Regarded as the “man Putin fears most”, Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny has had his fair share of run-ins with the Russian authorities.
Head of the Progress Party, lawyer and activist Navalny has been fiercely opposed to the president’s regime for years, savvily using social media to organise marches and take swipes at what he says is a government corrupt to the core.
This – and his plans to go against Putin in the 2018 election – has seen him bundled into police vans, handed suspended sentences and ultimately barred from running the opposition by Russia’s Central Electoral Commission.
Navalny, a 41-year-old self-described nationalist democrat, initially declined to join his party, which was launched by his followers in 2012. But with mostly a younger crowd behind him, mobilised by social media and word-of-mouth (he has no access to state TV), he was let out of jail after being caged for embezzlement to campaign for the 2013 Moscow mayoral election.
And he did surprisingly well, coming in as runner-up with 27 percent of the vote – behind friend-of-Putin Sergei Sobyanin.
This has since allowed the father-of-two to gain bigger traction with his Kremlin-bashing.
Navalny labelled Putin’s party, United Russia, the “party of crooks and thieves” and claimed the former president and current prime minister, Dmitri Medvedev, of corruption in a popular YouTube video – leading to huge protests across the country in March 2017.
He is seen by many as a genuine threat to Putin by organising some of the biggest protests the country has seen in recent years, and his plans to redistribute the cash embezzled by Russia’s super rich is proving popular among the young.
But Navalny has been criticised for being without a solid political ideology, with some saying one can’t campaign solely on fighting corruption.
In December 2017, Navalny was banned from running in the 2018 presidential election due to his corruption conviction – charges he claims are politically motivated.
Since then, he led protests urging a boycott of the election, which again saw him arrested. Human Rights Watch have said the authorities have unfairly interfered in his campaigning.
It is unlikely that Navalny would win even if he was allowed to run in the election: with so many Russians getting information from state-owned, pro-Kremlin television, this is understandable.
But Navalny’s rapid rise and popularity with the next generation of voters through social media shows there soon could be an alternative to Putin’s rule.