The thorn in Putin's side - who is Alexei Navalny?

Arrest is nothing new for the man who plans to run for the Russian presidency next year

Alexei Navalny profile
Alexei Navalny in court in Moscow fighting a libel charge
(Image credit: Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP/Getty Images)

Nobody knows better than Alexei Navalny that Russia's authorities don't like dissent.

The anti-corruption campaigner was arrested in Moscow this week for organising nationwide rallies on the official Russia Day state holiday as part of his campaign to oust President Vladimir Putin - a "long-shot bid", the Washington Post notes.

According to the Daily Telegraph, Navalny was stopped as he left his Moscow home, while the independent Meduza news agency says he was fined and sentenced to 30 days in jail.

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He wasn't the only one. Russian non-profit group OVD-info estimates more than 1,000 people were also detained, with reports of arrests from more than 100 cities.

But who is Alexei Navalny? And why is he braving Putin's wrath?

Who is Alexei Navalny?

Navalny was born on 4 June 1976, in the central Moscow Oblast region of the former Soviet Union. A keen scholar, he graduated from the Peoples' Friendship University of Russia in 1998 with a law degree and went on to study securities and exchanges at the Financial University under the Government of the Russian Federation, before turning his hand to activism and ultimately, politics. He is now the leader of Russia's opposition.

According to the BBC, Navalny has become "the most prominent face of Russian opposition" to Putin, who is now in his third term and rules the country with a rod of iron.

He announced last year he will run for the presidency in 2018, setting him on a direct collision course with the Russian leader.

"The face of Russian opposition"

Navalny is fond of using social media to mock Putin and Russia's businessmen, with his YouTube videos against key figures racking up millions of views. He has also been agitating against ruling party United Russia for years, with a blogpost from 2011 telling Russians to vote for anyone except this "party of crooks and thieves", the BBC says.

Fighting Russia's major corporations

Navalny started blogging about alleged corruption and malpractice at several of Russia's major corporations in 2008, with targets including oil and gas giant Gazprom, state-backed oil firm Rosneft, Russian airline Aeroflot and a subsidiary of state-owned bank VTB. He has even bought shares in some companies in order to grill the management over ownership and discuss missing funds.

In March, in a film seen by millions, Navalny alleged that Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev ran a secret property empire, concealed within non-profit foundations officially controlled by friends. He was ordered to delete it after a court ruled it included libelous claims about Alisher Usmanov, the multibillionaire part-owner of Arsenal football club, the Telegraph says.

Time spent behind bars

In 2013, Navalny was accused of providing inaccurate information during his lawyer applications. He has also been charged with fraud and was briefly jailed in July 2013 for embezzlement in the city of Kirov - a five-year sentence "widely seen as political", the BBC says. He was let out to conduct his mayoral run.

His conviction was overturned last year after the European Court of Human Rights ruled his rights had been violated, but was found guilty again this February.

His time in jail may yet haunt him as Russian election rules say candidates with felony convictions cannot run. Navalny has vowed to appeal the ruling and continue his campaign "no matter what happens in court", The Guardian reports.

In 2014, Navalny's younger brother Oleg was imprisoned for more than three years on corruption charges, leading Navalny to say: "My brother has been taken hostage," reports Newsweek. According to Russia Beyond the Headlines, judges in February denied Oleg parole for a second time.

Does Navalny have a chance in the election?

Leaving aside the potential hurdle of his conviction, Navalny certainly seems to be having an impact: Newsweek, which has dubbed him Russia's "anti-corruption crusader", says a report by the Moscow-based Levada Center indicated 67 per cent of Russians hold Putin personally responsible for high-level corruption - and ten per cent said they would vote for Navalny.

"For a politician who is mentioned by state media only when it accuses him of being a treacherous foreign agent, it was a remarkable result," the news site says.

When he ran for the Moscow mayoralty, Navalny won 27 per cent of the vote, despite TV reporting on his campaign being banned.

Whether Putin has cause to be really worried, only time will tell.

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