The leader of Russia’s anti-Putin opposition, Alexei Navalny, rolled out a new action plan for the country’s 2018 presidential election only moments after being officially barred from running as a candidate: boycott the election to show the whole thing is a sham.
But the Kremlin responded with a warning that even encouraging people not to vote in the March 2018 ballot might be illegal.
“Calls for boycott ought to be carefully studied to see if they are breaking the law,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Tuesday.
Though Putin’s victory is seen as a slam dunk, the Kremlin is battling voter apathy over an election in which the result — another term for Putin — is viewed as inevitable by all. As a result, the Kremlin is fighting to whip up voter enthusiasm and paint the veneer of a real, competitive campaign in order to boost voter turnout. The goal is to underscore the legitimacy of a fourth presidential term for Putin despite his almost two decades in power.
Adding to Putin's anxiety is a sluggish economy that has only recently emerged from a long, painful recession that lifted Russia's poverty rate to the highest in a decade last year.
On Monday, Russia’s Central Electoral Commission officially announced the widely expected verdict that Navalny would not be allowed to run for president in an election scheduled for March 2018 due to a corruption conviction that he’s called politically motivated.
In a video posted online, Navalny said his new strategy would be to organize a “voter strike” and demonstrate the election to be a Kremlin-orchestrated farce.
“What they are offering us cannot be called elections,” Navalny said. “The only people who can participate are Putin and the candidates he has personally selected, those who present no real threat to him.”
Navalny said his campaign would maintain its regional organizational structure and simply turn its campaign offices into headquarters for promoting the boycott.
On Tuesday, the European Union criticized the decision to ban Navalny.
“Politically-motivated charges shouldn’t be used against political participation,” said Maja Kocijancic, the EU’s spokeswoman for foreign affairs.
Meanwhile on Tuesday, hundreds of national celebrities, including athletes, movie stars and politicians, gathered to formally nominate Putin for re-election.
The Kremlin said Putin was too busy to attend the event.