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Navalny Versus Putin

22/01/2015 11:38 GMT | Updated 23/03/2015 09:59 GMT

A few weeks ago Alexei Navalny walked out of court in Russia and straight into a protest against Putin, to many people's surprise. The surprise was not that he arrived at the protest and was subsequently rearrested but that he was released at all. As one of the most outspoken critics, and indeed one of the main opposition to Putin many commentators had already earmarked him to spend several decades in a gulag. Perhaps in an effort to appear to the West that Putin is capable of allowing opposition Alexei was spared the maximum punishment that could be handed down, but this was not the only reason.

By jailing his brother, Alexei was sent a reminder of the fate that could await him if he continues to be a thorn in Putin's side, and by thus allowing him some freedom with this hanging over his head, Putin may have felt he could temper Alexei 's opposition to him and allow him to head a neutered opposition. As we now know, he in fact redoubled his efforts. With a strong opposition figurehead, the ruble crumbling, Western sanctions and a rapid and ongoing decline in the price of oil of which the Russian economy so depends, it may seem at first glance Putin cannot remain in post for much longer.

Though he clearly faces increasing headwinds from the aforementioned issues, the way he is presented internally in Russia and externally is vastly different. In Western media, he is presented almost as a villain, or at least negatively. The annexation of Crimea was condemned externally, but elements in Russia perceive this as a return to a strong Russia flexing its muscles against an interfering West. Similarly, the record of increasing suppression of LGBT rights may be seen externally as morally wrong, but internally as strengthening and enforcing traditional values.

Added to this is that there is increasingly few independent media outlets in Russia, and by controlling the majority of media, the Duma can limit both what their citizens see and how they should perceive issues at home and abroad. Russians may know about the issues in Ukraine, but it is very hard to form a suitable opposition to this when the majority of citizens are fed an uncritical view of this, presenting Russia as the victors and constant anti Western and anti EU propaganda. With the media actively distracting citizens, and enforcing and entrenching support for Putin, finding enough informed citizens to support an effective opposition is unlikely.

Finally, Russia's economy may be suffering, but it will likely ride out the storm, at least for a few months. It has learnt from past currency crisis, and has very large reserves so can afford to keep the economy afloat until the oil prices stabilise. Very few issues other economic difficulties can bring people united out on the street. Just look at Greece and Spain. Though we have yet to see this in Russia, at least not at a large, organised scale like Spain's M-15 movement. The fear of job losses is not there, yet, and indeed the trust in Putin to see Russia seems to be.

Putin will find the remainder of his term, and his likely run for his next term more difficult than ever with increasing Western and economic pressure, but it will not deter him, and in fact standing up to the US and the EU may actually improve his chances of re-election. Far from being weak, Putin may actually gain strength from Russia's current woes and remain it's figurehead for many years more.