Shocking. Absolutely shocking.
For years, Aleksei Navalny chronicled alleged corruption and exposed potential misdeeds by Russian President Vladimir Putin and some of his closest allies.
And for years, amid frequent stints in jail on ridiculous, trumped up charges, the Kremlin foe has — for the most part — been pointedly ignored.
So when a program on Russia state-run television not only broadcast Navalny’s name but also aired some of his criticisms of Putin’s government, a few heads swivelled, Radio Free Liberty reported.
60 Minutes is a popular talk show with a panel of guests slugging it out — within tightly controlled limits — on the issues of the day as Kremlin-loyal hosts Yevgeny Popov and Olga Skabeyeva oversee the spectacle.
Airing on the state-run Rossia-1 network, the June 25 edition dedicated time to discussing the delayed Victory Day parade held in Moscow a day earlier.
The military parade, with its thousands of soldiers and hardware on display in Red Square, was moved back due to the Covid-19 pandemic from its traditional date of May 9, when the Allied victory over Nazi Germany is normally commemorated in Russia, Radio Free Europe reported.
Though lockdowns have rolled back, critics questioned the wisdom of spending lots of cash on a parade — and of holding it at all — at a time when Russia continues to record thousands of new coronavirus infections daily.
Russia has the third-highest number of coronavirus infections in the world after the United States and Brazil, with nearly 620,000 confirmed cases, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University in the United States, Radio Free Europe reported.
Among the most outspoken critics has been Navalny.
“The whole country is amazed: What the hell do we need a parade for? What is it needed for?” Navalny said in a video posted to his YouTube channel. “Everyone in the country knows that all this madness is done for one person only.”
On the 60 Minutes program, part of Navalny’s YouTube video was aired as the two hosts and guest panelists stared up at the big screen, Radio Free Europe reported.
On Twitter, blogger Rustem Adagamov posted a segment of the show, writing: “On Rossia-1 TV channel they are giving a lot of time to Navalny, who is blasting Putin for his carnival parade. Well done!”
The program also cited Lyubov Sobol, a lawyer and prominent opposition figure who is a member of Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, Radio Free Europe reported.
“My father turned on the television, by chance to Rossia-1, and there was your face,” Twitter user Artyom Matveyev wrote in a post that included a screenshot of the show featuring Sobol. “They were discussing something about criticism of the parade.”
Several people who commented on social media said that although Navalny’s stance was slammed on the program by the hosts and by many of the panelists — with the exception of the token government critic — his views seemed to be given a fair hearing.
Commentators also noted that the program focused on Navalny’s breakdown of the cost of the parade, Radio Free Europe reported.
In a blog post on June 22, Navalny said the state had spent almost 1 billion rubles (US$14.4 million) on the parade, not including expenditures from the military budget.
“You could buy medicine for pensioners for this money,” he said in the post. “Two and a half months people [were] at home, half of them without work or salaries. A parade is the last thing on their minds. But this bunker grandpa wants a parade, he needs to show himself off on the reviewing stand.”
Political analysts believe the sudden change could be aimed to appease opponents and present a softer, faux stance amid the weeklong vote on constitutional changes, Radio Free Europe reported.
But it may not mark a major rethink by the Kremlin on Navalny, who has twice been convicted of financial crimes in cases that were complete fabrications.