MOSCOW, April 5 (RIA Novosti) – The charismatic Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who is due to stand trial later this month, has declared his ambition to run for the presidency.
“I want to change life in the country,” Navalny, a prominent whistleblower, told Dozhd internet TV channel on Thursday night. He said that if he became Russia’s president, his priority would be to help people who “have oil and gas running out of the ground not to live in poverty” and “live a normal life like in a European country."
Navalny also said in the interview that he expected to be convicted in the embezzlement case that will start later this month in the Kirov Region, where he served as a local governor’s aide in 2009. His pro-opposition supporters maintain that the case is politically motivated. If convicted, he faces up to ten years in prison.
"Like any normal person, I don't have the slightest desire to end up in jail," Navalny said in the interview.
Vladimir Ryzhkov, a co-chairman of the opposition RPR-Parnas party, praised Navalny's move as a good strategy that adds political significance to the upcoming trial.
"It’s one thing if they put a popular blogger on trial, and another if they try a politician who has declared his presidential ambitions," Ryzhkov told RIA Novosti.
Navalny is not affiliated to any officially registered party, but is seen as one of the most popular non-establishment anti-Kremlin figures in Russia. He gained fame due to his anti-corruption campaigns against ruling officials and his eloquent speeches at mass opposition rallies that kicked off at the end of 2011.
A poll published Thursday by the independent Levada Center showed that his name is still little known among the population, with just 37 percent of Russians aware of Navalny, while only 14 percent of them said they would likely vote for him.
The opposition parties represented in the State Duma reacted with skepticism to Navalny’s announcement, saying that he has no chance of winning a presidential election.
Sergei Obukhov, a State Duma lawmaker with the Communist Party, said Friday that Navalny could garner “a maximum of 5 to 7 percent” of the country’s rightist liberals. “Only if he conquers the United States will he become president of Russia. I don’t see any other options,” Obukhov said jokingly.
His opinion was echoed by Vladimir Ovsyannikov, deputy chairman of the nationalist LDPR faction in the Duma, who said that at the next presidential vote, the country would elect “a master and head of the family.”
Mikhail Yemelyanov, deputy chairman of the Just Russia faction, said Friday that Navalny had “no chance” of winning a vote.
Updates earlier vershion of the story with comments from the opposition