What’s Putin’s Game?

Russian activist and Moscow mayoral candidate Alexey Navalny was released from prison on Friday. Masha Lipman expects he will be jailed again in the near future:

His and his co-defendant’s conviction will most likely be confirmed by a higher court. Even if the eventual sentence is shorter than five years, it will still disqualify him as a political candidate. And if the reëxamination of the charges is scheduled for before the mayoral election, on September 8th, the Navalny campaign would have to be terminated midstream. Navalny’s fate is in the hands of Russia’s most powerful decision-makers. But although he remains securely on the hook, right now he’s free—and he’s going to use his freedom to the full.

Julia Ioffe suspects that Navalny was released so he can lose at the ballot box:

If Navalny runs against [current major Sergei] Sobyanin, he will surely lose—in the polls, he still has yet to break into the double digits, and Sobyanin enjoys all the perks of a relatively popular incumbent. Navalny losing is a way to neutralize him. The Kremlin can then say, “Look, buddy, you lost fair and square. You are not a real contender.” But given that the protest movement was basically Moscow’s rage at massive election fraud, the race has to at least appear to be maximally fair. Which is why Sobyanin is going out of his way to help Navalny, even helping Navalny clear the candidate registration hurdle. (This is normally the step where the state neutralizes opposition and keeps them off the ballot.)

Max Fisher’s bottom line:

Don’t bet against the Kremlin. As difficult as it is to know why this has happened, what Russian officials are planning and what will happen next, this is still a high-stakes political case in Putin’s Russia. The end result, however we get there, is unlikely to favor Navalny at Putin’s expense.