Opposition activist Alexei Navalny will spend Russia's presidential elections in jail

Opposition activist Alexei Navalny will spend Russia's presidential elections in jail
Opposition activist Alexei Navalny will spend the presidential elections in jail
By Ben Aris in Berlin February 23, 2018

Anti-corruption blogger and opposition activist Alexei Navalny and his chief of staff were arrested on February 22 and will be held for 30 days, taking them out of circulation for the March 18 presidential elections.

Navalny has been touring the country for most of the last year and is calling for a boycott of the elections. While President Vladimir Putin is a shoo-in to win, the one thing the Kremlin is afraid of is a low turnout as that would undermine the president’s legitimacy.

The Kremlin is still pursuing its 70/70 strategy: a 70% vote for Putin and 70% turnout. Recent polls by the state owned pollster, the Russian Public Opinion Research Centre (VTsIOM), suggest the Kremlin will hit both these goals, but the numbers are questionable. Independent pollster the Levada Center has suspended its polling for the election after a new law categorised it as a “foreign agent” thanks to funding it receives from abroad. Levada’s last polls in autumn 2017 suggested Putin would still win but that the turnout would be a lot lower than 70%.

Putin's trust rating hit an all-time high in 2017 with 57.7% of respondents saying they trust him, according to VTsIOM. And the majority of Russians (57%) believe the country is going in the right direction according to Levada.

However, a small but increasingly vocal share of Russians are unhappy with Russia’s political stagnation and have been turning out for Navalny’s rallies.

But that is unlikely to turn into public protests, let alone some sort of coloured revolution. Russia is stuck in the middle income trap, which means that although middle class Russians want to see change, they are also concerned to preserve the gains they have already made and that quashes the propensity to protest, according to Levada polls.

Still, the Kremlin is working to keep Navalny out of the game. The Simonovsky Court of Moscow ordered the detention of Navalny and his chief of staff Leonid Volkov for repeated public meeting rule violations on February 22. Specifically the court named the last public protests on January 28 as the cause.

Volkov was detained the same day at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport, from where he was going to fly to Ufa. Navalny was arrested shortly afterwards.