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Who is bidding farewell to Alexei Navalny

Authors: Elena Koneva, Alexander Chilingaryan


People who came to say final farewell to Alexei Navalny. Source BBC Russian Service
People who came to say final farewell to Alexei Navalny. Source BBC Russian Service

"Politician number two"

Alexei Navalny's political activities over more than 10 years, which were unique for Russia - his anti-corruption investigations, his run for Moscow mayor in 2013, his participation in the 2017-2018 Russian presidential elections, establishing a nationwide network of Anti-Corruption Foundation HQs, vast coverage of investigation videos, organizing protests involving thousands of people, and the cascading criminal cases against him - all have made him the best-known politician in Russia and the face of the Russian opposition in the world. Navalny has been dubbed "politician number two," number one being the permanently seated Putin.

In another life, at COMCON, we conducted electoral monitoring during the 2013 Moscow mayoral elections and had the opportunity to witness Navalny's incredible potential as a national-level politician. Back then, even as a defendant, Navalny and his team ran a wildly successful campaign. In less than three months of campaigning, without access to the media, they managed to develop their ratings from the initial 4 percent to 27 percent. The Kremlin, despite its assurances about election integrity, was forced to use administrative leverage in favor of its candidate.

To be fair, it must be said that it was indeed "the most honest election campaign" in the history of modern Russia. The prefix "most" gives it all away, but the experimenters reached their conclusions. Navalny was projected to have the support of 2% of marginals, and the shock of his 27% led to the fact that after these elections, independent candidates, even for municipal deputies, started getting stopped at the very doorstep.

The undefeated "enemy number one" in the Kremlin's information war

A leading figure for the Russia of the future, Navalny spoke the language of the youth and activated progressive "adults.” 

In 2017-2018, Navalny organized large-scale protests against corruption and lack of change in government across Russia. His popularity grew from 7% in 2011 to 56% in 2017. 

Having now recognized the threat, the Kremlin began a special sociological operation. At that time, state pollsters conducted a lot of research so that the Kremlin could understand the extent of this threat posed by the opposition leader. The threat was great, so the authorities turned on the enforcement machine and state propaganda against Navalny. 

Today, the polls show us the results of the government's fight against Alexei Navalny's popularity.

This is what Navalny's perception by the Russian population looks like, according to the OMI (Open Mind Institute) survey conducted on 17 February.

Portrait of Navalny by adult Russian residents, OMI survey, 17 February 2024
Portrait of Navalny by adult Russian residents, OMI survey, 17 February 2024

In the OMI survey, "puppet of the West" is the main negative description – a manifestation of a recognizable, conveniently unverifiable state propaganda narrative.

In a Levada Center survey, respondents disapproving of Navalny's activities ranked his sell-out to the West first (22%): "paid off by the West / expressed Western interests / foreign agent / traitor / puppet.”

Чем вам не нравится Алексей Навальный? Опрос Левада-центр.

Comparing the lists of answers to open-ended questions (without prompting), we see a crucial difference: positive characteristics are formulated in simple, "personal" language, while negative ones are mainly in the language of propaganda.

Чем вам нравится Алексей Навальный? Опрос Левада-центр.

Navalny's electoral rating

For years, the authorities had been trying to discredit Navalny, and in January 2021, they finally isolated him from the world and did everything they could to make him forgotten. The Kremlin itself believed it, but Alexei Navalny remained the most famous, and by a wide margin, politician in Russia.

Politicians’ recognizability. ExtremeScan, 19-22 February 2024
Politicians’ recognizability. ExtremeScan, 19-22 February 2024

On 19-22 February 2024, we asked respondents whether they would have voted for Alexei Navalny if he had been on the candidate list.

Of the 85% of respondents who know him, 12% would be willing to vote for him. In the under-30 age group, this figure would be 22%. Among those whose financial situation has worsened – 17%. 19% would be willing to vote for him in the Northwestern Federal District: Saint Petersburg has always shown increased opposition figures.

The 12% starting rating for the deceased politician, officially declared a criminal, terrorist, and extremist in his country, is a much stronger position compared to other ratings Navalny had gained in his electoral life.

Given the correlation between the willingness to vote for "politician number two" and negative attitudes toward war, such a start would foretell "not a victory in the election, but a victory over the election," as Putin-era election expert Gleb Pavlovsky once said of Navalny in 2017.

Navalny's death has become one of the most widely known events in Russia and worldwide

Event awareness. ExtremeScan, 19-22 February 2024
Event awareness. ExtremeScan, 19-22 February 2024

Within 2-4 days, his death became known to 73% of Russian residents, and it was considered important by 22% of those who knew about it – or 16% of all Russian residents. Among those under 30, the share is higher, amounting to 34%. Among opponents of the war, this share is 65%.

Event importance assessment. ExtremeScan, 19-22 February 2024
Event importance assessment. ExtremeScan, 19-22 February 2024

Is this a lot or a little? It is difficult to give an unambiguous answer. We do not have in our sample those who have left Russia in the last two years or those who do not answer calls from unfamiliar numbers. Tens of thousands came to bid him farewell in Moscow or went to spontaneous ceremonies in Russian cities, despite the risks, including those fueled up by propaganda. Memorials to his memory emerged in numerous countries - the Russian citizens who had left Russia were bidding farewell to Alexei and expressing solidarity with their grieving compatriots.

But be that as it may, we need to see the situation for what it is: not all of Russia is saying goodbye to Alexei Navalny.

"The final battle between the good and neutrality"

People's feelings when they learned of Navalny's death. ExtremeScan, 19-22 February 2024
People's feelings when they learned of Navalny's death. ExtremeScan, 19-22 February 2024

Very few Russian residents experienced "positive" feelings:

5% mentioned "satisfaction" in our survey, 8% mentioned "joy" in the OMI survey, and 5% expressed satisfaction and relief in the Levada Center survey (all figures are from those who had heard about Alexei's death). 

The most mainstream reaction group to the death was the "indifference party."

48% of those who knew about the death, the very ones who often describe themselves as "not interested in politics", confirmed their indifference. 

18% were unable to name any feelings.

OMI reports, using their data, that "a significant proportion of respondents did not express any negative emotions about Navalny's death."

The Levada Center claims that 69% of all respondents, or 55% of those who heard about the event, did not experience "any particular feelings."

Respondents in the OMI survey do not expect any rapid changes in Russia as a result of Navalny's death. Only 10% expect any political instability in Russia, 8% expect the opposition to be defeated, and 10% expect the opposition to unite (across the whole sample).

Navalny spoke about the final battle between good and neutrality.

Can we now say that this battle has ended in defeat?

If we speak about the indifferent majority dominating society, then yes.

But this is hardly news. For a long time now, the largest segment in Russia has not been the party of evil but the army of silence and non-participation. Alexei Navalny was trying to reach them when he argued that it was indifference, not evil, that opposed good.

It is worth noting that over the two years that we have been researching attitudes toward war, we have been looking for ways to define more precisely what it means to support and not support the war, how many people are in different polarized population groups, and who exactly makes up those groups. We are continuously calibrating our understanding of these segments, but research cannot provide all the answers.

The farewell ceremony for Alexei Navalny is now underway, people stand in a long waiting line at the church, thousands upon thousands are going to Borisovskoye cemetery, and all over Russia and in many foreign countries people are setting up farewell memorials made of flowers and candles.

Just recently, we saw the spontaneous queues to submit signatures in support of Boris Nadezhdin, the only anti-war presidential candidate, that so frightened the Kremlin's electoral strategists.

In July 2012, when Krymsk, a small town in the Krasnodar Krai, was flooded, we researched civic volunteers, and it turned out that many of them were protest rally participants.

All of these people make up highly overlapping sets.

In Navalny's grieving "electorate," we recognize the same people who openly say: "I don't support the special operation" in our polls, who stood in the lines to support Nadezhdin. This is a civically responsible "minority of dissent," but extrapolation to the population of Russia yields millions of people.

Mourning over Alexei's death is a sign of the part of society that constitutes the "other Russia.”


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