Tag Archives: Elections

What social groups support pro-Russian parties in Eastern Europe? This paper demonstrates that pro-Russian parties in Eastern Europe tend to have electorates with significantly more Euroskeptic attitudes than voter bases of mainstream parties. Importantly, support for pro-Russian parties is not related to an individual’s ideological (right or left) leanings. Because of their Euroskeptic attitudes, social groups supporting pro-Russian parties are far more susceptible to disinformation and, in particular, the anti-EU narratives spread by the Kremlin. 

These findings explain the endorsement of pro-Russian narratives and social attitudes which are indirectly favorable to the Kremlin by political leaders whose electorates harbor anti-Western sympathies. It also sheds light on the nature of Russia’s information operations that seem to be opportunistic rather than ideological in nature, but also limited in scope by the structural conditions in targeted societies.

Yevgeny Prigozhin, or “Putin’s chef,” as he’s called in the press, is notorious for two things: dispatching Russian mercenaries into war zones and running a troll farm accused of interfering in democratic elections. This report by Michael Weiss and Pierre Vaux features new insights, including leaked materials from within Prigozhin’s own organization, into how his operation in Africa has evolved into the realm of political consultancy and “election monitoring” using a network of European far-right extremists.

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.

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


On July 15, PEN AmericaPEN Belarus, and Free Russia Foundation will host a discussion on the ongoing political crackdowns in Belarus leading up to the country’s August 9, 2020 presidential election. In addition to exploring the recent wide-scale attacks on political opposition and the press, the conversation will examine broader trends of suppression of freedom of expression and the public’s right to information in Belarus, along with President Lukashenka’s relationship with the Kremlin.

The live Webex session, which will take place on Wednesday, July 15 at 10am EST / 16:00 CET, will include an extensive Q&A session. You may submit your questions in advance at registration or during the session.

In order to attend, please register before the event.

On June 19, Belarusian authorities arrested hundreds of opposition supporters who had lined the streets of Minsk to support petitions for opposition leader campaigns in the upcoming election. Many of those arrested were journalists and other members of the media. Among those who remain imprisoned since June 19 is prominent opposition leader Viktar Babaryka – the prime opposition candidate in the upcoming presidential election. President Lukashenka has so far ignored requests for Babaryka’s release.

Featured speakers will include Taciana Niadbaj, a poet, translator, and current executive director of PEN Belarus; Franak Viacorka, a Belarusian journalist and media expert; Natalia Arno, president of Free Russia Foundation; and Polina Sadovskaya, Eurasia program director at PEN America. The event will be moderated by Michael Weiss, senior editor for The Daily Beast and a frequent national security analyst and contributor for CNN.


On September 16, 2019, the “Human Dimension Implementation Meeting (HDIM)” will take place in Warsaw. Continue reading Coalition For Sovereign Elections Calls on the OSCE to Highlight ‘Creeping Annexation’ of Georgia on the Upcoming Human Dimension Implementation Meeting

The Free Russia Foundation has assembled a team of experienced writers, researchers, and journalists affiliated with different organizations, to document some of the most compelling cases of Russian meddling. However, these events are only a sample; the Putin regime is busy throughout the world, undermining the integrity of Western judicial and policymaking institutions.

This report, a tour d’horizon of Russian active measures and subversion campaigns throughout North America and Europe, demonstrates that Vladimir Putin’s attempts to infiltrate Western institutions are relentless and that there is one constant to his two decade-long engagement: he triumphs where we invite him to, and most of all where we happily act as his complacent enablers.

This is a story of how the West consistently fails to get its own house in order. The very institutions created after World War II to keep transparent markets and liberal democracies from corrosion and collapse are now playgrounds for Kremlin agents seeking to enrich themselves and further that corrosion and collapse along. More than anything, the pathologies of our own societies are on ample display in these pages as the principal reason why so many oligarchs, intelligence operatives and bribe-offering banks and energy companies have been able to thrive outside of Russia.

The Putin regime’s persistence has paid off quite well in its geo-political battle of wills with the West, whereby Russia’s military actions since 2014 have been met with lukewarm international sanctions that have failed to shift their course.

What we hope this report demonstrates is the need for Western governments to take a stronger stand and vigorously defend their values and institutions. While this may not have the same impact as ending a bloody war, refusal to give in to the Kremlin’s advances for new laws to protect its business and financial interests; putting up barriers in response to Russia’s abuse of international law enforcement entities or enforcing existing laws so that oligarchs can’t hide behind newly-created NGOs can begin to push back against Russia’s current lawless actions.

If an individual nation defends its criminal and civil court system or combats corrupt practices within its own government, this will provide much-needed resistance against the Kremlin’s aims and objectives.If, collectively, several nations decide to join forces in this effort, ample pressure will be placed on Russia’s leadership to make it play by the rules more often and respect our institutions rather than try to manipulate them.

In the pages of this report, you’ll read about these, and many more:

– a U.S. federal money-laundering case was sabotaged by a Moscow attorney turned Congressional lobbyist, who obstructed justice, set up a dubious charity in Delaware to dismantle a landmark American human rights act— all before trying to influence a U.S. presidential race;

– Russian mobsters in Spain, despite a mountain of incriminating evidence compiled over the course of a decade, all went free by, among other things, enlisting Spanish jurists to spread a malevolent defamation campaign against one of his country’s most committed counterterrorism and organized crime magistrates;

– the Kremlin directed effort to pass laws in the Belgian and French parliaments that would effectively nullify the Yukos shareholder court decisions and render them unenforceable against the Russian Federation;

– the eccentric president of a NATO and EU member-state sided against his own government in favor of a hostile foreign one, to which he’s been financially and politically connected for years.


The chart below visually summarizes some of the cases, countries, branches of power, institutions and entities in the West impacted by Russian interference:

The report’s contributing authors:

Nataliya Arno

Ms. Arno is the founder and president of Free Russia Foundation, a non-partisan non-profit think tank headquartered in Washington, DC with affiliate offices in Kyiv Ukraine and Tbilisi Georgia. Prior to creating Free Russia Foundation, Ms. Arno worked for the Moscow office of the International Republican Institute where she was the Russia country director from 2008 until 2014.

Neil Barnett

Mr. Barnett is founder and CEO of Istok Associates, a London-based intelligence and investigation consultancy focused on Central & Eastern Europe and the Middle East & North Africa. Previously, he was a journalist in the same regions for 13 years and wrote for the Telegraph, the Spectator and Janes publications. He covered the war in Iraq, the Ukrainian Orange Revolution, the eastern expansion of NATO and the EU in the 2000s and Balkan organized crime.

Rumena Filipova

Ms. Filipova’s primary research at the Center for the Study of Democracy is related to Russian domestic and foreign policy as well the Kremlin’s media, political and economic influence in Central and Eastern Europe. She holds an MPhil and DPhil in International Relations from the University of Oxford. She has been a visiting fellow at the Carnegie Moscow Center, the Polish Institute of International Affairs, and Chatham House, among others.

Vasily Gatov

Mr. Gatov is a media researcher, journalist, analyst and media investment expert.He is the former head of RIA Novosti MediaLab (2011 – 2013).

 Jacub Janda

Mr. Janda is the Executive Director and member of the executive board of the European Values Think Tank headquartered in Prague, Czech Republic.

John Lough

Mr. Lough is Managing Director of JBKL Advisory Ltd, a strategy consulting company, and an Associate Fellow with the Russia & Eurasia Programme at Chatham House. In a private capacity, he has been providing pro bono advice to the Bitkov family as part of the campaign for their freedom since 2015. He is the co-author of the Chatham House research paper ‘Are Ukraine’s Anti-Corruption Reforms Working?’ (November 2018) https://www.chathamhouse.org/publication/are-ukraines-anti-corruption-reforms-working

Anton Shekhovtsov 

Mr. Shekhovtsov is an external Lecturer at the University of Vienna, Associate Research Fellow at the Swedish Institute of International Affairs, an expert at the European Platform for Democratic Elections, and General Editor of the “Explorations of the Far Right” book series at ibidem-Verlag. His main area of expertise is the European far right, relations between Russia and radical right-wing parties in the West, and illiberal tendencies in Central and Eastern Europe.

Maria Snegovaya

Ms. Snegovaya is a PhD candidate at Columbia University. Expert on the sources of support for the populist parties in the Eastern Europe. She is a regular contributor to The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, The New Republic, and columnist at Russia’s “Vedomosti” business daily.

Dr. Denis Sokolov

Dr. Sokolov is a research expert on the North Caucasus for Free Russia Foundation focusing on the informal economy of the region, land disputes, and institutional foundations of military conflicts. He is a senior research fellow at the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration (RANEPA) and research director at the Center for Social and Economic Research of Regions (RAMCOM).

Martin Vladimirov

Mr. Vladimirov is an energy security expert specializing in natural gas and renewables markets at the European policy think tank, Center for the Study of Democracy (CSD). His work at CSD focuses on analysis of the energy security and governance risks in Europe, political risk and international security. Before joining CSD, Mr. Vladimirov worked as an oil and gas consultant at the The Oil and Gas Year, where he worked in Turkey, Kazakhstan and Saudi Arabia. He holds a Master’s degree from the School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) at Johns Hopkins University. He has written several academic publications, multiple policy reports and is the co-author of four recent books on Russian influence including the Kremlin Playbook: Understanding Russian Influence in Central and Eastern Europe, Kremlin Playbook 2: The Enablers,The Russian Economic Grip on Central and Eastern Europe and A Closer Look at Russia and its Influence on the World. 

Michael Weiss

Mr. Weiss is an American journalist and author of the New York TimesBestseller Isis: Inside the Army of Terror. He is a senior editor for The Daily Beast, a consulting executive editor at Coda Story, a columnist for Foreign Policyand a frequent national security analyst and contributor for CNN.

Ilya Zaslavskiy

Mr. Zaslavskiyis Head of Research for the Free Russia Foundation (FRF) and Head of Underminers.info, a research project exposing kleptocrats from Eurasia in the West. Until December 2018 he was a member of the Advisory Council at the Hudson Institute’s Kleptocracy Initiative for which he wrote a report on “How Non-State Actors Export Kleptocratic Norms to the West”. Prior to joining FRF, he was Senior Visiting Fellow, Legatum Institute, and Bosch Fellow, Chatham House. He has written reports on Eurasian energy and kleptocracy for the Atlantic Council, Council on Foreign Relations, Martens Centre and other think tanks.


For Press enquiries, please contact: [email protected]

Anton Shekhovtsov on how and when the Kremlin interferes in elections in Europe. Continue reading The Invisible Hand: how and when the Kremlin interferes in elections in Europe


Recently, the Russian regions have attracted a lot of experts’ attention. In light of stagnating economy, public dissatisfaction with the federal policies has become particularly pronounced in the regions (which tend to be poorer than Moscow), as demonstrated by Kremlin’s failures to elect several of its candidates to the positions of regional governors in 2018.

Will the Kremlin’s failures at the regional level continue this year? To answer this question, we carry out a qualitative and quantitative analysis of factors that have contributed to victories by the pro-Kremlin candidates in gubernatorial elections that took place in 2012-2018.

The regression analysis based on the data regarding these elections shows that the percentage of the vote gained by the pro-Kremlin candidates positively correlates with a higher turnout (which can point to a higher possibility of election fraud) and the support for Vladimir Putin in the most recent presidential election. The key finding of our analysis is the correlation between the dynamics of real disposable incomes and the voting for the pro-Kremlin candidates, which hasn’t been earlier registered by similar studies. As social and economic situation in Russia continues to deteriorate, this correlation can be expected to become increasingly stronger.

The results of our analysis suggest that the population’s declining real incomes can lead to a substantial increase in electoral risks facing the Kremlin at the regional level.


Vladimir Kozlov is a specialist in economic geography and analyst of electoral processes. Graduated from the Lomonosov Moscow State University’s Department of Geography (1977); holds a Ph.D. (kandidatskaya degree) in Economics and Social Geography (1991). In 1977-2016, worked at Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Geography; from 1995 to 2016, in the Mercator Group. In 1995 through 2008, Kozlov collaborated with the Russian Central Election Committee (CEC) on visualization of the federal elections’ results and production of the series of publications titled “Electoral Statistics” on the federal and regional elections. In 2001-2008, he was a member of the editorial board of the CEC’s Journal on Elections. Contributed numerous articles on elections in the media. In 2008-2016, worked on the Mercator Group’s projects (titled “Russia in Numbers” and “The World in Numbers”) at the Russia-24 television network.

Maria Snegovaya is a fellow at the Center for International Studies and Security at the University of Maryland, as well as at Free Russia Foundation and the Center for European Policy Analysis. Holds a Ph.D. in political science from Columbia University and a Ph.D. (kandidatskaya degree) in economics from the Higher School of Economics. Specialist in comparative politics, international relations, and statistics. Key areas of research interest: erosion of democratic institutions, spreading of the populist and ultra-right parties in Europe, as well as in Russia’s domestic and foreign policy. Author of multiple articles published by peer-review journals; contributor to numerous media outlets, including the Washington Post, the Huffington Post, the New Republic. Her work was cited by the New York Times, the Economist, Bloomberg and the Telegraph. Snegovaya regularly speaks at the U.S. universities and think tanks, including the Kennan Institute, the Atlantic Council, and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Her work is listed in the course readings at the Paris Institute of Political Studies (Science-Po), Syracuse University, UCLA, and the Harriman Institute at Columbia University.

More than 2.25 million people turned out for Sunday’s referendum across Catalonia, a region in the northeast of Spain. The regional government said 90% of voters were in favor of a split from Madrid. But the turnout was low – around 42% of the voter roll. Catalan authorities blamed the figure on the crackdown on the vote initiated by the national government. Almost 900 people were injured, during clashes with Spanish police forces.

Another bloody battle provoked by the referendum happened in Russian and Ukrainian social media where a massive number of opinion makers, bloggers and regular users tried to interpret actions in Spain through the prism of a three-year old trauma –  a so-called “referendum” in Crimea.

To get a bold and comprehensive look into the phenomena of referenda, including manipulation and disinformation possibilities related to it, Free Russia Foundation asked Michael Arno for his expert opinion on direct democracy and referenda campaigns.

An election can be a clarifying event.  So too can the suppression of an election.

Over the weekend, more than two million Catalans, greater than 40 percent of those eligible, voted in a referendum on independence from Spain. To which Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy declared, “There was no independence referendum in Catalonia today.”

Spanish authorities shut down referendum websites and sent hordes of national police into the region to seize ballots and forcibly prevent people from voting. News reports are full of those police using rubber bullets on crowds, smashing their way into polling places and roughing up people.  Nearly a thousand citizens of Catalonia were injured in various clashes

While the referendum result was a lopsided 90 percent opting for independence, previous polling shows Catalans split on the question. Perhaps the suppression worked best with those opposed to separation from Spain, who seem to have stayed home.

Earlier last week, Iraqi Kurds also held a referendum in which voters overwhelmingly favored separation — in this case from Iraq and for the formation of their own wholly independent nation. And, likewise, others, including the United States, tried to block the vote. Thankfully, not by force.  However, Turkey and Iran oppose an independent Kurdistan because they fear it will embolden demands by their own Kurdish populations for greater autonomy.

Referenda for independence has long been seen as the perfect demonstration of democratic will or as a lawless action by terrorists wishing to destroy a great nation.  How one falls on those views is strictly in the eye of the beholder.


Pavel Elizarov, political activist, eyewitness of the referendum in Catalonia:

“The day of the referendum that I observed in Barcelona gave me a lot to think about.  The brutal action of the Spanish police was not surprising – thousands of them were deployed there for the likely purpose of blocking the vote. There is no reason in questioning the accuracy and honesty of the ballot counting. The most impressive thing about this referendum was an ability of Catalans to organize voting and counting based on effective grassroots organization. The significant role in this was played by the technical strategy: for example, the possibility of voting at any polling station was mentioned only during the beginning of the voting.

From another side, the final numbers predictably show a lack of unity within Catalans: the referendum became a roll call for independence supporters. Two million final votes “in favor” of separation out of 7.5 million total population of Catalans is roughly equal to the number of votes for the ruling coalition in recent parliamentary elections. Such a number will force the leaders of the republic to keep counting the other opinion in following steps.”


Almost 26 years ago, Ukraine declared its independence from the Soviet Union by forcing a referendum vote by gathering more than 800,000 signatures.  On December 1, 1991, 92% of Ukrainian voters opted for independence, thereby all but crushing what remained of the Soviet Union.  The next day, the U.S. and hundreds of other countries recognized Ukraine as an independent state.  Yet six weeks later, a similar independence referendum was held in South Ossetia and a year earlier a vote was held in Abkhazia for a return to the Soviet Union from Georgia.  Nearly 99% of the votes (Georgians boycotted the referendum vote) were cast for leaving Georgia, but the U.N. and most other countries refused to recognize the vote.

It’s been impossible over the years to remove geopolitics and sometimes ancient territorial claims from independence referenda.  Once an independence vote succeeds, it has a domino effect on other regions making similar claims.  China abhors the recognition of an independent state out of fear Tibet will find a way to stage a similar vote.  The United Kingdom wants to stay united and that means keeping Scotland in the fold with even the thinnest of connections remaining.  Spain will be concerned that the Catalans will encourage the Basques and Romania will worry that the western part of the country would rather unify with Hungary to say nothing of the recent seizure of Crimea by Russia and the desire China holds for Taiwan and a great deal of the South China Sea.

Democracy can be a wonderful thing because it’s a full expression of the will of the people, but it can also have its consequences.  When there’s an attempt to block democracy, as in the case of Catalan, Spain will be left with two bad choices:  allow the vote to count and recognize Catalan’s independence, or refuse to accept the voters and hold the Catalans in Spain against their will.  It remains to be seen how this will play out and how it will affect others with similar claims to independence.

On the 24th of September, the elections to the German Federal Parliament took place and their results pose more questions to the country’s ruling elites than they provide the answers to. There are two questions that we deem to be the most interesting for ourselves: how very influential is the Russian-speaking electorate; and how important the future prospects of the relationship with Russia are.

Continue reading The Russian Question in German Elections

Every single time when Russia faces upcoming elections, there are appeals being heard to boycott them. It is crucial, however, to do that in a right way.

Continue reading To hack elections. How to turn a boycott into political instrument

Six years ago, ’the multipolarity’ of the opposition pushed the government to make concessions. Today, however, protests are monopolized and the chance of achieving any concessions is minimal.

Continue reading From Hope to Despair: what is the difference between the 2011 and 2017 protests?

Many young people came to the protest rallies all around Russia on June 12. There is an increasingly urgent need to understand: what is it that the “Putin Generation” (those who are now 17-20 years old) are protesting against?  What kind of country would they like to live in, what kind of future would they like to have?  And how many are there who want change?

Continue reading The Generation of Tolerance and Independence

Cultivating political connections with allies in Europe is a key part of Putin’s influence strategy.

Continue reading Russia’s Likely to Interfere in French and German Elections Next

Free Russia Foundation and the Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies are happy to present our new joint report “The Tsar and His Business Serfs. Russian Oligarchs and SMEs Did Not Surprise Putin at the Elections.”

Continue reading The Tsar and His Business Serfs

Free Russia Foundation and the Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies are happy to present our joint report on the sanctions and economic crisis impact on Russian population “From Disapproval to Change.”

Continue reading From Disapproval to Change

On Saturday night, the Democratic Party hosted its second presidential debate. Unlike the Republicans, the Democrats have fielded a small amount of candidates. Five candidates took the stage at the first debate; three were present at the second.  Continue reading Democrats mull options for the future of the U.S.-Russia relationship over Syria

Two more debates between the Republican Party’s presidential debates have taken place since attention shifted from Ukraine to Syria. Continue reading Republican candidates reiterate their approaches to Russia