19 January 2021
by Dmitry Bykov, writer, poet and journalist
Of course, I went to meet Navalny at Vnukovo, and the main feeling was not even shame.
When you look at the crowd awaiting Buzova’s arrival (three people knew about her return to Moscow, she wrote) and see how the police are bringing them placards with phrases like ‘Olya, we’re waiting for you!’ etc. – and at the same time, several hundred people are not being allowed into the airport, being kept outside in temperatures of -20, and all the journalists are tracking the about-turn of Navalny’s plane by flight radar – this isn’t fear, or even shame, or even a circus. It’s the terrible feeling that, with such a knack of creating insoluble problems for themselves, the leadership of the country can’t even cope with negligible challenges.
If they’re so afraid of one blogger and his wife, who, in addition they’ve made internationally famous with wrongful prosecutions and a failed poisoning – everything is very, very bad. The prospect is not only one of shame, but of hunger; not just of being jailed (they can no longer surprise anyone with this, and there’s nothing else they can do) but the total decay of the system. And this is the only real analogy with the situation a hundred years ago.
And secondly. They hate Navalny with rabid intensity, to the point of forgetting all decency, and now, when he willingly enters their jaws, they experience a most difficult mixture of emotions, although the emotions themselves are very straightforward. They hunger to destroy him, they have him in their hands, but they must not do it. Such a combination of accessibility and untouchability – your elbow is close to you, but you don’t bite it – works wonders. In this situation, you can expect just about anything from them, and that means that Navalny’s tactic, which he spoke about ten years ago in an interview with Sobesednik, is correct: if you create several points of tension for them, they will lose their minds. It’s happening right now. “Because there’s no greater torture on earth than wanting to take revenge but not being able to.” – Nikolai Gogol, The Terrible Revenge.
They no longer need to save face – they lost it irretrievably at the moment when they turned the plane away from Vnukovo airport to Sheremetyevo, which was, first and foremost, pointless. Now we can expect anything from them. That is, literally and absolutely everything, up to mass kidnapping or public beatings, all the Lykashenko-style dynamics we’ve seen. One photograph of Yulia and Lyosha’s parting did more than all the television propaganda. And this means not only the end of a 20-year stage of Russian history, but the end of a long, tortuous, humiliating, traumatic and horribly ugly one. Maybe we deserved no less, but that doesn’t make it any easier.
And there will be no advice given or appeals made. Because no actions can change this main trajectory. We have to get the main Russian opposition leader out of the jaws of this system anyway. But we have to rebuild the country over again in any case: they didn’t manage it. This will be the chief result of all their tricks.
Translated by Anna Bowles