- REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
As Russians from Moscow to St. Petersburg to Vladivostok take to the streets in a wave of anticorruption protests, organizer and popular opposition leader Alexei Navalny has found himself at the forefront of governmental efforts to suppress dissension.
Here’s what you need to know about the staunch critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin who was arrested and sentenced to 15 days in jail during Sunday’s demonstrations.
Who is Alexei Navalny?
Navalny, 40, is a lawyer who leads Russia’s top opposition party, Progress.
Navalny rose to prominence around 2007 after starting a LiveJournal page that detailed the corruption of top Kremlin officials. By buying stocks in the country’s top oil and gas companies, he accessed private government documents and published them on his site to demonstrate corruption and improper use of state funds.
Over the next decade, Navalny regularly published confidential documents about questionable deals made by members of the Russian government, and, through that, he gained a considerable political following both on and off social media.
In 2011, Navalny founded the Anti-Corruption Foundation and helped lead a series of protests against electoral fraud in the 2011 election that led to Putin and then-President Dmitry Medvedev’s ruling United Russia party scoring the top number of seats in parliament. The protests led to considerable Western media attention and, in December 2011, to Navalny’s arrest.
After spending 15 days in jail, Navalny continued rallying protesters both before and after Putin took over from Medvedev as the president of the Russian Federation in 2012. Since then, news organizations have heralded Navalny as everything from “Russia’s Last Opposition Hero” to “the man Vladimir Putin fears most.”
After numerous arrests in 2011 and 2012, Navalny tried to unseat Moscow’s mayor, Sergey Sobyanin, by raising considerable campaign funds from supporters. He eventually lost to the Putin appointee by an unexpectedly close margin.
This past December, Navalny announced his plans to run for the Russian presidency in 2018.
After numerous attempts were made to charge him with embezzlement and after he spent more than a year on house arrest, Navalny began rallying people in the ongoing series of anticorruption protests against Medvedev, who is now the prime minister.
Why are people protesting?
Navalny has been a critic of corruption in Russian government for most of his public life. The latest protests are part of Navalny’s “He is not your Dimon” campaign (Dimon is the diminutive form of Dmitry in Russian). The campaign accuses Medvedev of gathering wealth and hiding assets by donations through a network of charities.
“There will come a time when we will judge them too (but fairly this time),” Navalny tweeted in Russian from a courthouse after the protest.
Всем привет из Тверского суда. Настанет время, когда и мы будем их судить (только уже честно) pic.twitter.com/zs6ueJMM8o
— Alexey Navalny (@navalny) March 27, 2017
Why does his arrest matter?
Navalny is one of the few political leaders in Russia to successfully mobilize large groups of people to speak out against the Kremlin.
In the past, Navalny invented the popular catchphrase “party of crooks and thieves” to refer to ruling United Russia party.
With the biggest wave of antigovernment protests since the start of the decade shaking the country across 11 time zones, many analysts predict that the anticorruption battles could just be beginning of political unrest in Russia.