Campaign diary

Alexei Navalny is back

Navalny after prison

Alexei Navalny at his office just after his release from prison. Photo: Evgeny Feldman from https://navalny.feldman.photo/

by Sarah Hurst

Alexei Navalny was released from prison this morning after serving a 20-day sentence, and went straight to the offices of his Foundation for Fighting Corruption, where he stopped briefly before flying to Astrakhan in southern Russia for an election rally in the evening. To celebrate the occasion, some of his supporters in Moscow hung a banner on a bridge that said “It’s time to remove Putin and time to elect Navalny.”

Asked his opinion about Ksenia Sobchak’s announcement that she would run for president, Navalny replied that he wouldn’t comment, but “maybe later”. Before his rally in Astrakhan he even managed to release a short video in which he said that Putin is responsible for Russia’s lack of GDP growth over the past 10 years and that he doesn’t want to be ruled by a Robert Mugabe who stays in power for 37 years and destroys the country.

As at the rallies that Navalny held in cities around Russia before his arrest, a large crowd gathered in Astrakhan and listened patiently in the rain. Again referring to Sobchak, Navalny said that unlike Putin, he doesn’t oppose anyone’s participation in the election as long as they are constitutionally eligible by age and citizenship. He promised that he would jail Dmitri Medvedev and other corrupt officials if elected, slash the bloated police budget and stop forgiving foreign countries’ debts.

Refusing to live in a poor country

Navalny said that in prison everyone from police to fellow prisoners had told him that Russia is destined to always be a poor country, but that he is campaigning because he refuses to live in a poor country. He referred to a physicist who had told him his salary was about $260 a month. “We can’t have any science with those salaries,” Navalny said.

The highlight of the rally came when Navalny invited an opponent called Oleg onto the stage to debate with him. This was the second time he had debated with a local opponent at a rally. Oleg said he was a supporter of the Communists and appeared to have had a few too many vodkas. Navalny had to reach for him to stop him falling off the stage a couple of times. Oleg raised the subject of Syria, pointing out that Putin was trying to have influence in the world that was lost when the Soviet Union collapsed. Navalny asked the crowd if they wanted to pay for the reconstruction of Aleppo, and they responded, “No!” Oleg had to admit that he wasn’t too keen on paying for it either. He eventually sheepishly agreed with Navalny that United Russia is the party of swindlers and thieves.

For the first time the rally was broadcast live on Dozhd TV, the channel where Sobchak is a presenter. Afterwards their reporter asked a young man in the crowd what he thought of the rally and he replied, “Great. Will it be broadcast uncensored?” Navalny said that he already has plans for rallies in three more cities, but authorities are trying to cause as many problems as possible by offering venues in distant suburbs. So far, though, he has dealt with every obstacle placed in front of him.

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