Ahead of the upcoming Russian election, the Kremlin’s opposition is coming under scrutiny from Putin.
The opposition leader, 41-year-old Alexei Navalny, was briefly jailed by Russian authorities on Thursday on charges of organizing protests against Putin. This is his latest detention in a long rap sheet of similar accusations over the past year.
Navalny, described as “the man Putin fears most”, has been blocked from participating in the March 18 election. He faces up to a month in jail if found guilty.
He said on Twitter he was detained as he left a dentist appointment. He was released just under an hour later, saying police had opened a case against him for organizing illegal protests.
Navalny added he was confused as to why so many police were needed to arrest him.
The Moscow-based lawyer rose to prominence through the internet where he has has over 2 million followers on YouTube.
Starting in 2008, he began organizing investigations to expose what he calls corruption in the Russian state. In 2011, he participated and helped lead protests against what he and his followers viewed as election fraud in the wake of a parliamentary vote. He was arrested and spent a brief period in jail following the popular protests.
Navalny’s goal is to bring some semblance of democracy back to the Russian people. He has been one of the most powerful voices in the anti-Putin movement. Navalny and his thousands of followers want to see fair and balanced elections in a country frought with fraud and embezzlement.
But Navalny is not without his controversial views. A self-described nationalist, he once called for all Russian citizens from the Central Asian Republics to carry special visas. During the Russian conflict with Georgia, he called that country’s citizens “rodents.” He later said he regretted these comments.
Navalny elaborated on the difficulties of changing the power structure when speaking to the Wall Street Journal back in 2012: “People don’t believe in positive changes anymore. It’s 20 years that [Putin] wants to keep absolute power. It’s obvious now that his system of power is based on corruption, and people around him depend only on money and corruption.”
Corruption is deeply ingrained in Russian society. When Peter the Great was bringing his nation into the modern world in the 1700s, he encountered this grand obstacle. In his biography of Tsar Peter, Robert Massie wrote that “corruption affected not only the finances of the state but its basic efficiency. Bribery and embezzlement were traditional in Russian public life, and public service was routinely looked upon as a means of gaining private profit. This practice was so accepted that Russian officials were paid little or no salary; it was taken for granted that they would make their living by accepting bribes”.
Three hundred years later, Alexei Navalny is still fighting this same system. Putin, he says, “thinks the only way… to be alive and healthy and rich is to be president. It’s a big problem for us. This guy is trapped.”
A trapped bear is a dangerous animal, and the history of dissent in modern Russia does not favor the dissenters. Perhaps, however, Navalny is too prominent to be taken down. With his arrest, he is out of the election picture, for now. We will see what the young leader has in store down the line.