Tag Archives: Russian elections

On 8 September 2019 Russia’s largest cities – Moscow and St. Petersburg – will hold elections, respectively, for the City Duma and municipal councils. Continue reading Moscow and St. Petersburg Candidates Call on the OSCE to Monitor Regional Elections

“No human rights violations have been observed in Crimea”, — announced the group Alternative for Germany (Alternative für Deutschland, AfD) political party members who visited Crimea in early February, 2018.

The nine-person delegation was composed of State Diet (Landtag) representatives and city council members, such as Evgeny Schmidt from the “Russian Germans for AfD” fraction; as well as Christian Blex, Nick Vogel, and Helmut Seifen, — all three from the North Rhine-Westphalia parliament.

The German parliamentarians had been invited to Crimea by the obscure organization called the Regional German Ethnic and Cultural Autonomy of the Republic of Crimea. Its Chair Yuri Gempe confirmed that the Autonomy covered part of the expenses associated with the trip. Incidentally, Mr. Gempe happens to serve on the Crimean State Council as representative of the Putin’s United Russia party.

This trip has set off an outpour of indignation from various German federal government officials, outraged the leadership of the AfD party itself and drove a wedge among its various chapters. While the Baden-Württemberg and North Rhine-Westphalia AfD factions have supported the visit, several local AfD chapters refused to endorse it. The Berlin AfD attempted to publicly distance itself from the controversial visit by stressing via its social media accounts that the trip was private in nature and the delegation members hadn’t received the mandate “from neither the faction nor from the party”.

“I am critical of this visit” – stated George Pazderski, the head of the Berlin AfD in his interview to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. He felt that this initiative by his colleagues was dangerous in that it could “shut the doors to other east European countries”. He also speculated that the parliamentarians who visited Crimea may have been simply “used” by someone.

Notably, the visit has been covered extensively in the Russian media. Russian newspapers and TV channels have described in rich detail the astonishment of German guests who, contrary to their pre-trip expectations, observed modern well-designed highways instead of beat-down roads.

In their coverage, Russian outlets conveniently leave out certain details. For example, “not every segment clarifies that these were local officials representing State Diets (Landtag)”, —notes a reporter from Deutschlandfunk. “Instead, they are introduced simply as “German parliamentarians”. Such nuance is critical. The politicians who spent a week in Crimea and returned to Germany on February 9, are members of local parliaments from three states: North Rhine-Westphalia, Baden-Württemberg, and Berlin. They are not part of the AfD’s leadership and do not play a significant role in decision-making at the federal level. For example, one of them, Roger Beckamp, merely chairs an AfD chapter at the City Council of Cologne.

This was not the first trip by AfD representatives to Crimea. The April 2016 visit by an EU Parliamentarian and AfD member Marcus Pretzell to the Ukrainian peninsula annexed by the Russian Federation turned out just as scandalous when it was uncovered that it was sponsored by a Russian foundation. This became evident from the disclosure documents filed by the German politician at the insistence of the Ethics Commission of the European Parliament.

The Prosecutor’s Office of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea (which is a part of Prosecutor General’s Office of Ukraine) has opened a criminal investigation against the German citizens who visited the peninsula. The announcement has been published on the website of Prosecutor’s Office.

The case was initiated under Article 332-1 Part 1 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine (“Violation of the entry regulations to the temporarily occupied territory of Ukraine”). The Prosecutor’s Office stated, that “on February 3, 2018, a group of citizens of the Federal Republic of Germany arrived in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea in disregard of the order of entry to the temporarily occupied territory of Ukraine. The above-mentioned citizens planned to use this visit to meet with representatives of the Russian occupation authorities to discuss cooperation with the German side”.

This, however, is not the end of the story of the odious adventures of AfD reps. Some of them (Christian Blex, for example) followed up with a trip to Syria, which also triggered a negative reaction, including from the ruling party of Christian Democrats (CDU).

On Tuesday, March 6, 2018, Michael Brand who represents the CDU/CSU parliamentary faction issued a statement denouncing the trip to Syria by a number of MPs from the AfD party. He declared that “meeting with criminal cliques” while “dictator al-Assad uses bombs and chemical weapons” is “just awful.” AfD members of parliament “did not shy away even from meeting the ruthless mufti” who, according to Brand, “called for suicide attacks in Europe and personally signed thousands of death warrants”.

Why would members of German local parliaments so actively pursue foreign affairs activities while conducting them “privately”? The AfD delegates insist that the latter trip was self-paid, which contradicts the Russian official story. Such activity is outside of their jurisdiction level and is not sanctioned by their party or even local chapters.  Clearly, courting scandal and the attention of the media is one of the key political tactics of the AfD. The Russian media omits from its coverage the AfD’s far-right populism, asks no inconvenient questions and portraits it as a viable political force in Germany.

We should, therefore, not be surprised to discover AfD representatives serving as so-called “independent” observers during the Russian presidential elections. Exactly what they will “observe” is hardly a mystery either.

The Russian government is planning a large “international” conference in Crimea this April.  The invitations have been already issued to the left-wingers as well as to AfD members. We will just have to wait and see whether the AfD participation will once again take the form of “personal visits”, or the party leadership would finally stop this homegrown diplomacy.

On the 7th of December, Vladimir Putin announced that he would run for a new presidential term in March 2018. So far, he has not presented a programme or agenda for his fourth presidential term, which is expected to last from 2018 until 2024, and it is very unlikely that he will do it in the nearest future. However, particular developments in Russia in December can give us a glimpse into what we can expect from Putin’s Russia 4.0.

When Putin announced his decision to run for the presidency again, Russian elite groups probably sighed with relief. Some Russia experts use the expression “The Kremlin has many towers” to refer to the fact that Putin’s regime is not a coherent whole, but a conglomerate of different elite groups – each with their own interests and agendas – that compete for resources and often seek to undermine their opponents from other elite groups. Putin, in this system, plays the role of a moderator of the competition and an ultimate arbiter of the conflicts between the elite groups.

This role makes Putin unique: he has built this system himself and for himself, which means that his potential departure from the referee’s tower, i.e. not running for, and winning, the presidency in March 2018, would dramatically destabilize the system and bring about its collapse. One may say that the elite groups need Putin’s presidency more than he does, but Putin needs it too, because he has not yet found a person who would succeed him and give him a security guarantee – similar to the guarantees that Putin granted to President Boris Yeltsin when he handed the reins of power over to Putin in 2000. Moreover, if Putin found such a person, no-one would be sure that he (or, very unlikely, she) could be accepted by the different elite groups as a moderator of their conflicts. Indeed, a person who can potentially succeed Putin can only come from one of the elite groups, but this would elevate that one group, afflict the others and, again, upset the balance of the entire system.

Yet even now one can observe that Putin’s system is already being destabilized. The troublemaker is Igor Sechin, the US-sanctioned CEO of the Russian state-owned oil company Rosneft, the leader of one of the most conservative elite groups and perhaps the closest associate of Putin – Sechin has also served under Putin in his various positions since 1994. In 2016, Sechin initiated – with the help from the Federal Security Service – an allegedly anti-corruption case against now former Minister for Economic Development of Russia Alexei Ulyukaev who, as Sechin stated, tried to extort a bribe from him. In December, Ulyukaev was sentenced to eight years in a prison colony. Having initiated the case against Ulyukaev, Sechin broke the unspoken rule of the competition between the Russian elite groups: to keep conflicts between them out of the public eye. Ulyukaev’s widely publicised case is, in fact, not about him: compared to Sechin, he is a minor figure. Rather, the case demonstrates that Sechin has made a very bold and insolent move to humiliate and damage the antagonistic elite group to which Ulyukaev belonged, namely the pragmatist and economically liberal circle around Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev. And this means that Sechin’s ultraconservative elite group has gained the upper hand in Putin’s system and, thus, disrupted the balance within it.

There are other several indications that Putin’s system during his fourth term will become even more conservative and reactionary, but also even more anti-Western than it was before. Putin has been officially nominated a presidential candidate on the 26th of December at an exhibition titled “Russia – my history” organized by Russian Orthodox Bishop Tikhon. The latter is considered to be a spiritual advisor to Putin and is an unofficial leader of the monarchist and extreme conservative circle within the Russian Orthodox Church. The choice of place for the official nomination has a symbolic meaning too: many Russian historians argue that Tikhon’s exhibition, while full of factual mistakes, praises conservatism and authoritarianism, as well as showing that all attempts to democratize Russia are Western plots and naturally alien to the Russian people.

The Kremlin’s misuse and revision of history, the legitimization of openly authoritarian practices and increasing obsession with “Western conspiracy” has also manifested in a recent interview of Alexander Bortnikov, the head of the Federal Security Service – another powerful elite group within Putin’s system. In this interview, Bortnikov justified Stalin’s political mass repressions by the need to fight against “foreign agents”, and in Bortnikov’s opinion, the fight against the “fifth column” in Russia needs to continue, because “the destruction of Russia is still idée fixe for some” in the West.

The rise of the extreme conservative elite groups destabilizes Putin’s system, and this destabilization limits the flexibility of the regime – a flexibility that has so far been the main advantage of the system both domestically and internationally. Now, it seems, that Russia 4.0 will mobilize the society for the support of the regime around three ideas only: the country’s historical grandeur, its non-compatibility with democracy and Western conspiracy. Against the background of Russia’s continuous economic and social decline, this means that Putin’s regime will become even more oppressive at home and more aggressive in foreign relations.

This article first first appeared in German in Wiener Zeitung.

The year of 2017, the third year of operation for the Free Russia Foundation, proved to be a very eventful year. Over the course of this year,  we worked hard and achieved quite a lot.  We continued to assist pro-democracy forces in Russia and to inform Western audiences on Russia-related matters.

We continued our think tank activities and published three more reports on Russia-related subjects, conducted a series of presentations of our papers in Europe and the U.S, Ukraine, and Russia and organized dozens of briefings for Western decision and policy makers.

In January, we translated the report by Ilya Yashin “Kremlin’s Hybrid Aggression” about the entire arsenal of military, disinformation and other methods Putin’s Russia uses in Ukraine. To attract more attention to the problem and convince the West to continue its assistance to Ukraine, FRF’s President Natalia Arno wrote an op-ed for the Hill saying that “If the world blinks Putin will seize the rest of Ukraine”. The report was presented by FRF at the U.S. Congress, European Parliament, British and German parliaments.

In May, together with the Atlantic Council, we published the report “Kremlin’s Gas Games in Europe” by our research expert Ilya Zaslavsky. We jointly launched this report at the U.S. Senate with Senator Jeanne Shaheen as a keynote speaker. Then we had a European tour with the report presenting at the European Parliament, Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine and leading European think tanks including London’s Chatham House and Berlin’s Council on Foreign Relations, DGAP. More on that could be found here.

After that European trip, it became clear to us that we need to follow up with a new report exposing Gazprom’s corruption and political implications of its Nord Stream 2 project to EU security and democracy. Our report “Corruption Pipeline” was published in and FRF made new European tours to Visegrad and Scandinavian countries. More on that could be found here.

Throughout the year we continued to serve as an informal “Embassy” for Russian pro-democracy activists, journalists, representatives of civil society organizations and expert community in the U.S., for whom we arranged meetings with various American or international organizations, think tanks, media outlets or put together panels on urgent topics.

Thus, in March we hosted a prominent environmentalist Evgenia Chirikova. Together with the Atlantic Council, we conducted a panel on recent emigration from Russia “Putin’s Exodus: the new Russian brain drain”. Other panelists included Sergey Erofeev, a sociologist, and Mikhail Kokorich, an entrepreneur. With Evgenia Chirikova we had many briefings on the rise of grassroots activity in Russia at the U.S. Congress, Department of State and other DC organizations.

In May we assisted Meduza, a leading Russian-speaking independent media outlet and Memorial Human Rights Center with panels, briefings, and meetings. Together with Meduza and Foreign Policy Initiative, we held the panel at the U.S. Congress “The Struggle for Free Speech in Russia” moderated by Jamie Kirchik, Brookings.

In July, we arranged a speech of Vladimir Ashurkov from Alexey Navalny’s team at the World Affairs Council in San Francisco.  In August, we hosted Konstantin Rubakhin, an anti-corruption activist and Maria Epifanova, a journalist for Novaya Gazeta-Baltics.

In September, we hosted Vadim Prokhorov, a lawyer for Boris Nemtsov Family.  In partnership with Institute of Modern Russia and National Endowment for Democracy, we held the panel at the U.S. Senate discussing prospects for Russian pro-democracy movement And with the Atlantic Council and IMR we conducted the panel on Boris Nemtsov’s case and its political and legal implications.  During a three-day visit of Vadim Prokhorov to DC, Vladimir Kara-Murza, Vice Chairman of Open Russia and Natalia Arno, FRF’s President, briefed a number of U.S. Senators and Congressmen on the situation in Russia, Nemtsov’s case and discussed the perspectives of Nemtsov Plaza in Washington, DC. The hearings on Nemtsov Plaza were held in December at DC city council and attended by Zhanna Nemtsova, President of the Boris Nemtsov Foundation for Freedom among others. FRF submitted its written testimony in support of Nemtsov Plaza to DC Council as well.

This year we held a very big event – in April, we opened our Free Russia House in Kiev.  Since that time, our Kyiv office was busy with regular panels, conferences, trainings and screenings of documentaries with over 1,000 people attending our events. Throughout the year our Kyiv stage featured such speakers as the former Prime Minister of Lithuania, Andrius Kubilius, Ambassador John Herbst, prominent journalists David Satter, Matvey Ganapolsky, Evgeny Kiselev, an exiled Russian MP Ilya Ponomarev, political analysts Alexander Morozov, Taras Berezovets, the Director of the Kennan Institute Kyiv Office Ekaterina Smagliy, Ondřej Kundra, a leading Czech investigative journalist, Tamila Tasheva, the Chair of the Board of the Crimea SOS and many many others.

We continued our humanitarian and legal aid to Russian refugees and emigrants assisting more than 300 people only in Ukraine, where at the Free Russia House we have opened public legal and psychological assistance consulting offices.

We started another big program this year – assistance to human rights defenders who had to flee from Russia in recent years. Through long-term fellowships and internships, we keep them engaged into Russia-related issues and help them continue their investigations or research. It’s a new initiative and we will keep our partners and supporters informed of it.

We keep fighting for the release of Ukrainian hostages still kept in Russian prisons. We are proud to contribute to the release of two leaders of Crimean Tatars – Ilmi Umerov and Akhtem Chiigoz. We are concerned Roman Sushchenko, a Ukrainian journalist, and many other Ukrainians are still imprisoned and we will keep fighting for their freedom. In March and October, we hosted Mark Feygin and assisted with his advocacy efforts at the U.S. Congress and among human rights organizations. Their cases were discussed at the UN sessions, U.S. Helsinki Commission, Lantos Commission and other structures. We provided all the necessary information to the Ukraine Caucus of the U.S. Congress to issue its statement on Roman Sushchenko.

Together with Open Russia, we kept organizing Campaign Schools for activists from various Russian regions. In April, we studied French political and election system and observed the first round of the French presidential elections. In May-June, we analyzed the EU institutions in Brussels. And in September, we studied the German election system and observed its parliamentary elections.

There is much more we’ve done this year, but we realize there is even much more to do in the upcoming 2018 and years ahead until we have a truly free and democratic Russia. Russia we are proud of.  Russia for its people. Russia, a reliable partner on the international arena.

Let us thank all our partners, colleagues, and supporters for working together this year. Let us wish you success and happiness in 2018. We are looking forward to the new year – the year we will be a step closer to a free Russia!

When one examines the rise of right-wing populism in Russia and Europe, it is curious that Russia reproduces the rhetoric seen elsewhere in Europe in a somewhat distorted manner. When one venture outside of Russia this becomes evident. No matter where you live, your country will likely consider itself completely unique. In Hungary, you will be told that there is hardly any other country similar to Hungary in the whole world. In the US the theme of “American exceptionalism” in both good ways and bad, is very evident in politics. All countries, despite their own peculiarities, react in one way or another to the same processes of economic, political and cultural globalization currently taking place in our world.

In Russia, it could be argued that Putin, not Navalny, is the main right-wing populist force in Russian politics, even though both draw support from those who feel uneasy about the processes of globalization. Putin, as well as Orban and his Fidesz party in Hungary and Kaczynski and the Law & Justice party in Poland, are, one way or another, the result of public irritation from the economic transit in these countries and dissatisfaction with the results of reforms and the desire to acquire stability, often seen as a return to the past.

Since political and economic transitions happen simultaneously in our respective countries, we similarly tend to blame democracy for our own economic problems. People simply do not separate that these countries simultaneously democratized and conducted market reforms. In people’s minds, these processes overlapped. Accordingly, the situation often results from economic problems within the population, but democracy is still the scapegoat. In Russia, democracy was destroyed, but the tightening of screws was approved by the majority.

Recall the discourse from the beginning of the 2000s, that we need a strong hand, we need to temper the chaos of sovereign democracy, and in Orban’s words – the chaos of illiberal democracy. In this sense, there is a parallel, in my opinion, between the European right-wing populists and Putin. However, Alexei Navalny joins the populism trend as well by addressing the migration issue.

It is important to clarify that the Russian system is undemocratic. It is essential because the traditional understanding of the political field as a zero-sum game, where parties compete for certain groups of target electorate, does not quite fit. Just try to distinguish the “Fair Russia” party from the “United Russia”: one is leftish, another slightly right, but in practice, they have no ideological differences.

Alexei Navalny has a lot of freedom of action. He has fertile soil, because the government parties have no real ideological platform, except for “we will elect Putin for a new term, he does everything right”. This is important to remember.

Russia has the same problem as in the rest of the world. That is, there is a crisis of globalization, there is a population group, the “second Russia” where incomes do not grow or stagnate and adaptation to the market is fraught with problems. The stagnation of the Russian economy is happening because the regime has reached the point where all the incentives for growth are destroyed, and oil prices are not high enough to give an impetus to the economy. In this situation, from the political point of view, Aleksei Navalny now faces the task of expanding his electorate, he seeks to get beyond the 10% marginal opposition. And in order to expand, he needs to talk about the problems that are relevant for a great many of people.

Navalny tries to find, as far as I understand his approach, points that would unite people around his campaign. The topic of corruption is what most Russians care about, they understand this as a problem.

Of course, Alexei and other pro-democratic politicians react to the same challenges as the European political forces. That’s why, in my opinion, he is now combining a cultural right program, in the sense that he combines the rhetoric about immigration, the nation, the construction of the Russian nation, “Russia for Russians” and “stop feeding the Caucasus” with a fairly left economic platform. This approach allows you to go beyond the narrow marginal opposition niche, as the stagnation of income worries many Russians today.

Such a combination of the national agenda with redistribution is characteristic of many Western right populist parties. Navalny and his allies are learning from successful Western politicians. In this sense, there is certainly a similarity between the Russian and European processes.

With Ksenia Sobchak entering the race, and Alexey Navalny continuing his campaign trail though Russian regions, the presidential elections have finally become topic number one within Russian media and social networks. Nevertheless, one of the most important questions of this campaign is still unanswered: when Vladimir Putin will officially bid for his fourth term and how his new political platform will look like? We discussed this question with Russian political analyst Aleksandr Morozov.

Where is the Putin’s political platform going and what can we expect from his upcoming campaign?

In short, Putin does not need any program at all, this is the first and most important point. He is simply passing to the fourth term automatically, even if he does not offer anything to the public. Even if he does not offer anything to the ruling groups, he will pass to the fourth term without any problems and will stay in the position until the very end, in other words for 6 more years.

However, there is a bigger discussion which is independent of the electoral situation. Can the Kremlin formulate a long-term strategy for itself, regardless of the elections? Where is it all leading to in terms of the relations with the West and public expectations?

It is a bigger problem as everyone feels that the agenda that Putin has been implementing for the last 15 years is already fulfilled. He has built the country he wanted.

In my opinion, Putin will be concentrating exclusively on the following 3 tasks in relation to his fourth term:

1. To create conditions for the young generation.

To live somehow in the country, develop themselves and be in demand as people who have income and can be more or less secure in the future due to money, mortgage and status. It is an important issue as the current situation is unsteady.

2. To ensure the same feeling for the pensioners.

It is a very important moment as well. During the entire Putin’s rule, large numbers of people went to the public sector, law enforcement bodies and army counting on a long guaranteed life after some short periods of 10, 15 or 20 years in service. Putin cannot give up on these people. Because if he does so, he will be left, figuratively speaking, in the position of Gorbachev who forgot about people, and everything depreciated in the result of inflation or a monetary reform. This is, of course, a terrible thing that frightens the Kremlin and will frighten forever, so Putin has nothing to do but support these people.

3. Continue endless reforms implemented by the government.

It refers to the bank sphere, postal and railway reforms, etc.

Literally, the same situation was during the late Soviet period when the party, on the one hand, was trying to find some reforms which could remind the economic modernization, on the other hand, it was the young generation and the pensioners who they mostly were worried about.

This is the very essence of Putin’s program. What will be offered inside of it is probably still to be decided.

It is interesting that they decided to shift the target of their external policy, which has been built on the image of Putin as a military leader during his third term. Many are wondering how his fourth term will look like. Do you know what the next Putin would be like?

No, and this is the right question. All previous Putins had a very clear image. The latest, the Putin of the third term, had an image of the so-called sovereignty restorer. It is a fundamental idea which absorbed the entire nation: “ We are, Russia, will change our position in the external world, they will start respecting us, we have a new understanding of the global politics and our place in it”. Putin, of course, was the driver of this idea.

The fourth Putin has no image and it will not be created during the campaign. Neither Kirienko nor other political analysts or technologists will be able to create it. Because everything else is already completed. The vertical was restored during the first term, planning and building of a new economic modernization were done during the second term, and sovereignty was a topic of the fourth term.

I agree with the analysts who claim that Putin is entering his last term simply in the state of emptiness and senility, the late Brezhnev situation.

Within the experts’ community, there is a belief that this is the last Putin. Do you have such a feeling and where does it come from?

It is a difficult moment. Yes, on the one hand, we have such a feeling. Everyone feels that the horizon ends with the fourth Putin’s term. But the problem is that Putinism will not die after him. Putin is finite but Putinism may be not. This is the point.

After all, the Soviet Union collapsed in a result of a large number of circumstances and various personal stances. Such a combination is not always repeated in history. Nobody can say what will be the way out of Putin and how long Putinism will last after he leaves the stage.

I would say that in Russian society there is an element of nervousness and a sense that everything is somewhat vague. No one feels the precariousness of life, but everyone feels the uncertainty and great riskiness of the Kremlin’s political game.

Some people like it, many support it. Others feel that this game affects their lives and can undermine them. They worry about children and their own future. But even though they are worried, they are still ready to move further from Putin to the next phase.

And, ultimately, the future transition from Putin to the next form will be perceived as the leave of Pinochet, or as a transition from Franco. It’s not a matter of one day. This is a question of a slow transition, when, for example, the Francoans are still playing a big role and the other vision of society is slowly rising, and the balance between the old Francoists and the forces will not be immediately reorganized.

A short overview of results, causes, and consequences of Russian elections by Russian liberal politician Leonid Gozman.

Continue reading Russian Elections: Results, Causes, and Consequences

We are witnessing a juicy sequel of the story with Untied Russia altering a voting district to get the number of votes that would otherwise be insufficient to win a victory among only Russian voters. This is being done by assigning the voters from Transnistria to single-mandate electoral districts in Russia.

Continue reading Is the leader of the United Russia Party afraid of being elected in Russia?

Experts and officials constantly discuss the upcoming depletion of Russian state reserves. However, it is not very clear that reserves –fiscal or some other resources, will deplete soon.

Continue reading Sergey Aleksashenko: will Russia’s reserves deplete by the elections of 2018?

Russia’s regional elections, held Sunday, proceeded more or less as expected for this pseudo-democracy. Election season began with specious disqualifications of the opposition Democratic Coalition parties from the majority of the regional contests, with the exception of Kostroma.

Continue reading Russia’s Elections: Pantomime for the Establishment, Practice for the Opposition

After a total wipe-out of Democratic Coalition candidates in this year’s Russian regional elections, questions arise as to the further political strategy of Russian Democrats confronting Vladimir Putin’s regime.

Continue reading Democratic Coalition: what next?