Aleksei Navalny, the fiercest political opponent of Vladimir Putin, is in prison. He returned to Russia in January after recovering from a near-deadly poisoning in Siberia. After the police arrested him on charges that were widely seen as politically motivated, a wave of pro-Navalny protests swept the country.
For today’s newsletter, Anton Troianovski, The Times’s Moscow bureau chief, catches us up on what’s going on in Russia. Our exchange has been edited for length.
Claire: Let’s start with the basics. Who is Aleksei Navalny, and why were there protests in Russia recently?
Anton: Navalny is Putin’s most prominent and best organized domestic critic. When Navalny tried to run for president in 2018, the Kremlin didn’t let him. But he opened offices nationwide and campaigned for people to boycott the election. And it’s that kind of organizing that really matters. He and his team produce YouTube videos that get millions of views. He can mobilize people. The question, now that Navalny is in prison, is whether he can continue to do that.
What’s the basis of Navalny’s opposition?
He says that Putin is a thief, that his party is corrupt and that regular Russians are suffering every day because of that: bad roads, crumbling hospitals. For Navalny, it’s all about fighting corruption and about creating a more fair and free society.
What’s the current situation?
Navalny is in prison, and his lawyers are saying his health is in decline. This past year also saw the advent of a new phase: The arrests and repression surrounding the Navalny protests were the most severe that Russia has seen under Putin.
When Putin took power in 2000, Russia was essentially a democracy. Putin has been trying to stifle dissent more and more aggressively, but he is far from stamping it out. Young people, for instance, now tend to get their news from the internet, rather than from state TV. They are opposing Putin in extraordinary numbers — only 31 percent want to see him remain president, according to one recent poll.
This month the Russian government said it was slowing access to Twitter. Why does that matter?
Putin built his image and his power by controlling TV — that has always been his biggest weapon — but the internet remains essentially free in Russia. This is an experiment to see what Putin can do to squash those remaining freedoms that Russians have.
Tell us about elections in Russia.
Elections are not free and fair in Russia. For example, the ruling party gets almost infinite access to TV airwaves, and the opposition gets almost none. But they’re not 100 percent rigged, either. And that’s the loophole that the Navalny people — and other Putin opponents — are trying to use. There have been opposition candidates on the ballot, because this illusion of democracy matters to Putin. The whole concept that Putin presents is that he is the president because the majority of Russians want him to be.
Navalny’s team has promised to organize another nationwide protest once 500,000 people sign up for it; they haven’t given a date. After that, the next big moment could be around the parliamentary elections in September. That’s when Putin opponents of all stripes will really try to organize opposition to the Kremlin. The opposition is going to find ways to keep the pressure on, and the Kremlin will find means of fighting back even harder.
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ARTS AND IDEAS
A new way to end basketball games
Basketball is a fast, free-flowing sport — until the final moments of a game, when things slow to a crawl. In a recent N.B.A. game, the last 58 seconds of game time took almost 18 real-time minutes, James Herbert of CBS Sports writes, as the teams repeatedly fouled each other and called timeouts to stop the clock from running down.
“During the most important part of the game — what should be the most exciting part of the game — it’s just ugly basketball,” Nick Elam, a professor at Ball State University, told WBUR-FM in Boston.
Fed up with the end-of-game drudgery, Elam has devised a new way to end basketball games. His system calls for the clock to be turned off in the final minutes. A target score would be set — say, 10 points above the leading team’s score — and the first team to reach that number would win.
The system would make clock-stopping fouls pointless and guarantee that the game ends on a made shot.
The Elam Ending, as it’s now known, is catching on: An annual competition, the Basketball Tournament, adopted it a few years ago; there, it caught the attention of the N.B.A., which has used it in the past two All-Star Games — to rave reviews.
“I didn’t know what to expect,” LeBron James said after last year’s All-Star Game. “But throughout the whole fourth quarter and at the end of the game, everybody was like, ‘That was pretty damn fun.’” — Tom Wright-Piersanti
PLAY, WATCH, EAT
What to Cook
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