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A Putin nemesis gains ground

Alexey Navalny in Moscow

Vladimir Putin is back as Russia’s President, a position he previously held for eight years. That’s hardly news: His election in March was guaranteed by a regime that some experts describe as corrupt and bullying. Despite Putin’s power, many predict he’ll be ousted before his term expires in 2018. “The change will be fueled by the anger of the new middle class,” Russian chess legend Garry Kasparov says. “I would bet my bottom dollar that six years is a term he will never complete.” So who is next? Perhaps Alexey Navalny. At 35, the Moscow banking-lawyer-turned-blogger gained popularity during this winter’s mass protests, with speeches blasting the regime. His two-week stint in jail didn’t hurt either. He has no party yet and few funds, but his dynamism and anti-corruption message has ignited millions, especially with the economy slowing. A new report by the Carnegie Endowment for Peace says Navalny’s fame reflects “a longing on the part of urban groups for new leaders.”

This story is from the April 9, 2012 issue of Fortune.