one years.