I want to be president: Russian opposition leader Navalny

Charismatic Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, a leading critic of President Vladimir Putin, declared his ambition to stand for president as he prepares for a trial that could see him jailed.

Navalny said he expected to be convicted in the embezzlement case, which his supporters claim is politically motivated, but insisted he did not fear prison and would jail his top foes if he came to power.

"I want to be president," he told the opposition Dozhd (Rain) television channel in a late-night interview Thursday.

"I want to change life in the country. I want to change the way it is ruled.

"I want to do things so that the 140 million people who live in this country, who have oil and gas coming out of the ground, do not live in poverty or dark squalor and live normally like in a European country."

A Russian court announced Thursday that Navalny would go on trial on April 17 in the provincial city of Kirov in the case, which concerns a business deal struck by the local government he advised in 2009.

If found guilty, he faces up to 10 years in jail.

"I do not doubt that the verdict will be guilty," said Navalny, who vehemently maintains he is innocent. He noted that under Russian law even a suspended jail sentence would disqualify him for running for office.

He said he did not fear "any kind of sentence" but added: "Like any normal person, I don't have the slightest desire to end up in jail."

Navalny vowed that should he win office he would ensure criminal prosecution of his enemies including Putin and the president's tycoon acquaintances Gennady Timchenko and Arkady Rotenberg.

Both men vehemently deny opposition allegations of improper business dealings.

"One day we will be victorious and we will have them jailed," said Navalny.

Nevertheless Navalny, who won prominence with a blog investigating corruption and grew in stature during last year's political protests, faces an uphill political struggle.

A poll published Thursday by the Levada Centre said that just 37 percent of Russians knew who Navalny is, although this number is constantly rising. Meanwhile, only 14 percent said they would likely vote for him in an election.