Speevr logo

RUSSIA: Quick sanctions over protests and Navalny’s arrest unlikely

Table of Contents

Protests across Russia are likely to continue until the resolution of Alexey Navalny's case. This puts the Kremlin in a challenging position to limit Navalny's influence and constrain the protests' momentum without exacerbating public discontent and provoking a tougher international response. For now, there seems to be little appetite for immediate sanctions on Moscow in the EU, while the new US administration is taking a more comprehensive assessment of bilateral relations.

The scale of protests across Russia on 23 January reaffirmed Navalny's team's ability to mobilize large and diverse segments of the Russian population. While Navalny's arrest served as a trigger, the demonstrations on Saturday also reflected the long-brewing public frustration over corruption, deteriorating living standards, limited prospects for political change, and multiple other grievances. The anti-government protests are likely to continue at least until Navalny's case is resolved. The organizers are calling for another round of demonstrations next Sunday, 31 January, just days ahead of Navalny's trial scheduled for early February.

While the Kremlin is downplaying the scale of protests and dismissing the investigation into “Putin's Palace” as manipulation, it is nonetheless forced to react, representing a tough balancing act. On the one hand, President Vladimir Putin needs a tough response to limit Navalny's influence and constrain the protest momentum, which could evolve into much larger and more regular demonstrations as in neighboring Belarus. On the other hand, the Kremlin must be careful not to overplay its hand. An excessive crackdown on protestors or a long prison sentence to Navalny could exacerbate public discontent and provoke a tougher international response.

Despite the widespread international condemnation and calls from several Central and Eastern European countries for immediate sanctions, the EU foreign ministers' meeting on 25 January revealed a limited appetite for such measures in Western Europe. Instead, EU High Representative Josep Borrell will try the diplomatic route when meeting Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Moscow next week. Potential EU action against Moscow appears unlikely at least until the European Council meeting of 25-26 March, which will have a dedicated session on relations with Russia.

Meanwhile, the US has been focusing on talks with Russia on the new START treaty, which is set to be extended for five years. Although the new US President Joe Biden expressed his concern over Navalny's poisoning during his first call with Putin, Washington appears to be taking a more comprehensive assessment of bilateral issues prior to any action. Besides Navalny's alleged poisoning and arrest, this includes an intelligence review of the alleged Russian cyberespionage on US government agencies, the alleged meddling in the 2020 US presidential election, and reports of bounty offers by the Russian military for US soldiers' lives in Afghanistan. Going forward, the tightening of restrictions on foreign media (including social media platforms) operating in Russia – which are key for organizing and covering protests – might emerge as another point of contention. However, broad economic or financial sanctions appear unlikely for now. Instead, the most plausible response would be expanding the list of Russian government entities, officials, and elites subject to the existing US sanctions before considering any other measures.

Subscribe to receive more by Teneo

Most recent by

report

Sign in...

Speevr Logo

Share this page

RUSSIA: Quick sanctions over protests and Navalny’s arrest unlikely

Protests across Russia are likely to continue until the resolution of Alexey Navalny’s case. This puts the Kremlin in a challenging position to limit