Trying to expand your audience, Navalny held a debate with the nationalist Girkin

Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny on Thursday attempted to broaden the audience of his supporters, joining the debate with Igor Girkin, a former military intelligence officer and nationalist who played a key role in the invasion of Russia to Ukraine. Sitting at a Desk in a darkened office, Bulk and Girkin within one hour and 20 minutes spent verbally sparring, discussing how to rid the country of corruption which relations with the West should strive for and what to do with the conflict in the Donbass.

Mr. Navalny, a lawyer and blogger involved in the fight against corruption, was closest to challenge the incumbent President than any politician in my 17 years of Vladimir Putin’s stay in power. Mr Girkin fought in the Pro-Russian separatist region of Moldova, Transnistria, took part in both the most severe campaigns of Russia in Chechnya, played a key role in the annexation of Crimea by Moscow, was commander in the early stages of the war in the East of Ukraine.

Navalny launched a nationwide campaign to participate in the presidential elections in March 2018, thanks to the protest movement, the impetus for which was published on the Internet a video where the Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev was accused of corruption. However, after the first protests in March, secured his popularity among the Russian youth, the level of public recognition have ceased to grow: only 55% of Russians know about its existence, according to a survey by the independent research organization Levada center.

Mainstream Russian media are ignoring the Bulk, like most other opposition politicians. His campaign headquarters have become a target for security services, which in recent years, frequent to them with searches, and Navalny and some members of his staff were attacked by supporters of the Kremlin.

Bulk took up the challenge Girkin to the debate, arguing that it needs to seek the location of all the Russian citizens as potential voters, including nationalists-supporters of the man known under the pseudonym Shooters combat. Many Russian nationalists are critical of Putin. Before his return to the presidency in 2012 nationalist groups joined the liberal opposition in street protests, many were attracted by Navalny himself organized nationalist movement ten years ago.

However, many liberal supporters of opposition leader sharply criticized the decision the Bulk. “You can’t stoop to the level of the debate with a war criminal”, — said Anatoly Gubkin, a student who participated in two stock Bulk this year.

After the debate, broadcast on the Youtube channels of Bulk and Girkin on the independent TV channel “Rain” (looked about 240 thousand people), someone thought that their anxiety was justified. Navalny, a charismatic speaker, his energy infects the crowd of people coming to his protests, the number of subscribers exceeded the number of subscribers to public channels in a matter of months, often looked helplessly, debating with an opponent, accusing him of lack of patriotism.

Bulk babbled slogans of his election campaign that he wants to return Russia fair elections, independent courts and free media. “Patriotism in modern Russia — it is such a romantic mood: I took my trilineata and went somewhere to fight. I look all over the country. I like the candidate is the cities where there are no roads, there are hospitals where there are no bandages, there are schools that are falling apart,” said Navalny, determining their patriotism. “For me, patriotism in Russia now is to ensure that the citizens live better and richer now. Helping people now is not a war, and the fight against corruption and improving the economy.”

But Girkin said to him: “When you have studied, I have fought in Chechnya.” At the end of the debate, the former soldier said: “You are not a nationalist, and probably not even a patriot.” Some viewers sympathized with Navalny. “Whoever advised Alexey Anatolyevich to agree to debate with this barbarian, stupid twit,” he wrote on his page in Facebook Russian writer Rustem Adagamov.

“Yes, Navalny made a miserable impression,” wrote another viewer. Trying to please the nationalists, the opposition leader also could hurt their more liberal-minded potential supporters. Defending the importance of free elections, he said, “I would have made everyone, not just liberals but nationalists, including you.”

Navalny has gone from a question posed by one of the audience via the Internet, about whether or not he believes Girkin is a war criminal. “If he killed non-combatants, if he have made some things expressly listed in the legal documents, then any person, including Igor Sechin, will be the subject of legal proceedings. If you recognize that non-combatants were killed or he paid someone in slavery, or looting, then it is recognized as a war criminal. It is a matter of judgment, not of Alexei Navalny”.