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In First Interview From Jail, an Upbeat Navalny Discusses Prison Life

The Kremlin was so concerned about the upcoming elections, he said, that it engineered a crackdown this year not just on his group and other activists but on moderate opposition politicians, civil society groups and independent news media outlets like Meduza, Proekt and Dozhd television.

Mr. Navalny suggested that while the crackdown may prove to be a tactical success for Mr. Putin, it may also be a long-term liability.

“Putin solved his tactical question: not allowing us to take away the majority in the Duma,” Mr. Navalny said, speaking of the Russian Parliament’s lower house. “In this way, he highly appraised the potential of ‘smart voting.’ But to achieve this, he had to completely change the political system, to shift to a principally different, far harsher level of authoritarianism.”

Longer term, Mr. Navalny said, the repression carries risks as Mr. Putin makes enemies of local and regional leaders “who were thrown out of the political system together with us.”

Mr. Navalny suggested the move underscored a principal weakness of Mr. Putin’s political system. While leftists and nationalists are represented by parties loyal to Mr. Putin, there is no stable, pro-Kremlin center-right party representing the country’s emerging middle class of relatively prosperous, city-dwelling Russians.

“Opposition exists in Russia not because Aleksei Navalny or somebody else commands it from a headquarters,” Mr. Navalny said, “but because about 30 percent of the country — mostly the educated, urban population — doesn’t have political representation.”

When what he called the reactionary anomaly of Mr. Putin’s rule fades, Russia will revert to democratic governance, Mr. Navalny said. “We are specific, like any nation, but we are Europe. We are the West.”

Julian E. Barnes contributed reporting from Washington.


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