Holiday of Obedience or Imitation of Regional Elections in Russia

Sep 14 2015

The regional elections that took place yesterday (September 13, 2015) in many Russian regions did not surprise anyone. With the exceptions of Kostroma, where the democratic coalition was allowed to campaign, or Irkutsk with the surprised results and the second round of elections to follow, most of the elections were not competitive as usually.

So, we’ve decided to tell you a very typical story – when there is just an imitation of elections with no real alternative and when it’s quite safe and predictable for the ruling party. This is how it happens (on the example of Leningradskaya Oblast):

The elections in Leningradskaya Oblast are very difficult to call elections. Alexander Drozdenko, Acting Governor, was supported by the Kremlin and, in fact, chose his competitors by himself. For example, he chose Alexander Perminov, a 36-year-old deputy of the Legislative Assembly of Leningradskaya Oblast from ‘A Just Russia’ party, after having some tea with Sergey Mironov, the leader of the party. A little-known candidate from ‘Civic Initiative’ – Alexander Gabitov (a former son-in-law of Gennady Seleznev, ex-Speaker of the State Duma) was reportedly promised the position of the Vice-Governor of the region for his participating in the elections. And Gabitov was touting Drozdenko in his social media the entire summer, which looked quite stupid: “At the entrance to the government building of Leningradskaya Oblast I met A.Y. Drozdenko! Alexander Yurievich – democratically, without security. That’s what it means to conduct business in the region in a balanced and harmonious manner! You can honestly look into the eyes of the citizens and not to be afraid to walk down the street”!

A communist Nikolai Kuzmin, a State Duma deputy, also participated in the elections. When journalists requested him to enumerate the shortcomings of Drozdenko, he effaced himself much. As it turned out, he couldn’t imagine he was supposed to criticize his opponent.

To Andrey Lebedev, the leader of the LDPR faction in the Legislative Assembly, was promised the second place in the elections – so that his self-esteem doesn’t plummet too much. However, the results show that promise of the head of the region hasn’t been kept.

Independent candidates were not allowed to campaign – they were blocked through the so-called ‘municipal filter’ (candidates to the post of the head of the region should collect signatures of municipal deputies, and taking into account that the United Russia has an absolute majority, the chances of unapproved candidates to get to the election ballots equal zero).

A regional oligarch, deputy of the Legislative Assembly of the region from United Russia, Vladimir Petrov, wanted to participate in the elections. He was ready to spend significant funds for his campaign, but Drozdenko was afraid of a strong competitor and reportedly requested the President’s Administration not to let Petrov in the elections.

“God looks after me. I have nobody to fear”

Drozdenko’s elections – as they are dubbed in the region – are the exact repeat of Poltavchenko’s elections of last year when Acting Governor of St. Petersburg Georgy Poltavchenko was provided with dummy candidates that did not pose any threat to him. Konstantin Sukhenko, a deputy of the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly from the LDPR, learned he was Poltavchenko’s competitor by accident. He received a phone call and was informed he wanted to become the Governor of Russia’s North Capital. At least he told his friends so. Later, Sukhenko became the head of the Committee on Culture of St. Petersburg i.e. was promoted in exchange for his participation in the elections. Nobody knew Andrey Petrov before those elections – a candidate from the Rodina party, who became Deputy Head of the Central District of St. Petersburg and who unofficially, organized the March summit of European neo-Nazis to the city. City political scientists had difficulty remembering the name of candidate Takhir Bikbaev. Vadim Tulpanov, the Senator, Ex-Speaker of the Legislative Assembly even jokingly called him Timur Bekmambetov (it’s a famous Russian movie director). Poltavchenko didn’t let his biggest opponent in the election – Oksana Dmitrieva from A Just Russia party, which is very popular in the city. When I asked Poltavchenko if he feared her, he responded: “God looks after me. I have nobody to fear.”

Even if the main candidates gain a big percentage and the turnout is only 20%, it may look not serious enough

In both cases, the authorities were worried only about one thing – the turnout. Even if the main candidates gain a big percentage and the turnout is only 20%, it may look not serious enough. There is a question of legitimacy in this case. That’s why in both Leningradskaya Oblast this year and in St. Petersburg last year the early voting of so-called ‘budget workers’ were organized. They were not forced to vote for Drozdenko since the main threat for him was only the turnout.

Since there were no real competitors, there were no independent observers as well. Russian pop music was heard in empty poll stations. Pies, traditional for Russian elections, quickly ended. Policemen played games on their cell phones in a relaxed manner. Rare voters would explain they voted for Drozdenko since they “don’t know any other candidate. They haven’t seen anybody on billboards, newspapers haven’t written anything about them.” What is the difference, in the end, with what result Drozdenko is going to win?

Regional journalists, mostly funded by Drozdenko and therefore, can’t write negatively about him, unofficially called the elections as a ‘Holiday of Obedience’ and were happy that those dull, non-alternative and predictable elections are finally over.

According to the preliminary data, voiced by the head of the Leningradskaya Oblast Election Commission Vladimir Zhuravlev, Alexander Drozdenko got 80,6% votes, Nikolay Kuzmin – 8,39%, Alexander Perminov – 3,86%, Andrei Lebedev – 3,45%, Alexander Gabitov – 1,9%.

by Alexandra Garmazhapova

So, we’ve decided to tell you a very typical story – when there is just an imitation of elections with no real alternative and when it’s quite safe and predictable for the ruling party. This is how it happens (on the example of Leningradskaya Oblast):

The elections in Leningradskaya Oblast are very difficult to call elections. Alexander Drozdenko, Acting Governor, was supported by the Kremlin and, in fact, chose his competitors by himself. For example, he chose Alexander Perminov, a 36-year-old deputy of the Legislative Assembly of Leningradskaya Oblast from ‘A Just Russia’ party, after having some tea with Sergey Mironov, the leader of the party. A little-known candidate from ‘Civic Initiative’ – Alexander Gabitov (a former son-in-law of Gennady Seleznev, ex-Speaker of the State Duma) was reportedly promised the position of the Vice-Governor of the region for his participating in the elections. And Gabitov was touting Drozdenko in his social media the entire summer, which looked quite stupid: “At the entrance to the government building of Leningradskaya Oblast I met A.Y. Drozdenko! Alexander Yurievich – democratically, without security. That’s what it means to conduct business in the region in a balanced and harmonious manner! You can honestly look into the eyes of the citizens and not to be afraid to walk down the street”!

A communist Nikolai Kuzmin, a State Duma deputy, also participated in the elections. When journalists requested him to enumerate the shortcomings of Drozdenko, he effaced himself much. As it turned out, he couldn’t imagine he was supposed to criticize his opponent.

To Andrey Lebedev, the leader of the LDPR faction in the Legislative Assembly, was promised the second place in the elections – so that his self-esteem doesn’t plummet too much. However, the results show that promise of the head of the region hasn’t been kept.

Independent candidates were not allowed to campaign – they were blocked through the so-called ‘municipal filter’ (candidates to the post of the head of the region should collect signatures of municipal deputies, and taking into account that the United Russia has an absolute majority, the chances of unapproved candidates to get to the election ballots equal zero).

A regional oligarch, deputy of the Legislative Assembly of the region from United Russia, Vladimir Petrov, wanted to participate in the elections. He was ready to spend significant funds for his campaign, but Drozdenko was afraid of a strong competitor and reportedly requested the President’s Administration not to let Petrov in the elections.

“God looks after me. I have nobody to fear”

Drozdenko’s elections – as they are dubbed in the region – are the exact repeat of Poltavchenko’s elections of last year when Acting Governor of St. Petersburg Georgy Poltavchenko was provided with dummy candidates that did not pose any threat to him. Konstantin Sukhenko, a deputy of the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly from the LDPR, learned he was Poltavchenko’s competitor by accident. He received a phone call and was informed he wanted to become the Governor of Russia’s North Capital. At least he told his friends so. Later, Sukhenko became the head of the Committee on Culture of St. Petersburg i.e. was promoted in exchange for his participation in the elections. Nobody knew Andrey Petrov before those elections – a candidate from the Rodina party, who became Deputy Head of the Central District of St. Petersburg and who unofficially, organized the March summit of European neo-Nazis to the city. City political scientists had difficulty remembering the name of candidate Takhir Bikbaev. Vadim Tulpanov, the Senator, Ex-Speaker of the Legislative Assembly even jokingly called him Timur Bekmambetov (it’s a famous Russian movie director). Poltavchenko didn’t let his biggest opponent in the election – Oksana Dmitrieva from A Just Russia party, which is very popular in the city. When I asked Poltavchenko if he feared her, he responded: “God looks after me. I have nobody to fear.”

Even if the main candidates gain a big percentage and the turnout is only 20%, it may look not serious enough

In both cases, the authorities were worried only about one thing – the turnout. Even if the main candidates gain a big percentage and the turnout is only 20%, it may look not serious enough. There is a question of legitimacy in this case. That’s why in both Leningradskaya Oblast this year and in St. Petersburg last year the early voting of so-called ‘budget workers’ were organized. They were not forced to vote for Drozdenko since the main threat for him was only the turnout.

Since there were no real competitors, there were no independent observers as well. Russian pop music was heard in empty poll stations. Pies, traditional for Russian elections, quickly ended. Policemen played games on their cell phones in a relaxed manner. Rare voters would explain they voted for Drozdenko since they “don’t know any other candidate. They haven’t seen anybody on billboards, newspapers haven’t written anything about them.” What is the difference, in the end, with what result Drozdenko is going to win?

Regional journalists, mostly funded by Drozdenko and therefore, can’t write negatively about him, unofficially called the elections as a ‘Holiday of Obedience’ and were happy that those dull, non-alternative and predictable elections are finally over.

According to the preliminary data, voiced by the head of the Leningradskaya Oblast Election Commission Vladimir Zhuravlev, Alexander Drozdenko got 80,6% votes, Nikolay Kuzmin – 8,39%, Alexander Perminov – 3,86%, Andrei Lebedev – 3,45%, Alexander Gabitov – 1,9%.

by Alexandra Garmazhapova

Free Russia Foundation demands Navalny’s immediate release

Jan 17 2021

On January 17, 2021, Putin’s agents arrested Alexey Navalny as he returned to Russia from Germany where he was treated for a near-deadly poisoning perpetrated by state-directed assassins.

Navalny’s illegal arrest constitutes kidnapping. He is kept incommunicado from his lawyer and family at an unknown location and his life is in danger.

Free Russia Foundation demands his immediate release and an international investigation of crimes committed against him by Putin’s government.

The European Court of Human Rights Recognizes Complaints on Violations in “Ukraine v. Russia” as Admissible

Jan 14 2021

On January 14, 2021, the European Court of Human Rights published its decision on the case “Ukraine v. Russia”. The Grand Chamber of the Court has recognized complaints No. 20958/14 and No. 38334/18 as partially admissible for consideration on the merits. The decision will be followed by a judgment at a later date.

The case concerns the consideration of a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights related to Russia’s systematic administrative practices in Crimea. 

The admissibility of the case is based on the fact that, since 2014, the Russian Federation has exercised effective control over the territory of Crimea, and, accordingly, is fully responsible for compliance with the norms of the European Convention on Human Rights in Crimea. The Court now needs to determine the specific circumstances of the case and establish the facts regarding violations of Articles of the Convention during two periods: from February 27, 2014 to March 18, 2014 (the period of the Russian invasion); and from March 18, 2014 onward (the period during which the Russian Federation has exercised effective control over Crimea).

The Court has established that prima facie it has sufficient evidence of systematic administrative practice concerning the following circumstances:

  • forced rendition and the lack of an effective investigation into such a practice under Article 2; 
  • cruel treatment and unlawful detention under Articles 3 and 5; 
  • extending application of Russian law into Crimea with the result that, as of  February 27, 2014, the courts in Crimea could not be considered to have been “established by law” as defined by Article 6; 
  • automatic imposition of Russian citizenship and unreasonable searches of private dwellings under Article 8; 
  • harassment and intimidation of religious leaders not conforming to the Russian Orthodox faith, arbitrary raids of places of worship and confiscation of religious property under Article 9;
  • suppression of non-Russian media under Article 10; 
  • prohibition of public gatherings and manifestations of support, as well as intimidation and arbitrary detention of organizers of demonstrations under Article 11; 
  • expropriation without compensation of property from civilians and private enterprises under Article 1 of Protocol No. 1;
  • suppression of the Ukrainian language in schools and harassment of Ukrainian-speaking children under Article 2 of Protocol No. 1; 6 
  • restricting freedom of movement between Crimea and mainland Ukraine, resulting from the de facto transformation (by Russia) of the administrative delimitation into a border (between Russia and Ukraine) under Article 2 of Protocol No. 4; and, 
  • discriminating against Crimean Tatars under Article 14, taken in conjunction with Articles 8, 9, 10 and 11 of the Convention and with Article 2 of Protocol No. 4 to the Convention.

Cases between states are the rarest category considered by the ECHR. Almost all cases considered in Strasbourg concern individuals or organizations and involve illegal actions or inaction of the states’ parties to the Convention. However, Art. 33 of this Convention provides that “any High Contracting Party may refer to the Court the question of any alleged violation of the provisions of the Convention and its Protocols by another High Contracting Party.” In the entire history of the ECHR since 1953, there have been only 27 such cases. Two of them are joint cases against Russia, both of which concern the Russian Federation’s aggression on the territory of its neighboring states, Georgia and Ukraine.

New Year’s Blessings to All

Dec 30 2020

While 2020 gave us unprecedented challenges, it created transformative changes in the way we work and communicate. The hours of Zoom calls seemingly brought us all closer together as we got a glimpse into each other’s makeshift home offices along with interruption by kids and the family pets. Remote work also made us appreciate human interactions, in-person events and trips much more!

As 2020 comes to an end, we want to especially thank our supporters who continued to believe in our mission and the value of our hard work, and we hope the coming year brings all of us progress and growth for democracy throughout the world. We’d also like to thank our partners and staff in the U.S. and abroad, and we know how hard everyone has worked under difficult world changes to achieve so many of our objectives this year.

We send our best wishes to all who have stayed in the fight for democratic reforms and for the values of basic human rights. We look forward to a new year with the hope of many positive changes to come.

– Natalia Arno and the Free Russia Foundation team.

International Criminal Court Asks for Full Probe Into Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine

Dec 14 2020

On December 11, 2020, Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) Fatou Bensouda, issued a statement on the preliminary examination of the situation in Ukraine by the ICC Office of the Prosecutor.

According to the findings of the examination, the situation in Ukraine meets the statutory criteria to launch an investigation. The preliminary examination of the situation in Ukraine was opened on 24 April 2014.

Specifically, and without prejudice to any other crimes which may be identified during the course of an investigation, Office of the Prosecutor has concluded that there is a reasonable basis at this time to believe that a broad range of conduct constituting war crimes and crimes against humanity within the jurisdiction of the Court have been committed in the context of the situation in Ukraine.

These findings will be spelled out in more detail in the annual Report on Preliminary Examination Activities issued by the Office and include three broad clusters of victimization:

1.     crimes committed in the context of the conduct of hostilities;

2.     crimes committed during detentions;

3.     crimes committed in Crimea.

These crimes, committed by the different parties to the conflict, were sufficiently grave to warrant investigation by Office of the Prosecutor, both in quantitative and qualitative terms.

Having examined the information available, the Prosecutor concluded that the competent authorities in Ukraine and/or in the Russian Federation are either inactive in relation to the alleged perpetrators, or do not have access to them.

The next step will be to request authorization from the Judges of the Pre-Trial Chamber of the Court to open investigations.

The Prosecutor urges the international community, including the governments of Ukraine and Russia, to cooperate. This will determine how justice will be served both on domestic and the international level.

We remind you that on September 21, 2020, Free Russia Foundation sent a special Communication to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (the Hague, the Netherlands) asking to bring Crimean and Russian authorities to justice for international crimes committed during the Russian occupation of Crimea.

Comment by Scott Martin (Global Rights Compliance LLP):

As Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda reaches the end of her tenure as Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, she announced yesterday that a reasonable basis existed to believe that a broad range of conduct constituting war crimes and crimes against humanity had been committed in relation to the situation in Ukraine. One of the most consequential preliminary examinations in the court’s short history, the Prosecutor will now request authorization from the ICC Pre-Trial Chamber to open a full investigation into the situation.

Anticipating that the Prosecutor’s request will be granted, the ICC Prosecutor’s office will be investigating the second group of alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity perpetrated by the Russian Federation (the situation in Georgia being the other). This would make Russia the only country in the world facing two separate investigations at the ICC for crimes under its jurisdiction.

Call for Submissions – The Kremlin’s Influence Quarterly vol. 3

Oct 26 2020

The Free Russia Foundation invites submissions to The Kremlins Influence Quarterly, a journal that explores and analyzes manifestations of the malign influence of Putin’s Russia in Europe.

We understand malign influence in the European context as a specific type of influence that directly or indirectly subverts and undermines European values and democratic institutions. We follow the Treaty on European Union in understanding European values that are the following: human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law, and respect for human rights. Democratic institutions are guardians of European values, and among them we highlight representative political parties; free and fair elections; an impartial justice system; free, independent and pluralistic media; and civil society.

Your contribution to The Kremlins Influence Quarterly would focus on one European country from the EU, Eastern Partnership or Western Balkans, and on one particular area where you want to explore Russian malign influence: politics, diplomacy, military domain, business, media, civil society, academia, religion, crime, or law.

Each chapter in The Kremlins Influence Quarterly should be around 5 thousand words including footnotes. The Free Russia Foundation offers an honorarium for contributions accepted for publication in the journal.

If you are interested in submitting a chapter, please send us a brief description of your chapter and its title (250 words) to the following e-mail address: info@4freerussia.org. Please put The Kremlin’s Influence Quarterly as a subject line of your message.