Aleksei A. Navalny, a Russian anticorruption activist, would have no real chance of defeating President Vladimir V. Putin in an election. The authorities have cast him as an utterly irrelevant showboat. But on Monday the Kremlin barred him from running for president in March. Then on Tuesday, threatening legal action, it warned him against organizing a boycott of the election. In one surreal turn after another, the Russian authorities have dismissed Mr. Navalny, a charismatic and canny street politician, as a nonentity — and then have done everything in their power to make sure that is the case. The boycott warning came from Mr. Putin’s spokesman, and was issued the same day the president, who has been in power for almost 18 years, was formally nominated to seek a fourth term.
In barring Mr. Navalny from running, the Central Election Commission cited his suspended prison sentence in a fraud case. The activist, backed by the European Court of Human Rights and the Council of Europe, has denounced the prosecution as politically motivated.
Mr. Navalny’s exclusion from the March election “casts a serious doubt on political pluralism in Russia and the prospect of democratic elections next year,” the European Union’s foreign service said in a statement on Tuesday.
“We won’t have an election because Vladimir Putin is horribly afraid — he sees a threat in competing with me,” Mr. Navalny, 41, said in a video that, anticipating the decision to bar him, he recorded before the ban was announced. “The process in which we are called to participate is not a real election. It will feature only Putin and the candidates which he has personally selected.”