“Nobody is scared of going to jail, but we have work to do,” said Kira Yarmysh, spokeswoman for Alexei Navalny, as she waited for the Russian opposition politician to be delivered to court for an appeal hearing on Thursday. Navalny, who was marched to his hearing handcuffed to a stout police officer, saw his appeal rejected, and will spend the next week behind bars, serving out a 15-day sentence after he was arrested at last weekend’s protest in Moscow, one of more than 1,000 people detained by police in the capital alone. There were protests in dozens of Russian cities last Sunday, called by Navalny over allegations of corruption against prime minister Dmitry Medvedev. They were the biggest since a wave of protests in 2011 and 2012, and for the first time since that wave was crushed there is an air of uncertainty on the Russian political scene.
Navalny, a nationalist turned liberal who has published several investigations into the huge wealth of Valdimir Putin’s inner circle, has declared he wants to run in the election due next March. Putin is widely expected to stand again, and win another six-year term, which would take him to 2024 and almost a quarter-century of rule over Russia.
But after last week’s events both the authorities and the opposition have much on their minds. The Kremlin has to decide whether to launch a crackdown or try to weather the storm, while Navalny and his movement must work out how far they can push the Kremlin.
In the weeks prior to the protest, Navalny toured a number of Russian cities to set up volunteer headquarters to help run his campaign. “We’re doing everything you’re supposed to do in an electoral campaign,” he said in an interview before last weekend’s rally. “We want to force them to allow me on to the ballot.”