Russia has rejected concerns that a decision to bar the government critic Alexei Navalny from running against Vladimir Putin in next March’s presidential election could undermine the vote’s legitimacy, as the Kremlin hinted at reprisals in response to opposition calls for a boycott of the polls. Russia’s election committee ruled on Monday that Navalny should be ineligible to stand for public office until at least 2028 because of a previous conviction for fraud. Navalny, who has spent the past year carrying out a nationwide grassroots election campaign, said the charges that led to his conviction were trumped up to prevent him from challenging Putin. He said he would ask his 200,000 campaign volunteers to divert their efforts into convincing Russians to boycott the election and he also called for nationwide protests. “Vladimir Putin is extremely shaken up. He’s afraid of competing with me,” Navalny said in an online video address. “What they are offering us can’t be called elections. Only Putin and the candidates he has personally selected, those who don’t represent even the smallest threat to him, are taking part. To go to the polling station now is to vote for lies and corruption.”
Putin, who has been power for 18 years, was a notable absentee at his official nomination for re-election in Moscow on Tuesday. The Russian president was put forward as an election candidate at an indoor event at northern Moscow’s sprawling Soviet-era VDNKh park. The Kremlin cited Putin’s work schedule as being behind his failure to attend.
The nomination event was attended by more than 650 invitees, including sports stars and cultural figures. The background to the stage was a gigantic map of Russia emblazoned with the words: “A strong president. A strong Russia.” Putin spent Tuesday afternoon meeting children at a traditional festive season event at the Kremlin.