PUTIN ADVERSARY’S OFFENSIVE
Opposition leader Alexei Navalny arrested at anti-graft rally
ANTI-CORRUPTION campaigner Alexei Navalny has cemented his status as leader of Russia’s opposition movement by organising the largest unauthorised protest in recent years against President Vladimir Putin’s rule.
The 40-year-old clean-cut lawyer, who was arrested at Sunday’s demonstration here, is no stranger to clashes with Kremlin.
He has spent time under house arrest and seen his brother jailed in a string of cases he has denounced as retribution for challenging authorities and exposing the vast wealth of the president’s inner circle.
Late last year, he announced he would run for president next year, an election that Putin is expected to dominate.
This month, he posted a YouTube video tracing Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev’s links to mansions, yachts and vineyards that has been viewed 12 million times.
No official response followed, and Navalny called supporters to protest across Russia. Thousands turned out here, where some 1,000 people were arrested, including Navalny.
He appeared in court yesterday and was fined 20,000 roubles (RM1,550) and jailed 15 days for his role in the rally. Most of those arrested were released overnight after being fined.
Last month, Navalny was found guilty in a retrial of an embezzlement case that could mean he is not eligible to stand for president, though he insists he will not be forced out of the race.
Though criticised for his antiimmigrant nationalist stance, Navalny has tapped into discontent among the young urban middle class with fiery speeches and Western-style campaigning.
But, in an environment where the media and the political landscape are tightly controlled by the Kremlin, he remains a fringe figure for most Russians, who are more likely to believe the official portrayal of him as a Western stooge and convicted criminal.
“Navalny is a unique politician of the younger generation,” said Nikolai Petrov, a professor at the Higher School of Economics here, adding that he had developed a high profile “at a time when public politics has ceased to exist”.
During the mass protests of 2011, sparked by allegations of vote rigging in parliamentary polls, Navalny grabbed attention with his rhetoric.
He coined catchy phrases, such as the “party of crooks and thieves”, to slam the governing United Russia. Although the protests petered out after a crackdown by the authorities, they helped launch Navalny’s political career. Among his most eye-catching exposes have been details on the palatial homes of Putin’s allies in Russia and abroad, including one kitted out with a vast storage room for fur coats built by Vladimir Yakunin, former chief of Russia’s national railways.
Last July, as Western sanctions over Russia’s role in the Ukraine crisis and low oil prices hit average Russians hard, Navalny revealed that Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov was sending his pet corgis on private jets to dog shows around Europe.
“Dear friends, those who voted for Putin and United Russia, you made it possible for Russian officials to steal completely openly and live as they do,” Navalny said in an online video.
“Please don’t ever do this again.”
Police officers detaining Alexei Navalny during an unauthorised anti-corruption rally in Moscow on Sunday.