It would be three days before the fierce Kremlin critic Aleksei A. Navalny would bring his against-all-odds presidential campaign to the provincial city of Vladimir, but officials at the local university were taking no chances. About 100 students were ordered into the main auditorium to watch two short films attacking the opposition leader as both a United States State Department stooge and a would-be Nazi-saluting Hitler. When several students accused the lecturer of fear-mongering and suggested screening Mr. Navalny’s latest, wildly popular anticorruption video to broaden the discussion, she scolded them, saying, “You have no respect!” “It was nonsense, a smear against Navalny,” one sophomore who attended the lecture said in an interview, not wanting to use his name, given the implicit threats. “The government talks all the time about what it is doing, but it really does not function. Its only real activity seems to be fighting the opposition.”
The moonscape of Russian opposition politics showed unexpected signs of life in late March, when an anticorruption protest called by Mr. Navalny elicited a robust national response. In more than 80 cities across Russia, tens of thousands of demonstrators marched, the largest such political protest in five years.
Mr. Navalny has called for an even bigger protest on Monday, describing it as a test of the opposition’s breadth and, by extension, of public support for his attempt to challenge President Vladimir V. Putin in the March 2018 presidential election. Activists in about 210 cities have requested permits to march. “It’s a wave!” Mr. Navalny exclaimed on his live talk show on YouTube on June 1.