Paul Goble, a U.S.-based expert on ethnic relations in Russia, says the country's liberal opposition has failed to win broad support over the years in part
because it has not addressed issues that are important to the ethnic Russian majority. He believes Navalny's open approach to such issues could be
politically successful, but cautions he shouldn't dismiss the danger of extremism too cavalierly.
"If someone who is as high-profile as Aleksei Navalny has become uses ugly words to describe ethnic minorities and appears to appeal directly to some of
the most fundamentalist values of ethnic Russians, then there is a real danger that extremist elements -- which I'm quite sure Navalny himself would
condemn -- will see that as a sanction for their behavior," Goble says.
Navalny has also at times seemed insensitive to the historical echoes that words like "deportation" have to some national groups within Russia.
Longtime rights activist Lyudmila Alekseyeva attributes some of the 37-year-old Navalny's apparent aggression and prickliness to a lack of experience.
"This harsh, even annoyed tone of his characterizes Navalny as an inexperienced politician, because an experienced politician answers any -- even the most
outrageous -- question calmly with a polite smile," she says. "And he only benefits from doing so."
Others, however, appreciate what they see as Navalny's candor and consistency. Journalist Aider Muzhdabayev recently had a public exchange of letters with
Navalny about his nationalist positions. While many felt that Navalny answered Muzhdabayev's questions almost rudely, Muzhdabayev himself was satisfied.
"Maybe we vote with our hearts, and we value sincerity. Some people might like what he said; some people might not like it. But I appreciate that he
answered sincerely. We got a political portrait of a man who we knew mostly from his battle against corruption -- his noble and selfless struggle, which I
support 100 percent," Muzhdabayev says. "Now we have learned how he emotionally, as a person, [reacts]."
In part, the fears of Navalny's nationalist views have been fanned by media connected with the Kremlin and the United Russia party. Kremlin-friendly
journalist Vladimir Solovyov has hammered at this theme vigorously in recent months.
The Kremlin has routinely asserted that Russia faces two existential threats -- destructive nationalism at home and hostile foreign governments abroad --
with the Bonapartist implication that only an authoritarian central government can maintain order.
In September 2012, Navalny participated in a heated interview with United Russia Duma Deputy Andrei Isayev in which Isayev tried both tactics, first trying
to stick Navalny with the nationalist label and then accusing him of being a tool of the United States.
Isayev: "Who do you consider yourself -- a liberal, a nationalist, a socialist like [leftist opposition activist Sergei] Udaltsov?"
Navalny: "Andrei, I consider myself a responsible citizen of the Russian Federation."
Isayev: "I can't accept that. There are political positions..."
Navalny: "We have found a key difference between us. Let me answer the question. This is a key difference. You like [former Moscow Mayor Yury] Luzhkov,
[Prime Minister Dmitry] Medvedev, Putin. You like anyone who maintains your seat in the State Duma."
Isayev: "That's not true."
Navalny: "But I have said the same things..."
Isayev: "In that case, you like the United States of America, which keeps you afloat in any movement."
Isayev then went on to ask Navalny what he studied when he had a six-month scholarship at Yale University in 2010 and "who paid for it."