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

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.

Free Russia Foundation’s Press Release on Submission of Article 15 Communication to the International Criminal Court

Oct 06 2020

On 21 September 2020, the Free Russia Foundation submitted a Communication to the International Criminal Court Prosecutor’s Office (in The Hague, Netherlands) seeking accountability for Crimean and Russian authorities concerning international crimes perpetrated during Russia’s illegal occupation of Crimea. The Communication was prepared in cooperation with Global Rights Compliance and Center for Civil Liberties and is based on a focused inquiry conducted over the past year. In our inquiry, we documented crimes as part of a systematic, planned attack by the Russian state against civilians and groups in Crimea in order to discourage them from opposing the illegal occupation of Crimea and to force their departure from the peninsula. Crimes against civilians included unlawful arrests, beatings, torture, enforced disappearances, and other inhumane acts causing severe mental and/or physical pain. In particular, the crimes targeted the Crimean Tatars, a native ethnic group who had only recently returned to their homeland, having previously been forcefully and brutally displaced by the Soviet Union in 1944.

One of the principal coercive acts was the illegal detention and concomitant violence before, during, and after the imprisonment of political prisoners. Most of those detained were arrested by Russian and Crimean authorities on terrorism charges, but it was their legal, pro-Ukrainian advocacy that led to their imprisonment. In addition, trials of those arbitrarily detained were conducted in wholesale disregard of their fair trial rights. For example, some of those illegally imprisoned were denied a speedy trial, access to independent lawyers, and the opportunity to defend themselves against their arrest in a courtroom.

In order to force those illegally detained to confess to crimes they did not commit, Russian and Crimean authorities also perpetrated acts of torture and cruel or degrading treatment, the levying of additional charges against them, even more inhumane prison conditions, denial of communications with their families and threats made against them, enforced disappearances, and even, in at least one case, a mock execution.

Other inhumane acts include “punitive psychiatry” and the denial of adequate prison conditions, including the following: (i) feeding people inedible food or, at times, no food at all; (ii) facing severe overcrowding in prisons; (iii) denial of regular water supply; (iv) threats of assault against them by prison cellmates; and (v) adding pork to food – prohibited for observant Muslims. Further, medical attention was systematically inadequate or denied for many individuals.

Concerning acts of torture, it was perpetrated by different Russian authorities, including the FSB. Allegations include the use of electric shocks in an effort to get an accused to confess. One was beaten in the head, kidneys, arms and legs with an iron pipe. With another, fingers were broken. Still another endured spinal bruises and having a plastic bag placed over his head to the point of unconsciousness. Further, threats of sexual violence against a detained man were made. Murder as well. Hands were broken, teeth were knocked out in still another.

Trials were largely held behind closed doors for illegitimate reasons, and many of the witnesses were secret not only to the public but also to the Accused. Further, credible allegations exist that, at times, there were FSB or other agents in the room, silently instructing witnesses what to say and how the judges should rule. This adds credence to words, according to the Kyiv Post, heard by Arsen Dzhepparov from a senior FSB lieutenant who stated “I will prove by all possible – and impossible – means that [an Accused is] guilty – even if he isn’t guilty”.

Concerning the crime of persecution, nearly all of these deprivations of fundamental rights were carried out with discriminatory intent. Specifically, these groups were targeted due to their political view – namely, by peacefully opposing the illegal occupation of their country. Some were targeted on ethnic grounds or religious grounds on the basis of their Crimean Tatar background.

War crimes, another group of crimes punished at the ICC, were also perpetrated in addition to or in the alternative to the crimes against humanity. This includes the crime of torture, outrages against personal dignity, unlawful confinement, wilfully depriving protected persons of the rights of a fair and regular trial, and the transfer of the occupying power of parts of its population into the territory it occupies or the deportation of all or parts of the population of the occupied territory within or outside this territory.

All these crimes had the ultimate objective of the criminal enterprise – the removal of pro-Ukrainian elements out of Crimea and the annexation of Crimea into the Russian Federation without opposition, including the installation of pro-Russian elements, which include the emigration of more than 70,000 Russians, the illegal imposition of Russian law in the occupied territory, forcing Russian nationality on many Crimeans, and the appropriation of public property.

Ultimately, we hope that all the information gathered by the ICC in the context of its preliminary investigation will lead the ICC to investigate mid- to high-level Russian and Crimean officials on this basis. The international community expects responsible global leadership that follows the rule of law and expects it – no matter the situation – to be respected, especially from a state that is a permanent member of the UN Security Council. When this fails to happen, the international community must demand accountability. We hope that an investigation can be opened and responsible officials of the Russian Federation will be investigated. After an investigation that conforms to international best practices, responsible persons should be charged with the systematic perpetration of international crimes.

Novichok Use Implicates Putin’s Government in Navalny’s Poisoning

Sep 02 2020

Today, the German government has announced that Russian pro-democracy leader Alexey Navalny was poisoned by Novichok. Novichok is a deadly nerve agent developed by the Soviet government chemical weapons program and used on several occasions by the Russian government to kill its critics in the recent years.

To restate the obvious, Novichok is a poison that can only be accessed with the authority of the Kremlin. Therefore, today’s announcement by German officials  directly implicates the Kremlin and Putin in the high-profile assassination attempt on Navalny.

The choice of Novichok was not just a means  to silence Mr. Navalny, but a loud, brazen and menacing message sent by Putin to the world: dare to criticize me, and you may lose your life.

The announcement by the German government of its intent to formally notify the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (‘OPCW’) of the use of Novichok against Navalny is a meek bureaucratic half-measure that fails to acknowledge the extraordinary threat to human life posed by Putin’s regime everywhere. Taken together with Angela Merkel’s promise earlier this week to help Putin finish his Nord Stream 2 pipeline despite an international outcry amounts to condoning the poisoning and normalizing it into a new modus operandi where Putin’s murders go unpunished. Free Russia Foundation urges the leaders of the EU, its Member States and the U.S. Government to take an urgent and drastic action to punish the perpetrators of this heinous crime not only to serve justice, but to establish a powerful deterrent against new attacks by Putin’s regime globally.

Free Russia Foundation Statement on Kremlin’s Interference in Elections in Georgia

Aug 26 2020

We are deeply concerned with information recently distributed by the well-respected authoritative source Center “Dossier.” According to “Dossier,” the Kremlin is using Russian political expert Sergey Mikheev and consulting company “Politsecrets” to manipulate Georgian society, distribute disinformation and anti-democratic narratives, undermine Georgia’s Western aspirations, and interfere in free and fair elections in Georgia scheduled for October 2020.

More

Free Russia Foundation Calls for Investigation into Alexey Navalny’s Poisoning

Aug 20 2020

Free Russia Foundation is gravely concerned about the life and safety of Alexey Navalny. More