Russian Opposition Leader Calls For A Show Of Political Force
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
All right, so the country that is at the center of all of that happening in Washington, we are in that country this morning, Russia. And we came here to try to get a better sense of Vladimir Putin's country. And we are approaching this inflection point here. And that inflection point involves a 41-year-old named Alexei Navalny.
He's a former lawyer and opposition leader who's been building support on social media. And he really wants Putin's job. Now, we should say, Putin remains incredibly popular here. It's not even clear Navalny would be legally cleared to run next year in a planned presidential election. But Navalny is calling for young Russians everywhere to take to the streets this coming Monday in a show of political force.
And so this week, I caught up with two university students to talk to them about their plans for this Monday. One of them was Alexander Lyasko. He's 21 years old, and we met in this sunny park. He was wearing a black beanie on a pretty warm day.
Is English OK? Can we try it?
ALEXANDER LYASKO: Yeah.
LYASKO: Yeah, I'm not the best English speaker. I'm guessing that I can speak.
GREENE: Yeah, I've got to say, he and the other student that you'll hear from were pretty good sports. I mean, they agreed to do these interviews in their second language, English. Alexander, he reminded me of something about Moscow. You don't look at the luxury hotels and the off-the-charts pricey Italian boutiques and assume that wealth is widespread.
LYASKO: For me, it's difficult to say that I'm Russian, yeah, and am proud of Russia.
GREENE: That's because the economy of this country is fragile. And it's also because Alexander feels like Russia is isolated. The country, he says, is just not committed to Western values.
LYASKO: I really want to live in a country where if you work well, you got great results.
GREENE: Now, Alexander says he would likely vote for the opposition leader, Navalny, if he runs against Putin next year. But Alexander also worries that public protests are just an opportunity for the government to trash the opposition, undermining its cause.
So you won't be in any of the protests on Monday?
LYASKO: No, I won't 'cause I think that this kind of protests are really ineffective.
GREENE: So Alexander's friend is Denis Malyshev. He also came to chat with us. He is 19 years old. And the first thing you notice about him, his trendy shoes. They were these fancy brown sneakers. I mean, I kind of wanted a pair.
Denis, I like your shoes.
DENIS MALYSHEV: I wanted to buy these for three. And one month ago, there was a sale on it. So I buy it.
GREENE: He saved up for three years to buy a pair of shoes for 4,500 rubles. That's about 80 bucks. Denis is from a town a bit outside Moscow. His dad, an electrician, works two jobs. And Denis says he can't stand Vladimir Putin, though it's not always easy to see that.
MALYSHEV: My political argument, it's only sharing with friends. And I don't go in public with my protests and political opinions because of my father. He's scared me to get in jail.
GREENE: And that is why Denis might have to lie to his dad this coming Monday.
Are you going to protest?
MALYSHEV: Yes, I want to go.
GREENE: Why is it worth it?
MALYSHEV: We don't have another way.
GREENE: So we can use your name, Denis?
GREENE: We don't have to use your other names if you're worried about, like, you or your dad.
MALYSHEV: No, I want you to use my name, Denis Malyshev.
GREENE: Denis Malyshev - And he wanted me to say his name loud and clear. And, you know, I've heard Russians express this before that they want to live in a country where they can own their political beliefs and express them with no risk. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.