MOSCOW, Dec. 13 (UPI) -- Russian democracy activist Alexei Navalny announced his bid Tuesday for the presidency of Russia in the 2018 election.
Navalny, 40, is leader of the opposition Party of Progress and a frequent critic of the graft and corruption he says is widespread in the administration of President Vladimir Putin. It is likely, but not certain, that Putin, 64, will seek a fourth term in office in 2018.
"I am going to the polls, and I am going to fight to win," Navalny said in a video announcing his candidacy. "I am going to speak about things people refuse to talk about, but which it is high time were said."
In a statement accompanying the video, he wrote, "I am fully aware that it will be very difficult to oppose the current Russian authorities with their election-rigging and their propaganda machine. I know very well that it will not be easy for me even to become a candidate. I want the year 2018 to become a clash of programs and ideas, the choice of not just a person, but the course of national development. I have a program that is better than what Putin and the Kremlin are offering."
Navalny is the most visible member of a loose assortment of anti-Putin groups and political parties, which has both liberal and conservative elements.
In 2014 he and his brother Oleg received jail terms of three and one-half years each for defrauding a French cosmetics company. The brothers said the case was politically motivated. Last month his conviction, and a five-year suspended sentence, in a 2013 fraud case, was overturned by Russia's Supreme Court after the European Court of Human Rights ruled his rights were violated. A retrial was ordered, and if he is acquitted it will remove the barrier banning those with active criminal records from running for the presidency.
In 2013 Navalny received 27 percent of the vote in the Moscow mayoral election. He was allowed to run despite being out on bail in the 2013 fraud case, and it led to speculation that Sergei Sobyanin, the incumbent mayor and Kremlin-backed candidate, sought to include Navalny to demonstrate the election was legitimate. Putin may use Navalny in a similar role, the British newspaper The Telegraph suggested.
Navalny's style is aggressive, and he has openly attacked Putin and those in his administration. This year, his anti-corruption group has published embarrassing disclosures about Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, Deputy Prime minister Igor Shuvalov and Igor Sechin, a Putin ally and chief of Rosneft, the state oil company.