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    “One thing surprises me”


    After the death of Alexei Navalny, the question in Russia is who can fill the gap in the opposition. In an interview, political scientist Andreas Umland talks about the chances of Navalny's wife and what surprises him about Putin's opponents.

    His wife has already announced that she will continue his work: “I will continue to fight for the freedom of our country,” said Yulia Navalnaya in a video message on the death of her husband Alexei Navalny. She accuses the Russian government of poisoning Navalny. The Russian people must now use every opportunity to fight against war, corruption and injustice.

    Whether this is possible without Navalny remains unclear. He was considered the country's most important opposition figure and could rely on broad support among the population. In addition, the Russian opposition is divided and Navalny is not the first opponent of the regime who has allegedly fallen victim to state repression.

    In an interview with t-online, Eastern Europe expert Andreas Umland considers someone “who is not connected to Navalny” to be suitable.

    t-online: Mr. Umland, Navalny's wife Julia has announced that she will continue her husband's work. Does she have a chance?

    Andreas Umland: That remains to be seen. A similar situation occurred in Belarus in 2020. The Belarusian government had the opposition politician Sergei Tichanovsky arrested. His wife Svetlana is now better known than him. Navalny's widow could therefore use his name and her own great fame. She could possibly become more and more popular and then follow her husband as well. But that is difficult to predict.

    (Source: imago stock&people/imago-images-bilder)

    To person

    Andreas Umland (*1967) is a German political scientist and journalist. He works from Kiev as a research fellow at the Stockholm Center for Eastern European Studies. Umland founded the book series “Soviet and Post-Soviet Politics and Society.”

    Is there a possible successor in Navalny's anti-corruption foundation?

    It will be difficult to fill this gap. Navalny was both intelligent, politically effective and popular among the Russian population – a very rare combination. He was also deeply rooted in civil society and had broad support across the country. There are relatively prominent personalities in the foundation who could continue the foundation. But none of them can really replace Navalny. Curiously, someone who is not connected to Navalny would be suitable as a successor.

    The opposition figure Boris Nadezhdin has a certain social and political weight. He is most suitable as the new opposition leader, but probably only if the regime comes under greater criticism.

    What distinguishes Nadezhdin from Navalny?

    Nadezhdin belongs to a different circle of opposition members. He was also at times part of the system's pseudo-opposition; he worked, for example, with Sergei Kiriyenko, who is now part of the regime. Nadezhdin would therefore first have to fight within the Navalny movement to be accepted by it.

    So is the Russian opposition divided?

    Yes, that is her underlying disease. Basically, since the late Soviet Union, the opposition has been fragmented into different circles that are often at odds with each other.

    So Nadezhdin would have a hard time?

    Nadezhdin is a smaller caliber than Navalny. But at least he is known and has received great support in collecting signatures for this pseudo-presidential election. However, many people do not even recognize him as an opposition member because he is too close to the regime.

    Why is there such a strong focus on individuals in the opposition in Russia?

    Yes, this is another underlying disease, not only in Russia, but also in many other post-Soviet countries such as Ukraine. There is a very strong fixation on individuals in these countries. During the decades of the Soviet Union, the government destroyed civil society, civil society and political society. Now it takes time for organizations to establish themselves that are not just flashes in the pan.

    I was probably a bit too optimistic in my assessment. I made this statement because Navalny's death was a political murder. Regardless of whether he was poisoned or simply died of weakness, I consider this a murder, and the most important political murder of the last 30 to 35 years in Russia. The opposition politician Boris Nemtsov, for example, had not been an important politician for a long time when he was murdered in 2015, but Navalny had. If a new, strong leader is found for the opposition, they could use Navalny as a martyr figure and thus put pressure on the Russian government.

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