(MOSCOW) — Russia’s most prominent opposition activist, Aleksei Navalny, has been doused in green antiseptic cleaner while campaigning ahead of an intended presidential run next year.
Navalny, who made his name uncovering the alleged ill-gotten gains of top Kremlin officials, was opening a local campaign headquarters in the far-flung Siberian town, Barnaul, when a man threw the disinfectant into his face, staining it vivid green, witnesses told news agency TASS.
Immediately after the incident, Navalny posted a photo of himself coated in green on Twitter with the caption: “To open the headquarters in Barnaul I will do so as the character from the film The Mask,” a reference to the green-faced comic book character, played by Jim Carrey, in the 1994 movie. “Awesome, even my teeth are green,” he added, apparently unharmed by the liquid.
It is the latest in a procession of dirty tricks that the campaign has run into since Navalny took it to Siberia. He has been pelted with eggs, his fellow activists have found the doors of their apartments sealed-up with filler-foam and police have disrupted a campaign event by forcing people to evacuate over a supposed bomb threat.
Navalny, known for a sarcastic, irreverent style, has pointedly tried to take the disruptions in stride. After police forced people to leave the campaign event over the bomb threat, he took it outside, speaking to supporters from a snowdrift in 21 degrees Fahrenheit, according to a Times of London correspondent, who was present.
Navalny is opening dozens of local campaign headquarters across Russia to prepare for a run against current president Vladimir Putin in next year’s elections. Siberia is his first attempt to take the campaign outside of areas close to Moscow and local authorities have expressed hostility to his arrival. Last week, a presidential envoy to Siberia, Sergei Menyailo, told local media Navalny’s campaign threatened “stability” in the region and was trying to “put the bases of power in doubt.”
A former lawyer who turned his anti-corruption work into a political movement, Navalny has faced a series of criminal cases, which he says are meant to block his political activity. This month a court handed him a 5-year suspended sentence on fraud charges, after the original verdict was ruled flawed by the European Court of Human Rights.
Russian law forbids those convicted of a criminal offense from running for public office, but Navalny has said he will run regardless. He has said he has no expectation of beating Putin, but that his campaign is intended to show how rigged politics are under Putin’s rule and remind Russians that opposition forces still exist in the country.
He faces a dizzyingly uphill battle, however. Hundreds of people attended a rally supporting him in the Siberian city of Tomsk, but a recent poll by the independent Levada Center found only 3 percent of Russians “respected” Navalny and only 1 percent said they would vote for him.
Despite their small hold in the country, Russia’s opposition are frequently attacked. Smearing opposition figures with antiseptic during rallies has become a common tactic; others have been mysteriously poisoned or, in the case of one of Russia’s most prominent Putin critics, Boris Nemtsov, shot dead.
Navalny has gained a large internet following thanks to his investigations into some of Putin’s closest allies, presented in slick, often mocking videos. This month, he released an investigation into Putin’s prime minister and former president, Dmitry Medvedev, presenting tax documents he claims show Medvedev created a property empire worth over a billion dollars using a corrupt scheme based on phoney charities. Nine million people have watched the video so far.
“Maybe in the Kremlin they think with a green a face I won’t make anymore videos,” Navalny said in a video published on his site shortly after being hit with the antiseptic. “But I definitely will, because even more people will watch me and it in absolutely no way will stop me.”
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