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With Navalny’s arrest, Russia hands Biden his first test on human rights

In Russia, there has been a tepid openness to work with the new administration based on low expectations. Before congratulating the new president, Putin described U.S.-Russia relations as “already ruined” so he saw no difference in Biden’s victory after being asked why he refused to congratulate him.

His tone shifted somewhat at his annual press conference in December when he described Biden as an “experienced person” and said Russia will “wait and see” how they could work with his team, particularly on arms control.

Any willingness to consider cooperation could end up being short-lived if Biden mounts a serious stand over Navalny. Tatiana Stanovaya, CEO of Moscow-based analysis firm R.Politik, suggested that doing so would play into the fears of Putin and his circle of spies who would see this as tantamount to interference in Russian domestic affairs. To them, Navalny represents not only a political challenge but an enemy that needs to be crushed.

“Navalny also embodies a collective Western threat; an intention to destroy Russia that deserves a demonstrative response,” said Stanovaya.

Stanovaya highlighted that the special service leaders, known as the siloviki, maintain Putin’s trust and share his wariness of the West’s championing of the Russian oppositionist. Even if other members of his elite may question whether the current approach to the “non-systemic opposition” actually contributes to stability, they have little room to challenge it.

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