Activist Alexei Navalny, Russia’s main opposition leader, is known for exposing corruption in Russia and campaigning against the ruling United Russia Party. The spark that captured global attention was when Navalny found President Putin’s secret country house built with Russian citizens’ money. Pensions in Russia are reduced every year and the economy continues to suffer–the citizens were rightly furious.
Navalny was tailed for three years until he was poisoned in August 2020 with a lethal nerve agent planted in his underpants, according to CNN. His survival is proof of the lengths Putin and his party will go to keep their positions secure. Even with evidence found in the investigation and Navalny’s proof of conversations with Russian intelligence, the story remains denied by Russian officials.
Navalny was recovering in a secret location in Germany before returning to Russia in January 2021. Before clearing customs, Navalny was unlawfully detained by Russian officials. In a YouTube video, the opposition leader says he returned in order to display that is he not afraid of Putin and ready to fight for people’s rights as mass protests spread throughout the country.
In response to Navalny’s arrest and the continued poor conditions for many Russians, protests turned violent. The United States Department of State issued a statement saying, “The United States strongly condemns the use of harsh tactics against protesters and journalists this weekend in cities throughout Russia.” The U.S.’s hypocrisy is amusing as local police and the national guard used the same, if not worse, tactics during nationwide Black Lives Matter protests following George Floyd’s death in 2020. Protestors were detained, fined, and harassed in both countries. The U.S. government did not meet the demands of protestors, allowed an attack on the U.S Capitol perpetrated by former President Trump, and barely involves itself when needed, but is quick to jump into Russian affairs about the harsh suppression of protests.
Aside from protests, The New York Times reports Russia had alleged bounties on American soldiers in Afghanistan through a transaction with Taliban-linked militants. Additionally, Russia initiated cyberattacks on the IT group SolarWinds that compromised the U.S federal government. According to Reuters, the U.S. Commerce, Justice, and Treasury Department were hacked as part of the attack on SolarWinds, which includes many federal agencies. Microsoft Corp President Brad Smith says this is “the largest and most sophisticated attack the world has ever seen.”
The Hill confirms the Department of Homeland Security, Defense, and the Energy Department’s National Nuclear Security Administration were also affected by the attack. Then-President Trump simply tweeted about the situation, claiming “Russia, Russia, Russia is the priority chant when anything happens because Lamestream is, for mostly financial reasons, petrified of discussing the possibility that it may be China (it may!).” The SolarWinds hack is far more of a threat to national security than the Russia protests, so instead of through a tweet, the U.S should have addressed the situation more directly and seriously.
Following President Biden’s inauguration last month, one of his primary tasks was to formally speak with Russian President Vladimir Putin about the threats they pose to U.S. national security. According to Forbes, President Biden firmly assured the U.S. would act in defense of its national interests, which are increasingly necessary following Trump’s inaction. Despite the tensions, their conversation was posted on Twitter, showing the willingness to de-escalate tensions for transparent communication and possible cooperation. While this cooperation would be a smart diplomatic move, tensions between the U.S. and Russia are not new, and realistically will continue especially with President Biden’s plans to crack down on Russia’s threats.