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Putin critic Navalny's approval rating surges in wake of poisoning

MOSCOW (Reuters) - One-fifth of Russians now approve of poisoned Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, according to an opinion poll published on Friday, a figure more than twice as high as a year ago but one accompanied by a doubling of disapproval of his activities.

FILE PHOTO: Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny delivers a speech during a rally to demand the release of jailed protesters, who were detained during opposition demonstrations for fair elections, in Moscow, Russia September 29, 2019

A vocal opponent of President Vladimir Putin, Navalny, 44, fell ill on a domestic flight in August and was airlifted to a Berlin hospital. Germany says he was poisoned with a rare nerve agent. Russia says it has seen no evidence he was poisoned.

His case has attracted attention worldwide and at home, with Western leaders demanding an explanation from the Kremlin over what happened.

According to the poll by the Levada Centre, conducted in late September, 20% of respondents approve of Navalny’s activities, while 50% do not. In 2019, his approval rating was 9%, but the percentage of those who disapproved of him was also lower, at 25%.

Of those who had heard about Navalny’s poisoning, 55% said they did not believe it was a deliberate act

Russia’s diplomatic mission to the EU last month quoted a previous survey putting Navalny’s popularity at only 2% and commented that it would make no sense for Moscow to have poisoned a political opponent with so little support.

Navalny’s chief of staff, Leonid Volkov, responded at the time: “It’s as if they’re saying ‘If his rating was 20%, then we would have poisoned him.’”

The Kremlin this week accused Navalny, who has vowed to return to Russia, of working with the CIA after Navalny said he believed Putin was behind the suspected poisoning.

“The problem for those in power is that discrediting Navalny doesn’t automatically translate into some kind of affinity towards the Russian authorities,” said political analysis firm R.Politik on Telegram.

“It’s a false dichotomy: Putin or Navalny. Many don’t like either.”

Putin’s approval rating dipped to 59% in April, a two-decade low, but had recovered to 69% as of Friday, Levada polling data showed.

Reporting by Alexander Marrow; Editing by Steve Orlofsky

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