MOSCOW, September 4 (RIA Novosti) – Moscow mayoral candidate and opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s anti-corruption campaign may stem from a drive for popular support rather than a genuine concern for the public interest, President Vladimir Putin claimed Wednesday.
He cited Navalny’s recent conviction for embezzlement as a mark against the authenticity of his anti-corruption platform.
“If a person talks about a fight against corruption, he himself must be, above all, spotlessly clean,” he said in an interview with the Associated Press and Russia's state TV network Channel 1. “I unfortunately have suspicions that this is just a way to score points rather than a genuine desire to solve problems.”
Navalny, who has based his opposition activism and election campaign for Moscow mayor on a vociferous anti-corruption platform, was found guilty of embezzlement in mid-July and sentenced to five years in prison. Many observers and his supporters claimed the trial was a politically motivated attempt to stop his anti-corruption drive.
A protest was organized near Moscow’s downtown Manezh Square in response to the verdict on July 18, and Navalny was released next day on the grounds he should be allowed to continue his campaign for mayor pending appeal of his sentence.
Putin claimed that though he did not know the details of Navalny’s case, the activist had “committed, according to law enforcement, a violation of the law,” and the guilty verdict was unrelated to his opposition activities.
He also expressed doubts that Navalny was qualified to be Moscow mayor. “Riding a fashionable theme of a fight against corruption doesn’t mean he knows how to manage a city of 12 million people,” Putin said.
The president also acknowledged that the number of independent political parties is increasing in Russia, and said cutting off contact with opposition political groups is “a path to nowhere, a path to confrontation and unrest.”
“I would like it if there was less criticism [of the current government]…but this is our political culture,” he said. “I think gradually there will be a positive change.”
Elections for Moscow mayor and regional governors will be held on Sunday, September 8.