Now that he’s been officially barred from challenging Russian President Vladimir Putin in presidential elections next March, opposition leader Alexey Navalny is counting on becoming an even bigger nuisance for the Kremlin. The 41-year-old Navalny, who is banned from appearing on state television and whose name Putin never even mentions in public, is urging his supporters to protest nationwide on Jan. 28 as part of a campaign to boycott the vote. “Going to vote now just means fixing Putin’s problems by helping him disguise his reappointment as something that looks like an election,” Navalny wrote on his blog after Russia’s Central Election Commission refused to register him as a candidate due to a fraud conviction that Navalny denounces as politically motivated. In a video, he accused Putin of being “afraid of running against me.”
While Navalny likely wouldn’t come close to winning, his mere presence as a candidate poses other risks to the 65-year-old Putin, who is vying for a final six-year term as president and is about to become the longest-serving Russian leader since Josef Stalin. As a presidential candidate, Navalny would be guaranteed airtime on state TV, taking his allegations of rampant corruption beyond his Internet audience and into the homes of millions of Russians who rely on state broadcasters for information. “Having Navalny take part in the elections would be a huge negative,” said Evgeny Minchenko, a Moscow political consultant who advises the government. “He would have used the electoral campaign to attack Putin and his team.”
Even though Navalny is seen as having zero chance of triggering a second round of voting, a strong showing would still cause problems. “Navalny in theory could get second place in the election, which for the Kremlin would be uncomfortable,” said Mikhail Vinogradov, head of the St. Petersburg Politics Foundation.