Opposition politician Alexei Navalny made international newspaper headlines when he called for a boycott of the country’s upcoming election.
The 41-year-old blogger and lawyer, who is regarded as the most influential opposition politician in Russia, has been barred from running as a presidential candidate, based on previous convictions for financial crimes.
The European Court of Human Rights has described Navalny’s suspended sentence as “arbitrary”.
In an interview with Deutsche Welle (DW), Germany’s international broadcaster, Navalny explains why he called for the boycott.
“The indications seem to be that I will be spending the election day, and I am referring to ‘election’ in quotation marks, in a special prison,” he told DW. “That’s the plan, I suppose. On January 28, I was arrested and then immediately released. But I still haven’t been given my papers back. Apparently, I’ve still got 30 days in jail ahead of me. It is probably planned that they will start on February 17, and then I will be released on March 18, 19 or 20.”
According to Navalny, the current leaders have the ability to proceed against the protest movement in two ways: First, they can prohibit all such actions and second, they can try to impose demonstrative punishments. At least 40 people were arrested. Some of them have already been released, and some are still in custody.
“The most important thing, it seems to me, is that people are no longer letting themselves be intimidated,” he said. “It has become clear to people that if they keep being afraid then the only remaining way to express political beliefs, to march on the streets, will also be barred.”
Asked about what he hopes to achieve, Navalny said he wanted to stand for election in order to bring changes. “I know full well that it is possible to win an election against Putin. Frankly, he knows that himself. That’s why he wouldn’t let me stand for election.”
“I’m not the only one who can get people out onto the streets,” he noted. “There are many wonderful people who are undertaking actions in different regions. Secondly, it is not I who brings people onto the streets, but the notion of injustice. Putin himself brings people on the street through his corruption, his incompetent administration of the country.
“I certainly believe the people have the right to protest against a tyrannical regime,” he added. “But what’s happening in Russia at the moment are only absolutely peaceful actions. You can see that the mood of the demonstrators is much more peaceful than that of the authorities, who manage to turn every demonstration into a military operation.”