On the Death of Alexei Navalny

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Alexei Navalny was an opponent of the Russian regime, and for his trouble, he was sent to prison – a gulag, as it was called under the Soviets – after being poisoned the previous year. The prison he was sent to was deep in the Russian Arctic, where someone who had already been weakened by poison might be expected to die, which he did, according to Russian reports, just before last weekend. The cause of death was not revealed, nor was his body turned over to his wife or mother for burial – a common practice even with ordinary criminals. There are perhaps two reasons why this is so. One is that Russian President Vladimir Putin did not want doctors to examine the body and find the cause of death. The other is that Putin has decided that he needs to intimidate and terrorize the population. The possibility remains, of course, that Navalny died of natural causes, but if that were the case, why act in this way?

The mystery runs this way. Russia scored a success in Ukraine. Putin’s interview with Tucker Carlson indicated that he is at least considering further conquest to the west and north of Ukraine. Making that threat publicly is a military liability. His primary enemy is the United States, and the issue of continued U.S. aid to Ukraine is in question. The explanation here is that he sees that the U.S. is at least divided on Ukraine and at most tired of the war. If this is so, then he might also have concluded that the more dangerous and ruthless Russia becomes, the greater the likelihood that the U.S. would choose to abandon the Ukraine project.

This week he has two poles to lean on. One is the fall of an important Ukrainian city. The other is that he is prepared to resort to Stalinism, blaming the U.S. for forcing him into this position and further undermining the U.S. position.

It is clear to me that his thoughts are on the United States, and that he wants to display his willingness to engage in ruthless action. It’s a low-risk move because failure simply preserves the status quo while destabilizing U.S. will. I am speculating, of course, but I think Putin has made his calculation.

George Friedman

George Friedman is an internationally recognized geopolitical forecaster and strategist on international affairs and the founder and chairman of Geopolitical Futures.

Dr. Friedman is also a New York Times bestselling author. His most recent book, THE STORM BEFORE THE CALM: America’s Discord, the Coming Crisis of the 2020s, and the Triumph Beyond, published February 25, 2020 describes how “the United States periodically reaches a point of crisis in which it appears to be at war with itself, yet after an extended period it reinvents itself, in a form both faithful to its founding and radically different from what it had been.” The decade 2020-2030 is such a period which will bring dramatic upheaval and reshaping of American government, foreign policy, economics, and culture.

His most popular book, The Next 100 Years, is kept alive by the prescience of its predictions. Other best-selling books include Flashpoints: The Emerging Crisis in Europe, The Next Decade, America’s Secret War, The Future of War and The Intelligence Edge. His books have been translated into more than 20 languages.

Dr. Friedman has briefed numerous military and government organizations in the United States and overseas and appears regularly as an expert on international affairs, foreign policy and intelligence in major media. For almost 20 years before resigning in May 2015, Dr. Friedman was CEO and then chairman of Stratfor, a company he founded in 1996. Friedman received his bachelor’s degree from the City College of the City University of New York and holds a doctorate in government from Cornell University.