Alexei Navalny Wants Putin’s Job. Here’s What He’d Do With It; The Russian presidential hopeful who led Sunday’s coast-to-coast protests talks about corruption, the Kremlin, Ukraine, and Trump.

Alexei Navalny file photo

(Bloomberg – bloomberg.com – Leonid Ragozin – March 30, 2017)

Alexei Navalny is in jail. When he gets out, the man determined to unseat Russian President Vladimir Putin next March probably won’t be permitted to run. Banned from Russian TV, he has to barnstorm the vast nation to drum up support for his long-shot bid.

Yet he is Putin’s most formidable rival. (Here’s why.)

The Kremlin has failed to shut Navalny down despite several legal prosecutions. An estimated 60,000 Russians across eight time zones took to the streets on Sunday to back Navalny’s campaign against corruption, which he calls the “pillar” of Putin’s government.

Bloomberg spoke with Navalny earlier this month, as he embarked on the Siberian leg of his tour. Here are condensed excerpts of that interview.

Q: Some say your participation in the election could help legitimize the Russian government.

This is a narrative produced by lazy people who are looking for ways to justify their inaction. Of course, any time I issue a corruption investigation, it plays into the hands of someone in the Kremlin, because the Kremlin is a bunch of bulldogs fighting under the carpet. Whenever we kick one bulldog, it helps another. Life is life.

My other grief is that when I expose a corrupt official, I actually strengthen his position. Putin can’t fire anyone after my investigation, because it would look like Navalny’s victory.

This narrative about legitimization is also funny, because for now they are not even allowing me to run.

Q: If you can run and you win, how would you resolve the conflict in Ukraine?

The fact that Putin turned Ukraine into a hostile country is a crime against Russia. Look, there are 45 million people in Ukraine, and most of them hate us. There is already a whole bunch of countries-the Baltics, Poland, half of Eastern Europe-that are skeptical about us. It is important for him that a nation that has conducted an anti-criminal revolution 1 was defeated , lies in ruins, and never becomes a role model for Russian citizens.

The issue of Donbass [a wartorn region of Ukraine] can be solved-just implement the Minsk agreement. The Crimean issue is now in the category of unresolvable territorial disputes, of which there are plenty around the world. Look at Israel. There have been loads of Security Council resolutions, loads of peace conferences, zillions of books written about ways to achieve a peace settlement, but the problem is still there and unlikely to be resolved any time soon. What can we do with Crimea 2 , now that everyone there has been issued Russian passports?

Q: You have a certain agenda overlap with Donald Trump. What do you make of him?

It is senseless to draw parallels between Russian and American politicians, because the domestic agendas in these countries are entirely different. Yes, my stance on migration might look similar to Trump’s. But I stand for a visa regime with Central Asian countries. I just want the immigrants to be properly registered.

The rest of Trump’s agenda is simply irrelevant in Russia. Here, both the liberals and the conservatives are pro-choice. No one is talking about firearms here. Here we have an authoritarian country, and the main controversy is whether the president should be elected or he can stay and rule for another 20 years.

I don’t understand how Trump can support Putin. Any Republican would die from horror just looking at how things are done in Russia. I don’t understand why he believes Putin is a strong leader. His leadership is based on media censorship, political oppression, and vote rigging. I have no doubt that Russian secret service has been hacking servers. This is their normal practice. But for now I think Putin’s role has been exaggerated.

It is also really strange for me when the liberal establishment in the U.S. starts to employ Nashist methods [from Nashi, the Kremlin youth organization]. I’ve just seen a tweet that says that there will be a reception at the Russian embassy and someone should photograph all Americans who are attending. This is what Putin does.

Q: Does the West remain a beacon for you?

The liberal trend has been dominant for 20 years. What we are seeing is probably a correction of this trend, the pendulum swinging the other way just slightly. We will see in the coming years whether Trump or Brexit reflects a correction or a complete change of tack, but I don’t think it’s the latter.

What has happened in the U.S. is not so much disappointing as it is strange. Our image of U.S. politics has been formed by books and TV series. We believed that if a politician in the U.S. says something really wrong, his career will instantly collapse, that people will ruin their lives by saying something stupid about sexual minorities or disabled people. We believed that one couldn’t become the president of the United States without meeting the highest criteria in this respect. Then suddenly this entire perception collapsed.

Ultimately, I still believe that Russia is a Western country and that it should develop as such. One of my fundamental disagreements with Putin is that I think that all this talk about a “third way” or Eurasianism is complete crap, a totally fantasized narrative that’s only helpful when it comes to stealing public funds.

Q: What should the world expect from a President Navalny?

Under President Navalny, Russia will focus on its own problems. I am not talking about isolationism. But look at the map of Russia-why should we talk about annexing other lands, when we have so much land already?

Take something like the Smolensk region. It looks abandoned, with roads falling apart and depopulated villages. Putin has closed 22,000 schools, half of them in rural areas. We keep receiving a lot of money from oil and gas exports. We can still boast high educational standards. We are a country that still makes good money. President Navalny will channel all these resources, and his own time, toward resolving Russia’s internal problems, toward improving people’s lives.

As for foreign policy, I believe that the country’s power in the international arena directly depends on its economic might. When we have 20 million people living below the poverty line, what kind of greatness can we talk about? At the moment, our foreign policy consists of two things-exercising the right of veto in the [United Nations] Security Council and those hybrid operations [as in Ukraine] Putin keeps undertaking.

European and American democracies cannot defend themselves. They think in terms of legal process, collecting evidence, but they are facing a man who is openly lying to them. Look, a plane has been shot down, and they are talking about some Spanish ground control operator, or they tell us that the plane had been loaded with corpses by the CIA.

Russia doesn’t need all these adventures. They are expensive and senseless. Let’s spend this money inside the country.

Q: You are now a niche politician. How can you get out of the liberal intelligentsia bubble?

I am not a niche politician-I’ve been driven into niche politics. I have no access to television. So those who use the internet, in other words educated people, know me better.

I have no aversion to addressing people at a plant or mine. Our program targets a broader audience, which indeed draws criticism and accusations of populism, even though my proposals-raising the minimum wage, redistributing revenues between federal and regional budgets, allocating more funds for education and health care-are based on careful calculation.

There is no other way of getting out of that niche but to run a campaign. This is why I am traveling around regions. In fact, I’ve got much more to tell these people than my traditional audience in Moscow.

Q: What kind of message do you have for, say, miners in Kemerovo?

Yes, they know little about me and they have little faith in the possibility of positive change. This is the greatest obstacle for my campaign. Not Putin or censorship, but people in Russia who don’t believe life can be improved.

But with blue collars one can discuss real issues the country is facing-wages, social injustice, abuse of power by police. These are issues that ordinary people are concerned about, and I am an ordinary person.

Q: After the political coalitions of 1991 and 2013 3 , why is there no broad coalition in Russia today?

I am the only politician in Russia who can talk to both [major factions], even though the nationalists call me a liberal and the liberals call me a nationalist. It is impossible to reach agreement with the entire political establishment. So my strategy is to address people directly, bypassing it. Voters are not serfs of the political parties.

©2017 Bloomberg L.P. All Rights Reserved. Article also appeared at bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-03-30/alexei-navalny-wants-putin-s-job-here-s-what-he-d-do-with-it

[featured image is file photo from different occasion]