The designation of extremism against Mr Navalny’s organization, which a Moscow court will investigate in a secret trial starting next week, would effectively drive Russia’s strongest opposition movement underground and could lead to years of imprisonment for pro-Navalny activists.
Meanwhile, Mr. Navalny is on a hunger strike in a Russian prison hospital and insists that he be seen by doctors of his choice. A lawyer who visited him, Vadim Kobzev, reported Tuesday that Mr. Navalny’s arms were punctured and injured after three nurses tried and failed to connect him to an IV drip six times.
“If you saw me now you would laugh,” a letter from Mr Navalny told his team posted on social media. “A skeleton swaying in its cell.”
The White House has warned the Russian government that it will be “held accountable” if Mr Navalny dies in prison. Western officials – and Mr Navalny’s supporters and allies – reject the idea of the opposition leader acting on behalf of another country.
But in the logic of the Kremlin, Mr Navalny is a threat to Russian statehood by fulfilling the commandment of the West by undermining Mr Putin. It is Mr Putin, said Mr Trenin, who keeps Russia stable by maintaining a balance between competing factions in Russia’s ruling elite.
“If Putin leaves, a fight breaks out between different groups and Russia withdraws into itself, has no time for the rest of the world and no longer stands in anyone’s way,” said Trenin. “The West is using Navalny, of course, and will use it to create problems for Putin and, in the longer term, to help Putin make history one way or another.”
How far Putin will go to defend himself against real or imagined hostility from the West is still open. In the state news media, the mood music is terrible. On Sunday’s flagship weekly newscast on the Rossiya 1 channel, presenter Dmitri Kiselyov a segment on Mr Putin’s showdown with Mr Biden by reminding viewers of Poseidon – a new weapon in the Russian nuclear arsenal that Mr Putin revealed three years ago.