Russian protest leader Alexei Navalny won a rare victory on Wednesday by being accepted as a candidate in a Moscow mayoral election which he sees as a stepping stone to challenging Vladimir Putin for the presidency. But his ability to contest September’s election and the next presidential vote in 2018 depend on a judge’s verdict on Thursday in the most prominent trial of an opposition figure in Russia since Soviet times. Navalny, who emerged from anti-Putin protests last year as the opposition’s most dynamic leader, could be sentenced to up to six years in jail on what he says are trumped-up charges of stealing 16 million roubles ($493,000) from a timber firm. That would bar him from running for mayor against Sergei Sobyanin, a Putin favorite, and from contesting the presidential election in 2018, in which Putin, Russia’s dominant leader for 13 years, could try to extend his rule until 2024.
Navalny, 37, did not appear at the Moscow offices where he was registered as a mayoral candidate despite his concerns that he would be barred from the ballot.
He has kept a low profile in the last few days before the verdict in his trial in Kirov, an industrial city 900 km (550 miles) northeast of Moscow, saying he would prefer to spend time with his young family.
“There are plenty of things to do before Kirov,” he said in a brief comment on Twitter in which he confirmed he had been accepted as a mayoral candidate.