It’s not just Mr. Navalny. Another opposition network — Open Russia, founded by a former oil tycoon and now exiled Kremlin critic, Mikhail Khodorkovsky — recently announced its closure, hoping to protect its coordinators. That didn’t stop the arrest on May 31 of one of the group’s executives, Andrey Pivovarov, who now faces up to six years in prison. Fearing the same fate, another prominent opposition figure, Dmitry Gudkov, fled to Ukraine in early June.
Ahead of September’s legislative elections, the authorities have disbanded the opposition and docked the media, closing down the space for dissent. But a majority of Russians, consumed by the concerns of everyday life and long inured to Mr. Putin’s rule, don’t seem to care much. With them, Mr. Biden’s message about the inviolability of human rights and the sanctity of democracy — both of which are slipping away in Russia, to no general uproar — is likely to ring hollow.
Even among Russians who actively support democracy, the rule of law and human rights, Mr. Biden won’t find much support. Over the past decades, many Russian liberals have become disillusioned with the West, especially the United States. For some, America’s image started to crack with the bombing of Yugoslavia and the war in Iraq. For others, it was the revelations of WikiLeaks and Edward Snowden, which brought to light a host of America’s covert operations and dirty dealings, that soured feelings of admiration.
And for many, the presidency of Donald Trump — during which Washington abandoned international agreements, treated allies as clients, badly mismanaged the pandemic and, most important, exacerbated political polarization and social dysfunction — definitively stripped America of its authority. With this legacy, no American president would have a substantial audience in Russia.
Secure internally and with little to lose, Vladimir Putin is ready for President Biden. As for his image in the United States and the rest of the West, it’s fair to assume — after years as their arch-villain and evil mastermind — that Mr. Putin couldn’t care less.