Navalny Who? The Russian Opposition Broadens

Russians are paying greater attention to economic and political grievances rather than specific opposition figures.

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Last week, principal Vladimir Putin critic Alexei Navalny led nationwide protests to call for a boycott of the March 18 presidential election. For Putin, the vote is a fait accompli. A concocted fraud conviction bars Navalny, the opposition's most popular and viable candidate, from running. 

Yet amid this round of unrest Predata signals revealed that the opposition may be coalescing around more general grievances, rather than the figure of Navalny. Ahead of the protests, Russian-language digital attention to Navalny and his anti-corruption foundation was relatively muted, whereas attention to corruption, the economy, past protests, and the Putin regime shot upward. 

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Before anti-government protests in 2017, online attention often centered on Navalny himself. This shift in digital attention away from the specific opposition leader to more general grievances should worry the Kremlin. The upcoming election will hand Putin yet another term in power. But if the Russian digital public increasingly dwells on broader areas of dissatisfaction, especially the economy and corruption, the fallout from Putin's re-election next month could roil the nation.