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The state rhetoric and information campaign depicting Navalny’s movement as a foreign-funded project appears to be working. Navalny in the coming year is unlikely to become popular enough to genuinely challenge Putin. Levada on 8 February published a study showing that Navalny’s disapproval ratings between 29 January and 2 February had increased from 50% in September to 55%, while his approval rating in the same period dropped from 20% to 19%. The difference in attitudes towards Navalny correlated with the respondents’ main source of information; his approval ratings were lower among those who reported getting news from television, which is mainly controlled by the state. 

Outlook

While 2021 is likely to be more turbulent, as Putin’s party seeks to retain its majority in the State Duma elections and pave the way for Putin to contest another presidential election in 2024, Putin’s hold on power for at least the next year will not be threatened.

Navalny’s visibility and the opposition movement’s reach more generally are slowly but undoubtedly expanding – not least because the share of the population relying on the internet rather than state-controlled media for news is growing, and corruption is a problem that most Russians want addressed. However, the government’s determination to suppress dissent and avert demonstrations capable of genuinely threatening its hold on power is also growing. With Navalny in jail for the foreseeable future and many of his associates detained or pressured into giving up their work, and with many Russians reluctant to risk arrest by participating in demonstrations, a large-scale protest movement that would significantly threaten the status quo remains unlikely.

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