Putin, and Biden, tested by mass detentions at anti-government rallies in Russia

LONDON – The tens of thousands of protesters that flooded the streets of Russia over the weekend not only put pressure on Vladimir Putin, but also installed another president: Joe Biden.

Biden’s new foreign policy team has to deal with a variety of domestic and foreign policy challenges – not least with the strong man in the Kremlin.

At first glance, it looks like the new team at the helm of the Foreign Ministry is setting its rhetorical foot in the direction of the demonstrations over the poisoning of opposition leader Alexei Navalny with nerve agent Novichok in August and his defiant return to Russia in August Month follow. Hours after the first arrests on Russian streets on Saturday, US officials said Washington condemned “tough tactics against protesters and journalists”.

Speaking to Putin for the first time as president on Tuesday, Biden raised concerns about the Kremlin’s treatment of Navalny. according to the White Houseas well as other problems.

“President Biden has made it clear that in response to actions by Russia that harm us or our allies, the United States will act decisively in defense of its national interests,” the White House said.

The Read aloud to the Kremlin Navalny was not mentioned in the leaders’ appeal.

Protesters march in support of the imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny in downtown Moscow on Saturday. The poster with the picture of the Kremlin critic says “Freedom to Navalny”.Kirill Kudryatsev / AFP – Getty Images

The Russian authorities arrested Navalny not only on his return from Germany, where he was evacuated for treatment after being poisoned. They also arrested more than 3,700 protesters and media representatives who took to the streets on Saturday during the biggest show of discontent the country has seen in years.

Navalny’s arrest prompted Biden’s National Security Advisor, Jake Sullivan, to do so demand his immediate release. Sullivan called the Kremlin attacks on Navalny “an affront to the Russian people who want their voices to be heard”.

“The swift reaction of the State Department was registered here as a sign that the Biden government will be actively involved in Russian politics,” said Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, on Monday.

The Kremlin is “preparing for it,” he said.

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On Saturday tens of thousands of people across Russia braved the freezing temperatures, the Covid-19 pandemic and multiple warnings from the authorities to support Navalny, who has long been the Kremlin’s loudest critic, and against corruption among the ruling elites, including Putin, protest yourself.

A few days earlier, Navalny’s team had released the report of an investigation that has now been viewed more than 91 million times and allegedly contained setback plans for Putin. Putin denied the claims on Monday.

When asked whether he was considering sanctions against those involved in the poisoning and arrest of Navalny, Biden told reporters Monday that Washington and Moscow can work together in areas of mutual self-interest, but that its government “can make Russia clear.” that we are very concerned about their behavior “- whether it is Navalny or other points of tension.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin shakes hands with Vice President Joe Biden at his meeting in Moscow in March 2011.Alexander Natruskin / Reuters file

Putin is preparing for Biden’s team to be more confident about Russia than its predecessors, including in terms of its support for Navalny, said Mark Galeotti, a professor at the London School of Slavic and Eastern European Studies at University College and a senior associate fellow at Royal United Services Institute, a London think tank.

The Kremlin’s efforts are “the reason we launched a particularly quick and frankly venomous propaganda campaign to present Navalny precisely as a bought and paid agent of the CIA,” Galeotti said. “They are trying to position themselves so they can say, ‘Aha, you see, we told you it is – the State Department is coming in to support its allies.'”

With Navalny incarcerated and jailed for years on an old criminal case revived against him, his supporters have vowed to take to the streets again this weekend to keep up pressure on the government to release him.

But Putin is used to pushing back, said Trenin.

“He never does what others want him to do under pressure – in which case he frees Navalny,” he said.

The Biden government will have to come up with more than statements of condemnation, Galeotti said, or “the Kremlin will rightly view this as a sign of impotence rather than concern.”

While the Biden government will likely impose new sanctions on Russia, they won’t be enough, he said.

“The lesson of the past six years is that sanctions, by and large, do not change a government that is ready to outlast it,” he said.

Russia has been sanctioned by the US on multiple occasions, including allegations that it interfered in the 2016 US election and annexation of Crimea, with limited success in curbing Moscow’s ambitions.

“I think there is political will in the Biden government, but I’m not sure there is much political imagination,” Galeotti said, adding that Biden needs to look for new ways to put pressure and surprise the Kremlin .

“The Kremlin is always the most unhappy when it couldn’t predict the outcome,” he said. “So it will be about trying new ways because the old ways don’t work.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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