MOSCOW (Reuters) - A Russian opposition leader said he wanted to become president and would do everything in his power to put Vladimir Putin in jail, in a defiant message days before he goes on trial on theft charges he says are politically motivated.
Alexei Navalny, an anti-corruption blogger who was a leader of the biggest opposition protests of Putin’s 13-year rule last year, is to go on trial on April 17.
The 36-year-old says the case is part of a Kremlin campaign to silence dissent. He faces up to 10 years in jail if found guilty of stealing 16 million roubles (333,673 pounds) worth of timber from a state firm in 2009.
He has denied wrongdoing in the timber case as well as separate cases in which he is accused of defrauding a mail transport company and stealing funds from a political party, describing the allegations as “absurd”.
“I want to become president,” Navalny told Internet and cable TV channel Dozhd late on Thursday. “I want to change the way people live in this country, I want to change the system of government in this country.”
He said he would do to all he could to see Putin and wealthy businessmen with longstanding ties to the president jailed. “For me they are all links in the chain of loathsome, thieving authorities,” he said.
Russia’s next presidential election is in 2018. Putin, who began a six-year term last May, has not ruled out seeking re-election.
Navalny popularised the label “party of crooks and thieves” for Putin’s ruling United Russia party, and it became a slogan at protests that erupted after a December 2011 parliamentary election marred by allegations of widespread fraud.
The Kremlin denies the charges against Navalny are politically motivated.
Western governments and rights groups have expressed concern over the prosecution of government critics such as the punk band Pussy Riot, as well as laws tightening controls on advocacy groups and street protests.
Editing by Pravin Char