The pugnacious spokeswoman for Russia’s Foreign Ministry has canceled an online debate with prominent opposition figure Aleksei Navalny that would have potentially given him greater legitimacy.
Maria Zakharova announced on May 1 that Navalny had made too many demands for the debate to take place, including having a moderator, Novaya gazeta reported. The two were scheduled to debate later that day.
Zakharova, whose confrontational style in defending Russia’s foreign policy has made her something of a celebrity at home, surprisingly challenged Navalny on April 30 via a Facebook post to an online debate after he criticized her earlier that day on his weekly video blog.
“Comrade Navalny, you don’t have any more oligarchs [to attack]? Well? Ready, Aleksei Anatolyevich, for a conversation? Not in courts where you can hide behind legalese or lawyers. But online? After all, you are afraid,” Zakharova said.
Navalny immediately accepted the challenge and recommended that TV Dozhd, an independent media outlet, moderate the debate.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and other high-ranking Russian officials avoid mentioning Navalny by name even when asked directly about him. Analysts have said it is an attempt to deny Navalny any legitimacy as a political figure.
Navalny has built up a following over the years for his investigative pieces exposing corruption among top Russian officials. However, his popularity rating in polls is in the low single digits.