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A man holds a poster of Alexei Navalny during a protest in St. Petersburg, Russia A man holds a poster in support of opposition leader Alexei Navalny that reads, “One for all and all for one,” during a protest against the Navalny’s arrest, St. Petersburg, Russia, Jan. 23, 2021 (AP photo by Dmitri Lovetsky).

Jailing Navalny May Be Putin’s Biggest Mistake

Friday, Feb. 5, 2021

During his 21 years in power, President Vladimir Putin has made a number of strategic missteps, but few will prove more consequential for him, his inner circle or indeed Russia itself than the jailing this week of anti-corruption crusader Alexei Navalny. As evidenced by wave after wave of protests across Russia since Navalny’s arrest upon his return to Moscow last month, the Kremlin’s harsh response has only provoked more Russians to take to the streets. It has also united the United States and its NATO allies after years of policy disarray on dealing with Moscow. Yet even now that minds in Washington and Brussels appear to be focused on imposing new costs on Russia, government officials and experts on both sides of the Atlantic are having trouble identifying pain points that will effectively put the squeeze on Putin’s autocracy.

There is little doubt that more sanctions are in the offing. But can they bring about a change in the Kremlin’s behavior? Navalny, and his team at the courageous Anti-Corruption Foundation in Moscow, last week proffered a new set of potential sanctions targets, naming 35 individuals who aid and abet Putin’s regime. Several sharp American observers and European analysts agree that, at a minimum, sanctions against Russia should be expanded, and most importantly applied to those implicated in Navalny’s poisoning last August with the chemical nerve agent Novichok. There is also debate about a so-called “nuclear option”—U.S. sanctions that would bar Western financial institutions from trading or holding Russia’s ruble-denominated government bonds. ...

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