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Alexei Navalny Versus the Kremlin

The high-stakes election for mayor of Moscow.

Sep 2, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 48 • By CATHY YOUNG AND VICTOR DAVIDOFF
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The authorities have responded with legal and extra-legal harassment. Banners hung by his supporters have been removed by janitors rappelling down from rooftops; cars with Navalny stickers have been vandalized, leaflets stolen. On August 14, the police made a warrantless raid on the apartment of a pro-Navalny activist and confiscated “illegal” campaign literature (that is, allegedly exceeding the quantity the campaign has officially reported). The Moscow prosecutor’s office has also filed criminal charges against the Navalny campaign for receiving contributions from abroad—which the campaign strongly denies. Ilya Milshtein, a commentator for the website, believes that the targeting of Navalny actually benefits him, to the point where “it’s as if the Kremlin were determined to oust Sobyanin or at least ensure a runoff.” (Another, more pessimistic prognosis is that Navalny may be disqualified from the race before the vote.)

In fact, the Navalny campaign believes that a runoff election—which must take place if no candidate receives 50 percent of the vote—would be a victory regardless of the outcome. An August 14 poll by Synovate Comcon found that 63.5 percent of “decided” voters intend to vote for Sobyanin, 20 percent for Navalny, and 16.6 percent for other candidates. Compared with data from July, this is a 15-point drop for Sobyanin and a 9-point gain for Navalny—a trend that, if it continues, bodes well for a runoff. 

Even a partial victory, Navalny’s team believes, could force significant concessions from the Krem-lin, including an end to media black-listing of the opposition and to legal restrictions on opposition party activism. It might also prepare the ground for a presidential run five years from now, which Navalny says he is contemplating. Tellingly, the slogan for his mayoral campaign is “Change Russia—start with Moscow.”

Cathy Young is a columnist for Newsday and a contributing editor to Reason magazine. Victor Davidoff, a Moscow-based journalist, writes a column for the English-language daily Moscow Times.

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