Shaun Walker: Star of Russian blogosphere gains support for his views on nationalism

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The Independent Online

At Monday night's opposition rally, there were cheers for all the speakers, but the crowd got most excited when Alexei Navalny took to the stage. Tall, confident and charismatic, he vaulted a railing to get to the podium, and strode up to the microphone to cheering. "Navalny for President," shouted people around me.

It might sound a fanciful idea now, but in years to come, this week could be seen as the moment when Mr Navalny, pictured, came of age. A star of the Russian blogosphere, he has long been popular among liberals and those opposed to the Kremlin regime for his ruthless internet campaigns to expose corruption among officials. Now he seems to be getting a bigger stage.

What sets him apart from many other opposition leaders is his Russian nationalism.

His views on the issue have left some Russian liberals feeling queasy. But nationalism is popular among Russians, and also makes him far less susceptible to the hackneyed criticism that opposition activists in Russia are "jackals" waiting for handouts from foreign embassies.

Mr Navalny's fame is limited to the politically active class of internet-savvy Russians, who follow his Twitter feed and blog. But there is a sense that his star is in the ascendant.

Members of Moscow's liberal elite joked yesterday that his arrest gave Mr Navalny the final piece of the jigsaw he needed to secure legitimacy as a serious opposition figure.

While the events of recent days are unprecedented, it is hard to see them as the start of a Russian Winter to follow on from the Arab Spring.

But when and if they do become something more serious the clever money would be on Mr Navalny playing a leading role.