After receiving treatment following an "alleged" poisoning attempt by the Kremlin, his return to his homeland has hardly proven to be unassuming. Alexei Navalny, the now world-renowned critic of the Kremlin, has led the vanguard against Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Having produced and released a substantial investigative docufilm on YouTube in mid-January, anti-Kremlin protests have significantly increased. The film alleges systemic corruption in the Russian State. Specifically, as a token of gratitude from the Russian Oligarchy, President Putin was presented with an incredibly lavish Mansion dubbed the "Black Sea" palace due to its proximity to the famous seaside. With over one hundred million views, anti-Government protests have been more widespread at the time of writing than many, and I dare say even Navalny himself, expected.
As the number of protests continues to rise, so too make the arrests. Navalny has not been immune. Following Tuesday's court appearance, Navalny has been sentenced for up to three years for alleged violation of his parole conditions.
While to the average viewer, this would come as no surprise, what is pertinent to consider here is the following. Firstly, before this sentence, Navalny's previous history in detention had been for only short periods or even suspended sentences. Moreover, this sentencing context is undoubtedly bound to be a risk that Putin believes will pay off.
With Naval imprisoned for the next few years, Putin will hope that by removing the head of this scattered, but resilient, opposition movement his United Russia Party will perform well in the upcoming legislative elections in autumn of this year. Significantly, he will be able to press firmly on the mute button when it comes to the ubiquitous and defiant voice of Alexei Navalny. More importantly, it dwindles the Navalny camp's momentum for the forthcoming presidential elections due to be held in three years. Of course, the internet question – still relatively free in Russia unlike alternatively censored states such as China – continuing to galvanise anti-Kremlin protesters to action remains to be seen.
The Putin Wager seems less unprecedented when one considers how the rest of Russia views the Kremlin; 64 per cent still approve. Indeed, this support spreads beyond merely the general populace. Many would remind us that where Putin's key support areas lie are with the Russian Military and Security forces, and of course the Russian Oligarchy. The latter of which ultimately need Putin as much as he would need them.
Moreover, Putin is unphased by potential sanctions of the international community. Reminiscent of Obama's red-line argument with Syria – where further hostilities on Syria's population went unpunished by the Obama government – Putin dismisses any belief that the US or NATO can prevent him from this current line of action. Russia's sovereign debt, energy markets in oil and gas exports may prove too risky to meddle in by external forces. In other words, so far, the outside world has been more bark than bite.
Putin's message is simple. You are either for me or you are against me. While this wager may be rewarded in the foreseeable future, one is inclined to question whether the Kremlin profits in the long-term. For now, Putin will enjoy his position, whereas Navalny bides his time, far removed from public view.