WORLD -- February 29, 2012 at 1:32 PM EDT
Influential Russian Blogger: Opposition 'Will Not Recognize...Election Results'
MOSCOW | Russian blogger Alexei Navalny, who has emerged as one of the most potent new figures opposing Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's bid to regain the presidency, said he and many others in the opposition will not accept the results of Sunday's election as legitimate.
Since the Kremlin-controlled Election Commission didn't allow credible potential rivals to run, he said, the election was essentially rigged from the start.
"Since we do not recognize this election, we will not recognize the election results," Navalny told me in an interview in his office in Moscow. "We are quite clear that on March 5, Putin will declare himself the president of Russia. In fact, he would call himself a czar or an emperor. We will not accept this and we will continue to demand political reforms, new parliamentary elections within a year and new presidential elections within two years."
Navalny, who is known for targeting corruption in Russia in his blog, is among the leaders of an Internet- and street-based opposition movement that erupted in Russia after the exposure of fraud in December's parliamentary elections. He vowed the protests would continue until their demands for a sped-up, new election timetable were met.
Once reinstated as president, Putin could and should lead those reforms, Navalny said. "I believe that such a scenario exists and I think that Putin -- even though he is a very corrupted politician, a greedy politician and a very power-hungry politician -- he is a smart, flexible person," he said. "If he makes certain changes, we will be able to carry out the peaceful transition of power, avoid any violence and guarantee freedom and security for Vladimir Putin."
Asked to explain, Navalny continued: "We have a lot of evidence that Vladimir Putin and his team were personally involved in criminal acts and of course he should be prosecuted. But in this regard, there is consensus in the opposition, that for the sake of peaceful transfer of power in the country, Vladimir Putin, personally, and his family should get some kind of freedom guarantees."
It will be up to Putin whether to hear, much less heed, that advice; and whether to regard it as a promise -- or a threat.