Meet Alexei Navalny — the Russian opposition leader challenging Vladimir Putin

As Russians from Moscow to St. Petersburg to Vladivostok take to the streets in a wave of anti-corruption protests, organiser 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 Putin critic who was arrested and sentenced to fifteen days in jail during Sunday’s demonstrations.

Who is Alexei Navalny?

40-year-old Navalny is a lawyer and the leader of Russia’s top opposition party Progress.

With a father who hails from Ukraine and a brother who is currently serving time in prison for embezzlement, Navalny lives in Moscow with his wife Yulia, their teenage daughter Daria and their young son Zakhar.

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, 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 fifteen 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 organisations 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 Mayor Sergey Sobyanin by raising considerable campaign funds from supporters. He eventually, lost to the Putin appointee by a close (and unexpected) margin.

During the election campaign, Navalny was sentenced to five years in prison for embezzlement charges pushed forth by the Kremlin. He was released a day later after calls for an appeal. 

In December 2016, Navalny announced his plans to run for the President of Russia in 2018.

After numerous attempts to charge him with embezzlement and more than a year spent on house arrest, Navalny began rallying people in the current series of anti-corruption protests against Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. 

Why are people protesting?

Navanly has been a critic of corruption in Russian government for the majority 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. 

In a video that has been viewed nearly 13 million times, Navalny accuses Medvedev of owning land, mansions, and luxury yachts from wealth accrued through questionable political deals and state loans.

On March 26, nearly 30,000 people gathered for a series of unsanctioned protests Moscow, Russia’s capital, and across the country. More than 500 people were arrested in Moscow alone — Navalny among them.

“There will come a time when we will judge them too (but fairly this time),” Navalny tweeted from a courthouse after the protest.

Why does his arrest matter?

Navalany 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 party United Russia.

With the biggest wave of anti-government protests since the start of the decade shaking the country across eleven time zones,  many analysts predict that the anti-corruption battles could just be beginning of political unrest in Russia.

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