Where does Navalny’s reported death leave Russia and Putin?

The death of Aleksei A. Navalny, as reported by authorities in Moscow on Friday, ushers in a new turning point for President Vladimir V. Putin’s Russia, underscoring both the Kremlin’s power and the potential for instability that continues to threaten it.

The announcement came just a month before Russia’s rubber-stamp presidential elections, when the Kremlin will look to portray Russians as united behind Mr. Putin and his bid for a fifth term. Analysts expect the Kremlin to try to couple his surefire electoral victory with fresh gains on the front in Ukraine, where Russian forces have been taking the initiative against a Ukrainian army struggling to maintain its Western support.

As the third year of the war nears, Mr. Putin’s control of domestic politics appears nearly total, with his most prominent surviving opponents either in jail or in exile. Street protests are immediately snuffed out, and thousands of Russians have been prosecuted for criticizing the war.

Offering high salaries to military recruits, the Kremlin has managed to wage its invasion without resorting to a second military draft, meaning that most Russians have been able to go on with their daily lives. The West’s far-reaching sanctions have not crippled Russia’s economy.

But to some analysts, the reports of Mr. Navalny’s death — which his aides said they feared were most likely true — are a reminder that Mr. Putin’s power may be more tenuous than meets the eye.

“Navalny tended to sense the vulnerable points, rather than creating them,” a Moscow political analyst, Mikhail Vinogradov, said in a phone interview on Friday, suggesting Mr. Putin had liabilities, like corruption, that provided an opening for an opportunistic opponent. Mr. Vinogradov described the day’s news as the most shocking death of a Russian politician in the country’s post-Soviet history.

Citing the widespread view that the Kremlin was responsible for Mr. Navalny’s death — which President Biden also asserted in comments Friday afternoon — Mr. Vinogradov added that the news could further unsettle Russia’s governing class. It could remind them, he said, of the extraordinary lengths the government would go to to silence dissent. Such repression, he said, “is always a bit of an experiment.”

Simmering unease with Mr. Putin’s war and his crackdown on the opposition has been visible repeatedly in recent months, even as polls continue to show widespread support for — or at least acceptance of — the Ukraine invasion. There was the surprise popularity of a little-known antiwar candidate for the coming presidential election, and the movement of the wives of mobilized soldiers demanding their husbands’ return.

Before that, there was the stunning, 24-hour uprising last summer led by Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, a threat that Mr. Putin apparently addressed, American intelligence agencies assess, by downing the mercenary chief’s plane last August. That episode highlighted the potential for bubbling opposition to Mr. Putin to spin out of control at a moment’s notice, and the pent-up demand by swaths of the Russian public for a charismatic leader who might represent an alternative.

One key question now is whether the Kremlin follows Mr. Navalny’s death with a new round of repression and censorship. Even in death, the political analyst Tatiana Stanovaya said on Friday, Mr. Navalny poses a problem for the Kremlin.

“A lot will depend on whether the regime overreacts, which may become an issue in and of itself,” Ms. Stanovaya wrote. “They will have to deal with Navalny’s legacy.”

The power of that legacy was already on display within hours of Mr. Navalny’s reported death, as Russians gathered for impromptu vigils in cities around the world and social media filled with reports of people inside Russia laying flowers in his memory.

In front of the Russian Embassy in Berlin, a former Kremlin consultant turned opposition figure, Marat Guelman, said he believed that Mr. Navalny’s death had the potential to re-energize Russia’s beleaguered and disparate opposition groups.

“I hope,” he said, “that in Russia, one hero will be replaced by 100 heroes.”

Tatiana Firsova contributed reporting.