The extremism designation against Mr. Navalny’s organization, which a Moscow court will consider in a secret trial starting next week, would effectively force Russia’s most potent opposition movement underground and could result in yearslong prison terms for pro-Navalny activists.
Mr. Navalny, meanwhile, remains on hunger strike in a Russian prison hospital, insisting he be allowed to be seen by doctors of his choosing. A lawyer who visited him, Vadim Kobzev, reported Tuesday that Mr. Navalny’s arms were punctured and bruised after three nurses tried and failed six times to hook him up to an intravenous drip.
“If you saw me now, you would laugh,” said a letter from Mr. Navalny his team posted to social media. “A skeleton walking, swaying, in its cell.”
The White House has warned the Russian government it “will be held accountable” if Mr. Navalny dies in prison. Western officials — and Mr. Navalny’s supporters and allies — reject the idea that the opposition leader is acting on another country’s behalf.
But in the Kremlin’s logic, Mr. Navalny is a threat to Russian statehood, doing the West’s bidding by undermining Mr. Putin. It is Mr. Putin, Mr. Trenin said, who is keeping Russia stable by maintaining a balance between competing factions in Russia’s ruling elite.
“If Putin leaves, a battle between different groups breaks out, and Russia withdraws into itself, has no time for the rest of the world and no longer gets in anyone’s way,” Mr. Trenin said. “The West is, of course, using Navalny, and will use him to create problems for Putin and, in the longer term, help Putin become history in one way or another.”
How far Mr. Putin goes in striking back against the West’s real or imagined hostility is still an open question. In the state news media, the mood music is dire. On the flagship weekly news show on the Rossiya 1 channel Sunday, the host Dmitri Kiselyov closed a segment on Mr. Putin’s showdown with Mr. Biden by reminding viewers of Poseidon — a new weapon in Russia’s nuclear arsenal that Mr. Putin revealed three years ago.