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Russian opposition leader campaigns against voter apathy

NOVOSIBIRSK, Russia (AP) — Alexei Navalny, the opposition leader who organized massive street protests in Moscow against Vladimir Putin four years ago, had a much harder time drawing a big crowd in Siberia’s largest city last month.

Maybe it was the scorching heat of the short Siberian summer that kept the size of the weekend rally to about 1,000 people.

Maybe it was the disillusionment and apathy that many Russians are feeling about their political system these days.

Or maybe it’s that Navalny’s anti-corruption message is being drowned out by a Kremlin media campaign increasingly focused on the separatist war in Ukraine and the standoff with the West.

As a result, Russians across the vast country seem to have become so fixated on Ukraine that their own economic and social problems are getting pushed to the back burner.

“You can see that the government has succeeded in imposing its own agenda. It’s all about Ukraine, America,” Navalny told The Associated Press while on the campaign trail in Novosibirsk.

“It’s important to run in elections and promote the real issues and not talk about imaginary things like fascists and gays in Europe who are attacking Russia,” he said.

The charismatic, 39-year-old Navalny organized the demonstrations in 2011 and 2012 that drew tens of thousands of people to the streets of Moscow before Putin was elected to a third presidential term. The blogger and corruption fighter coined the now widely used description of the Kremlin-backed political party United Russia as one of “crooks and thieves.”

Navalny was convicted last year in a fraud case widely seen as a vendetta by the Kremlin for his anti-corruption activities, and he was given a suspended sentence of 3

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