Despite broad support for Navalny's presidential bid it is widely expected that officials will keep him off the ballot. Should Putin win a new six-year term he would become Russia's longest serving leader since Stalin.
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny submitted his nomination papers to Russia's Central Electoral Commission on Sunday night after thousands of supporters turned out across the country to endorse his bid for the presidency.
"An election without us is not an election," Navalny said in Moscow shortly before turning in his documents. The electoral commission will later decide whether he will appear on the ballot.
Some 800 supporters gathered for the formal endorsement meeting along the snow-covered embankment of the Moscow River. His endorsement was observed by two officials from the election commission.
Navalny represents President Vladimir Putin's most formidable opponent during Putin's 18 years in power. Despite that, or perhaps because of it, Navalny is banned from running because of a criminal convictionthat is widely viewed as political retribution.
One caveat is that Navalny could run if he gets a special dispensation or if the conviction is canceled.
Aspiring presidential candidates are only required to submit an endorsement from 500 people before seeking 1 million signatures to secure a place on the ballot, but Navalny used a show of public force to illustrate his support. Hundreds of thousands gathered in 19 cities from St. Petersburg to Vladivostok to show their support for Putin's chief critic.
DW's Moscow correspondent Emily Sherwin attended the opposition event "Day of Free Elections" in Lermontov square where activists called for free elections.
Despite a litany of problems such as corruption, poor healthcare and increasing poverty Putin is widely expected to be re-elected. He essentially controls the TV news and so enjoys 80 percent support among voters.
A grass-roots campaign
Still, Navalny has managed to galvanize support from some of Russia's sleepiest regions with a year-long grass-rootscampaign.
"We have seen for ourselves this year that overwhelming support for authorities simply isn't there," Navalny told Sunday's gathering in Moscow, flanked by his wife and children, in a US-style election campaign speech.
Navalny said Sunday that he's confident he will win if he runs, and called on his supporters to boycott the election if the authorities refuse to register him.
"We are not going to recognize this election but we're not going to step aside either, "he said. "There will be an all-Russian strike of voters."
"Navalny is the only real opposition candidate," said Sergei Dmitriyev, 60, in Saint Petersburg where more than a thousand supporters gathered to support Navalny's bid.
"We need a new president," added Alexander Semyonov, 18.
Asked why Navalny had been barred from running, Putin — who has refused to mention him by name in public — said the opposition was hoping for a "coup" but would not succeed.
bik/aw (AP, Reuters, AFP)