The opposition leader whom the Kremlin fears

MOSCOW - On election day I interviewed the most interesting figure in the new, exciting, youthful Russian opposition movement, the 35-year-old Alexey Navalny. A lawyer and blogger, he had made a name for himself by unearthing and publishing on line incredible details about massive governmentl corruption schemes.

In a country where official corruption rivals that of Nigeria, and undercuts the economy, efforts to build up small and medium private businesses, and every aspect of daily life, his online work has been little short of astonishing.

Opposition leader Alexey Navalny. (Trudy Rubin / Staff)

But when he was arrested and jailed after leading a protest against rigged parliamentary elections in January, his visibility suddenly skyrocketed. He is the opposition figure the Kremlin fears the most, because his good looks, charisma and anti-corruption fight appeal to disaffected nationalist youths as well as to liberals.

I will be writing more about him, and the interview in a column this week, but he is the figure to watch as the opposition works to keep street protests ongoing, and peaceful, in an effort to open up Russia’s political system. Prior to these demonstrations the Kremlin would no doubt have sought to sideline him, whether by violence or trumped charges that land him in jail. Whether his new visibility will protect him is anyone’s guess.