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Client Update - 23rd February 2024

The tragic news of Alexey Navalny's death in an Arctic prison has sent shockwaves around the world, casting a long shadow over the prospects for a near-term change in Russia's political landscape. Navalny, known as President Vladimir Putin's most formidable domestic opponent, was serving a 19-year jail sentence in Siberia.  Hopes that the interview with Tucker Carlson was Putin’s attempt to soften his position and start to build bridges with the west, have now turned cold.

Navalny's impact extended far beyond his legal battles and imprisonment. His work, particularly his anti-corruption campaigns and ability to mobilise mass protests, positioned him as a beacon of hope for many Russians aspiring to a future of greater transparency, democracy and justice. Despite the Kremlin's attempts to diminish his influence, Navalny's advocacy for democratic values endured his imprisonment, and his legacy may now endure after his death.

His supporters demand the return of his body to determine the exact cause of death. The Russian authorities' claim of "sudden death syndrome" adds to the scepticism surrounding the official narrative of his passing.

Global reactions have been swift and sharp, with leaders from the United States, European Union, Canada, and beyond condemning the act and attributing responsibility to Putin's regime. U.S. President Joe Biden, our Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron and European Council President Charles Michel have underscored the need for accountability.  Financial markets have been resilient in the face of such geopolitical tensions and have so far been unphased by the events. This is consistent with the long-term evidence on the market’s typical reaction to geopolitical events, as we have been writing about earlier in the year.

What might be more relevant to the markets is the fact that the US Government is struggling to get the latest round of funding for the Ukraine war through Congress.  With US public opinion beginning to turn against ongoing support, President Zelenskyy’s window to bring this conflict to a conclusion on his terms is beginning to close.

Sticking with the theme of politics, the UK became embroiled in a very British kind of political controversy.  For important procedural reasons that are apparently well known to the 650 sitting MPs, but not many outside the House of Commons, Parliament descended into chaos as Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle broke protocol. The Speaker allowed a vote on a Labour amendment to an SNP motion that called for an immediate ceasefire in the Israel-Gaza conflict, triggering anger among SNP and Conservative MPs and sparking a unified walk out. This may be the only time the SNP and Tories have ever agreed on a matter in the Commons.

The plot thickened as Labour were accused of bullying, forcing Sir Keir Starmer to deny threatening Hoyle, saying he “simply urged” the Speaker to ensure there was the “broadest possible debate”.  Rumours are also circling that he broke the political impartiality convention because of an undisclosed security threat to MPs.  At the time of writing, the number of MPs who have asked him to resign by signing a no confidence motion has increased to 63.

They old saying goes that a week is a long time in Politics. For Sir Lindsay Hoyle, a day must be feeling like a week, and an hour feeling like a day.  Do have a good weekend.

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