ALEXEI NAVALNY, VLADIMIR PUTIN’S MOST FORMIDABLE POLITICAL FOE, DARES HIM AGIN

The article appeared on DailyO.

Here it is bit modified.

Alexei Navalny, who has emerged as Russian President Vladimir Putin’s most formidable political foe, has challenged Vladimir Putin again, in spite of the Putin’s ruthless drive to crush political dissent in the country. In an interview published in the Financial Times, Navalny has said that he is determined to contest in the Russian presidential polls due early next year, in spite of being convicted in a fraud case.

Navalny dared Putin after a court in Russia on February 9 revived an old sentence convicting him for embezzlement. The court, though sentenced him with a suspended prison term of five years, dealt a legal blow to his chances for running for the president as Russian law doesn’t allow a person convicted under criminal charges to run for any elected office. The court verdict was seen as a motivated step taken under the Kremlin pressure to remove the only credible name from the Russian Presidential race who could challenge Putin, and as expected, was widely panned by the international community.

Alexei Navalny is probably the most widely known Russian politician globally after Vladimir Putin. He has established himself as the rival pole of the Russian politics in an atmosphere where political dissent is not allowed and the existing political and electoral systems are there only to act as dummies.

Navalny has denied all the charges and even the European Court of Human Rights had found the earlier trial in the case unfair. Navalny plans to build pressure that can force the Kremlin to allow him for the Russian presidential polls. The Financial Times report says quoting him, “We will try to grow support in society until the Kremlin understands that it is necessary to admit me to the elections and the consequences of not admitting me will be even worse.”

It is a strategy that Navalny had adopted during the Moscow mayoral polls in July 2013. Then a guilty conviction for embezzlement had banned him from the mayoral polls. By then, Navalny had emerged as the foremost anti-Putin voice in Russia with an image of a political reformer and anti-corruption crusader and millions were hooked to his blog posts. He led the Russian protests in the aftermath of the Arab Spring mobilizing masses for ‘Russia without Putin’ protest rallies. Protests were organized in many parts of Russia against the continued rule of Putin in the country since 1999 but Putin effectively crushed every dissent after his won the Kremlin again in March 2012.

After protests in Navalny’s support, the court allowed him to run for the polls pending his appeal. It was then seen as done under the Kremlin’s pressure to gauge the public’s mood. Though Putin’s man won the polls, Navalny got over 27% votes. In Russia’s electoral history of rigged polls, it was a jolt for Putin as Navalny had no access to media outlets and he had no funding.

Navalny once again wants to mobilize the public sentiment to build pressure on the Kremlin to the extent that it forces Putin to allow him to run in the presidential polls, even if in the name of giving the electoral process some legitimacy. Navalny is going to open his offices in all big Russian cities within some months. He already has thousands of volunteers to work for his campaign and he is expecting a mass-level mobilization soon and its subsequent repercussion, “By the time we open our 10th campaign office, the level of pushback [from the authorities] will become clear,” he says as the Financial Times report.

But what happened with the Moscow mayoral polls in 2013 will make Putin and the Kremlin to take a tough approach on Navalny’s demands. It was a small bet then. Putin would not like to take that risk when it comes his Presidential bid that would give him Russia again for another six years, completing a silver jubilee for his unbridled rule, from 1999 to 2024.

©SantoshChaubey

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