Navalny: Anti-Putin blogger takes to the streets
Russian blogger Alexei Navalny, who will spend the next two weeks in jail, exposed state corruption through the Internet but has now become a figurehead for the rallies against Vladimir Putin.
Navalny was sentenced to 15 days in jail on Tuesday after he led a thousands-strong opposition rally in Moscow contesting the results of elections won by Vladimir Putin's ruling party United Russia.
For several years, the 35-year-old lawyer has run a blog exposing corruption at state companies and criticising Putin's dominant grip on Russia but this was the first time he has spent time in prison.
It was Navalny who first coined the phrase "a party of swindlers and thieves" to describe United Russia, a slogan so catchy that it has now been taken up by the entire opposition and chanted at opposition demonstrations.
Blue-eyed and with impeccably styled blond hair, Navalny has emerged as a new kind of Russian opposition figure untainted by the liberal reforms of the 1990s that many Russians still associate with chaos.
His blog on Live Journal (navalny.livejournal.com) has become one of the most read sites on Russia's booming "RuNet" while the more sombre Rospil site (rospil.info) exposes the corruption that for many is Russia's worst malaise.
"My blog only exists because the media is censored," he told the Russian edition of Esquire in a celebrity-style profile adorned with glamorous pictures by top New York-based photographer Martin Schoeller.
He declared that "I would like to know how frankly Putin believes that the system he has built can endure." He said that Russia in the future should look like a "big, irrational and metaphysical Canada".
Navalny started his crusade against corruption in 2007 when he bought up shares at big Russian state controlled companies including the bank VTB, the oil giant Rosneft and the world's largest gas firm Gazprom.
Using his status as a minority shareholder, he was able to take part in annual general meetings and directly address his demands for an end to corruption and greater transparency to their executives.
He has also published detailed reports on the state-run monoliths, including an investigation into alleged corruption at VTB and accusations of mass embezzlement at oil transport firm Transneft.
However even before his arrest at Monday night's protest, Navalny was in trouble with the authorities.
In May, investigators launched an enquiry against Navalny on suspicion of fraud in a timber sale, accusations his supporters said were clearly a manoeuvre to discredit the blogger.
But he has also become an increasingly well known figure abroad, the subject of magazine profiles in the United States. In 2010 he was a world fellow at Yale University.
Yet even some of his supporters have been troubled by Navalny's affiliation to Russian nationalists, a controversy which saw him leave the main Russian liberal party in Yabloko in 2007.
This November he again took part in the Russian March, an annual event where ultra-nationalists chant slogans against the presence of immigrants in Russia and the distribution of state funds to the mainly Muslim Northern Caucasus.
He told an AFP reporter at the time that his task was "to teach radical youth" but it was also clear that nationalists present a potential pool of support for the opposition.
"One of the main slogans of the Russian March is 'down with the party of swindlers and thieves'," he said. "I came with this slogan and it was heard."
© 2011 AFP