Russian political activist, influential blogger and Yale World Fellow Alexei Navalny was released from prison Wednesday morning after spending 15 days in jail for interfering with traffic.
His sentence, the longest possible for the crime, came after Navalny was arrested while leading a Dec. 5 protest against United Russia, the party of incumbent president Dmitry Medvedev and prime minister Vladimir Putin. Since then, Navalny has become the international face of the Russian opposition, with some speculating he may eventually run for president against Putin. While he will not be able to register as a candidate in the upcoming March 12 elections, Navalny announced today that he would seek office if he believes the elections will be fair.
“We will fight for the declaration of a free election,” he said to about 100 supporters and journalists outside the prison after his release. “Many different people will take part in such a free election — perhaps I will, too. I will compete for a leadership position.”
Though Navalny had been floated by some as a presidential candidate for the opposition party Yabloko, the party nominated the less-controversial Grigory Yavlinsky instead. Without a party, Navalny could have registered independently, but the deadline to register passed during his incarceration.
Aleh Tsyvinski, a Yale economics professor, said that Navalny’s political clout transcends his ability to run for political office in the near future.
“Even without him running for the president, he has changed the way the opposition operates,” Tsyvinski said. “There hasn’t been a major opposition leader like this since Boris Yeltsin.”
Navalny’s clout will be on display at a protest in Moscow slated for Dec 24. Former reformist Soviet Premier Mikhail Gobachev is expected to speak, and Tsyvinski said roughly 30,000 people have registered to attend.
Michael Cappello, director of the Yale World Fellows program, said that fellows across the world had registered complaints about Navalny’s incarceration at Russian embassies in their home countries, notified national and regional media, and pursued action through diplomatic channels to ensure Navalny’s safe and on-time release.
Navalny was a member of the 2010 class of World Fellows.