Vladimir Putin Is Dragging Russia Into a Swamp, Says Barred Opposition Leader

Russian opposition figurehead Alexey Navalny is telling Russians to join his protests against the presidential election in order to frighten the likely winner—President Vladimir Putin.

“It is not about me,” Navalny said in a video message published on his blog Wednesday, after the Russian Electoral Commission refused to accredit him as a candidate in the election. “It is about you.”

“Take your current age and add six years to it. That is how old you will be when you get the next theoretical opportunity to vote in presidential elections,” Navalny told his followers online. “And unfortunately you all have a guarantee that these six years, your income, your quality of life will either fall or stay the same.”

Navalny has become a popular figure among liberal and younger Russians, millions of whom watch his YouTube investigations into alleged corruption among the powers that be.

Related: Russia is now accusing the U.S. of meddling in its own upcoming election, after barring Putin critic

“The rest of the world will grow,” Navalny promised, with a slideshow screen showing Putin waist-deep in forest marshes. “Russia will be slowly sinking in a swamp.”

12_27_Navalny Supporters of Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny carry boxes with signatures to nominate him as opposition candidate for the 2018 presidential election in Moscow, in this picture taken in December. Dmitry Serebryakov/AFP Photo/Getty Images

In protest at the March 2018 elections, which Navalny claims are illegitimate because the Kremlin has the right to vet the candidates who will run against Putin, the anti-corruption blogger is calling on Russians to protest on the street next month.

After launching two surprisingly well attended waves of protest this year, Navalny is setting up protest events in over 80 Russian cities, all scheduled for 28 January. The protesters are not expressly aimed at condemning the rejection of his own candidature, but in favor of something Navalny said has been stripped away in Russia—competition for Putin.

Those in power, according to Navalny, have no incentive to try harder. “They have degraded and they cannot stand up straight any longer. Why? Because any, even the best government, degrades if there is no competition in elections and feels no pressure from society.”

“Maybe you don’t lose but your opponent wins so many votes that you understand, the people are sending you a signal,” Navalny said. “You start working under this pressure.”

“That is how it is in all normal, wealthy countries,” Navalny added. “If that is not the case, the country grows poorer and falls behind.”

“Instead of a Russian Elon Musk, we have a robot in a peacoat controlled by WiFi,” he said, showing a clip he often references that depicts an apparent Russian military innovation in robotics, bouncing in the rider’s seat of a quad bike as an unimpressed Putin looks on. “This is directly linked to the fact that there is no competition at elections. The government and Putin specifically, are not trying to amend their mistakes in order to attract more votes.”

During a campaign event on Monday, Navalny was even more blunt in addressing Putin. “You are a bad president,” he announced, albeit in Putin’s absence. “You have no positive program. You are not adept at governing the country.”

Related: Navalny needs a “miracle” to face Vladimir Putin, Russia’s election chief admits

The Kremlin has already called on authorities to look into whether Navalny’s call to protest and boycott the elections is lawful, the Interfax news agency reported.

Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov, who has himself become the focus of Navalny’s anti-corruption investigations, asked for a “very scrupulous study” of Navalny’s claims by authorities and dismissed the idea that without Navalny or a candidate like him, the election was illegitimate.

"Of course we are familiar with all sorts of opinions by analysts of which there is a variety but we cannot agree with such a point of view,” Peskov said.