More Than Half of Russians Say Putin's Party Are 'Crooks and Thieves'

But opposition leader Navalny wonders what the other half are thinking.
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An opposition supporter defends the right of assembly in Red Square, as part of a campaign protesting against Vladimir Putin's presidency in central Moscow on May 27, 2012. (Sergei Karpukhin/Reuters)

As Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny stands trial for allegedly embezzling money from a timber company -- charges that many Russia watchers say are trumped up -- the anti-government slogan he helped popularize is taking off among the general public.

Throughout Russia's boisterous protests over the past year and a half, activists took to the streets chanting that the ruling United Russia party was "the party of crooks and thieves" -- a moniker Navalny invented and spread through his prolific LiveJournal blogging and social media following.

Now, for the first time in two years, the majority of Russians agree with that slogan, according to a new poll of 1,600 people by the Levada Center.

You can see the results on this chart put together by news site Vedomosti (the red line says "agree" with the crooks and thieves characterization; the gray line says "disagree.")

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The poll also revealed a broader disillusionment with the Russian government. Just 10 percent of respondents agreed with the statement "elected officials care about the welfare of the people," compared with 41 percent in March of 1990. And 62 percent of people in the latest poll said that "maintaining and strengthening their own power" was the most important thing to Russian policymakers.

Navalny wrote that he was pleased with the anti-United-Russia trend, but he seemed incredulous that more people didn't agree with his view:

"What's going on in the minds of those 49 percent of people who do not agree unconditionally to the fact that United Russia is the party of crooks and thieves?" he wrote, adding, "51 percent is good, but of course, it should be 79 percent."

If he's convicted, Navalny faces up to 10 years in prison, and he would be barred from running for public office. Some view the case as politically motivated, since it began shortly after he ramped up his Putin-bashing activities. The trial began earlier this month, and 99 percent of Russian trials end in guilty verdicts.

Navalny also took the poll as a sign that the opposition should mount a new phase of the campaign:

"I think that you can run a simple, cheap, and interesting one."

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Olga Khazan is an associate editor at The Atlantic, where she covers health.

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