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

Lukashenka’s Ryanair Hijacking Proves Human Rights is a Global Security Issue

May 24 2021

The forced diversion and landing in Minsk of a May 23, 2021 Ryanair flight en route from Greece to Lithuania, and the subsequent arrest of dissident Roman Protasevich who was aboard the flight, by the illegitimate Lukashenka regime pose an overt political and military challenge to Europe, NATO and the broad global community.  NATO members must respond forcefully by demanding (1) the immediate release of Protasevich and other political prisoners in Belarus, and (2) a prompt transition to a government that represents the will of the people of Belarus. 

The West’s passivity in the face of massive, continuous and growing oppression of the Belarusian people since summer 2020 has emboldened Lukashenka to commit what some European leaders have appropriately termed an act of “state terrorism.”

The West has shown a manifest disposition to appease Putin’s regime —Lukashenka’s sole security guarantor. It has made inappropriate overtures for a Putin-Biden summit and waived  Nord Stream 2 sanctions mandated by Congress. These actions and signals have come against the backdrop of the 2020 Russian constitutional coup, the assassination attempt against Navalny and his subsequent imprisonment on patently bogus charges, the arrests of close to 13,000 Russian activists, and the outlawing of all opposition movements and activities. All this has led Putin and Lukashenka to conclude that they eliminate their political opponents with impunity.  

Today’s state-ordered hijacking of an international passenger airplane—employing intelligence agents aboard the flight,  and accomplished via an advanced fighter-interceptor—to apprehend an exiled activist, underscores that violation of human rights is not only a domestic issue, but a matter of international safety and security.  Western governments unwilling to stand up for the victims of Putin’s and Lukashenka’s regimes are inviting future crimes against their own citizens. 

Absent a meaningful and swift response, the escalation of violence and intensity of international crimes committed  by Lukashenka’s and Putin’s regime will continue, destabilizing the world and discrediting the Western democratic institutions. 

CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS – THE KREMLIN’S INFLUENCE QUARTERLY

May 20 2021

The Free Russia Foundation invites submissions to The Kremlin’s 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 Kremlin’s 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 Kremlin’s 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.

Criminal operations by Russia’s GRU worldwide: expert discussion

May 06 2021

Please join Free Russia Foundation for an expert brief and discussion on latest criminal operations conducted by Russia’s GRU worldwide with:

  • Christo Grozev, Bellingcat— the legendary investigator who uncovered the Kremlin’s involvement, perpetrators and timeline of Navalny’s assassination attempt. 
  • Jakub Janda, Director of the European Values Think Tank (the Czech Republic) where he researches Russia’s hostile influence operations in the West
  • Michael Weiss, Director of Special Investigations at Free Russia Foundation where he leads the Lubyanka Files project, which consists of translating and curating KGB training manuals still used in modern Russia for the purposes of educating Vladimir Putin’s spies.

The event will take place on Tuesday, May 11 from 11 am to 12:30pm New York Time (17:00 in Brussels) and include an extensive Q&A with the audience moderated by Ilya Zaslavskiy, Senior Fellow at Free Russia Foundation and head of Underminers.info, a research project on post-Soviet kleptocracy

The event will be broadcast live at: https://www.facebook.com/events/223365735790798/

  • The discussion will cover Russia’s most recent and ongoing covert violent operations, direct political interference, oligarchic penetration with money and influence; 
  • GRU’s structure and approach to conducting operations in Europe
  • Trends and forecasts on how data availability will impact both, the Kremlin’s operations and their investigation by governments and activists; 
  • EU and national European government response and facilitation of operations on their soil; 
  • Recommendations for effective counter to the security and political threats posed by Russian security services. 

YouTube Against Navalny’s Smart Voting

May 06 2021

On May 6, 2020, at least five YouTube channels belonging to key Russian opposition leaders and platforms received notifications from YouTube that some of their content had been removed due to its being qualified as “spam, deceptive practices and scams”. 

They included: 

Ilya Yashin (343k YouTube subscribers)

Vladimir Milov (218k YouTube subscribers) 

Leonid Volkov (117k YouTube subscribers)

Novaya Gazeta (277k YouTube Subscribers) 

Sota Vision (248k YouTube Subscribers)

Most likely, there are other Russian pro-democracy channels that have received similar notifications at the same time, and we are putting together the list of all affected by this censorship campaign. 

The identical letters received from YouTube by the five account holders stated:

“Our team has reviewed your content, and, unfortunately, we think it violates our spam, deceptive practices and scams policy. We’ve removed the following content from YouTube:

URL: https://votesmart.appspot.com/

YouTube has removed urls from descriptions of videos posted on these accounts that linked to Alexey Navalny’s Smart Voting website (votesmart.appspot.com).

By doing this, and to our great shock and disbelief, YouTube has acted to enforce the Kremlin’s policies by qualifying Alexey Navalny’s Smart Voting system and its website as “spam, deceptive practices and scams”. 

This action has not only technically disrupted communication for the Russian civil society which is now under a deadly siege by Putin’s regime, but it has rendered a serious and lasting damage to its reputation and legitimacy of Smart Voting approach. 

In reality, Smart Voting system is not a spam, scam or a “deceptive practice”, but instead it’s a fully legitimate system of choosing and supporting candidates in Russian elections who have a chance of winning against the ruling “United Russia” party candidates. There’s absolutely nothing illegal, deceptive or fraudulent about the Smart Voting or any materials on its website.

We don’t know the reasons behind such YouTube actions, but they are an unacceptable suppression of a constitutionally guaranteed freedom of the Russian people and help the Kremlin’s suppression of civil rights and freedoms by banning the Smart Voting system and not allowing free political competition with the ruling “United Russia” party. 

This is an extremely dangerous precedent in an environment where opposition activities in Russia are being literally outlawed;  key opposition figures are jailed, exiled, arrested and attacked with criminal investigations; independent election campaigning is prohibited; and social media networks remain among the very few channels still available to the Russian opposition to communicate with the ordinary Russians.

We demand a  swift and decisive action on this matter from the international community, to make sure that YouTube corrects its stance toward Russian opposition channels, and ensures that such suppression of peaceful, legal  pro-democracy voices does not happen again. 

FRF Lauds New US Sanctions Targeting the Kremlin’s Perpetrators in Crimea, Calls for Their Expansion

Apr 15 2021

On April 15, 2021,  President Biden signed new sanctions against a number of officials and agents of the Russian Federation in connection with malign international activities conducted by the Russian government.

The list of individuals sanctioned by the new law includes Leonid Mikhalyuk, director of the Federal Security Service in the Russian-occupied Crimea.

A report issued by Free Russia Foundation, Media Initiative for Human Rights and Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union in December 202, identified 16 officials from Russian law enforcement and security agencies as well as the judiciary operating on the territory of the Ukrainian Crimean Peninsula currently occupied by the Russian Federation. These individuals have been either directly involved or have overseen political persecution of three prominent Crimean human rights defenders – Emir-Usein Kuku, Sever Mustafayev and Emil Kurbedinov.

Leonid Mikhailiuk is one of these officials. He has been directly involved and directed the repressive campaign in the occupied Crimea, including persecution of innocent people on terrorism charges and massive illegal searches. The persecution of Server Mustafayev was conducted under his supervision. As the head of the FSB branch in Crimea, he is in charge of its operation and all operatives working on politically motivated cases are his subordinates. 

Within the extremely centralized system of the Russian security services, Mikhailiuk is clearly at the top rank of organized political persecution and human rights violations.

Free Russia Foundation welcomes the new sanctions and hopes that all other individuals identified in the report will also be held accountable.