In this April 27, 2017 photo, Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny is seen after unknown attackers doused him with green antiseptic outside a conference venue in Moscow, Russia. Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny wrote on Instagram on Tuesday May 9, 2017 that he has undergone eye surgery in Spain and that doctors expect the vision in his right eye to be restored in several months, after being attacked.
Putin critic Navalny takes message to YouTube
02:42 - Source: CNN
CNN  — 

Russian activist Alexey Navalny kicked off a run for the country’s presidency on Sunday even though an embezzlement conviction would appear to disqualify him from pursuing the job.

Navalny held nomination gatherings Sunday that were required before he could register as a presidential candidate.

He would ostensibly challenge President Vladimir Putin, who is expected to run in the March vote. Putin has served as either Prime Minister or President of the country since 1999.

Navalny is seen by his supporters as an alternative to Putin. He is widely popular among youth and has tapped anger over a sluggish economy and endemic corruption.

More than 500 people were needed to come together to officially endorse Navalny, but his support exceeded that threshold. The opposition leader said on Facebook that supporters in 20 cities gathered to nominate him to run in March.

Navalny then submitted his candidate registration papers with the Central Election Commission, which can approve or reject his candidacy.

His candidacy is unlikely because Russian law prevents convicted criminals from running for public office. But Navalry claims the conviction was bogus and politically motivated to block his presidential bid.

Navalny rose to prominence during large-scale anti-government protests in Russia in 2011. His anti-corruption stance has touched a chord, and he has been running an unofficial election campaign across the country.

In October, thousands of people attended marches in 26 cities against Putin on the leader’s 65th birthday.

Pamela Boykoff, Darya Tarasova and Fred Pleitgen contributed to this report