Navalny himself remains the leading opposition politician, and in authoritarian systems, as soon as people stop supporting the number one politician, that popularity gets redirected to the first suitable candidate.

The Russian authorities will have to decide what is more menacing: the real Navalny, who will be a political gadfly in the upcoming and future elections, or the legendary Navalny, a mythologized and persecuted figure who will very likely be able to focus people’s frustration, resentment, and desire for change.

Having done everything to create the myth around Navalny, the state may try to dispel it. But to do that, Navalny would first have to be returned to everyday politics, and the consequences of allowing that are unknown. After all, the rules of the literary genre dictate that he will come back stronger than ever before.

This article was first published by the Carnegie Moscow Center.