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Published in Press Stream:
September 13, 2015

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Published in Stream:
September 13, 2015
Press by
The Interpreter
@Interpreter_Mag
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Interpreter_Mag
Polls Open in Russia's Local Elections, and Regime's Dirty Tricks Against Opposition Already Started
4 years
Stream: September 13, 2015
Publication: Russia Update
Detained Open Russia Consultant Released, As State Media Works to Discredit Russian Opposition in Local Elections

Local elections have begun throughout Russia, the world's largest country, with eleven time zones spanning 17.1 million kilometers.

The polls are already open in Chukhotka, RIA Novosti reports in Russia's Far East.

In nearly all of Russia's regions -- 83 -- elections are being held today for local legislatures on one unified date. Two regions will not have elections: Kabardino-Balkaria Republic, site of some terrorist activity and the killing by special forces of Islamic militants earlier this year, and in Northern Ossetia-Alaniya.

Twenty-one of Russia's regions will be electing governors, and 11 regions will be electing deputies to their regional legislatures. About 100 candidates from 16 parties have been registered to run in the gubernatorial elections. Elections will also take place to 23 city councils and municipal legislatures.

Seven governors availed themselves of the opportunity to leave their posts early, in some cases under pressure from Moscow, and new governors will be elected to replace them. All of them have been made "acting governors" in the meantime. They are:

Aleksandr Drozdenko, Leningrad Region
Vladimir Ilyukhin, Kamchatka Territory
Sergei Eroshchenko, Irkutsk Region
Viktor Nazarov, Omsk Region
Sergei Sitnikov, Kostroma Region
Aleksei Ostrovsky, Smolensk Region
Igor Orlov, Arkhangelsk Region



Seventy-six political parties have been registered to take part in the elections, which seems like a lot until they are examined and found to be mainly those loyal to the government or at least not significantly challenging them.

One major exception is the Parnas opposition party, where slain opposition leader Boris Nemtsov was one co-chairman. Parnas (the name is the Russian acronym for "People's Freedom Party") has been registered in Kostroma, after a series of difficulties, legal challenges, arrest of opposition candidates, and protests, including a hunger strike by a campaign worker and candidates.

Yesterday, September 11, a member of the Parnas party was detained in Kostroma reportedly with 200,000 rubles (approximately $2,952) which was said to be intended to pay for the hotel rooms of observers, Slon.ru reported.

Opposition leader Aleksei Navalny, who is part of the opposition's Democratic Coalition said on his Facebook page that the activist was removed from the Kostroma-Sharya train by police

Navalny said in a statement (translation by The Interpreter):

"Police investigators removed our staff person from the Kostroma-Sharya train for carrying 200,000 rubles [approximately $2,950] for payment of the hotel rooms of observers. (Sharya is 350 km from Kostroma, and lodging was needed there.) And that despite the fact that the cash was formally withdrawn from the election account."

Parnas recounted the arrest on their Twitter feed:

Translation: officers in plainsclothes detained on the train activist Androsov and now are now not letting us in to see him.
Translation: police officer sitting facing here said that a check would be made about the purchase of the ticket at the railroad.
Translation: We brought Dmitry Androsov out of the Sharya police department. The police chief dragged him back off the street.

 

Translation: We have all come out of the Sharya police station. A car is following us.

There was also a separate report from the pro-government channel LifeNews that "$30,000" was allegedly brought to the Kostroma Region by an activist of Open Russia, the movement founded by businessman and former political prisoner Mikhail Khodorkovsky. The funds were ostensibly to "fund radical youth protests."

Another version of this story published by NTV said "1.5 million rubles" (not 2 million) was being carried by two opposition political consultants (not just one). Traffic police reportedly detained a car in which Stanislav Ryabov and Sergei Mendeleyev were travelling.

2015-09-13 02:20:17

Both these stories sounded like either garbled versions of the first story, or evidently separate pieces of disinformation from state media; the story was initially not confirmed by an Open Russia representative and ultimately one individual said to be arrested unrelated to Open Russia said he was not in fact detained at all.

Last night (September 11), Maria Baronova, a representative of Open Russia in Moscow, published a statement on her Facebook page linked to Twitter, indicating that she was unable to confirm the story and that Open Russia did not have any members detained, much less with this large amount of cash:

Translation: Regarding the detention of apparently two activists, apparently one outside of Kostroma. Official statement.

Translation by The Interpreter:


Regarding the news published on NTV on the detention of "opposition political consultants" outside Kostroma, I began to get massive numbers of phone calls from journalists about this as well. All the questions amount to asking whether it is true about the employees of Open Russia, and who are all these people.

Regarding essentially all the questions asked of me, I would like to reply the following:

1) The Mr. Mendeleyev indicated, who has been shown previously on the television channel NTV, is neither a coordinator of Open Russia or anybody else regularly connected to Open Russia, much less Mikhail Borisovovich Khodorkovsky.

2) When I began to make phone calls regarding legal aid and getting the exact number of persons detained, and finding out who Mr. Mendeleyev is, I was told that he was in his apartment in Moscow.

3) I am attempting to get more precise information on this person. But I know for a fact that it is not prohibited to carry cash on your person in the Russian Federation.

4) If, now, in violation of the letter of the law, it is planned to detain all those who carry cash on them, then I propose beginning with the people coming out of the building of the RF State Duma [parliament] and the Spassky Gates [the Kremlin].

5) Open Russia is not taking part in the elections. Open Russia is involved in preparing observation [of the elections] in order to ensure maximally honest democratic elections on the unified voting day.

6) Open Russia is not a revolutionary cell (to my deep disappointment) and is not connected to any activists planning any protest actions.

7) Open Russia is not an organization in which salaries are paid. A number of people in Open Russia are employees of Mikhail Borisovich Khodorkovsky. In the last hour, I called all these employees and none of them were detained.

8) In the event that any of the opposition activists are detained for political reasons either with cash or without, the human rights section of Open Russia will provide them with support.

This statement is accurate at this time [September 12]. In five minutes, I may learn of new entertaining details.

[Update September 13: Subsequently it was determined that Stanislav Ryabov, a consultant to Open Russia, was detained but released without charge, and police seized his cash for analysis, saying they feared it was counterfeit.]

In her statement, Baranova referenced the fact that Mendeleyev had "already appeared" on NTV. This was a propaganda show broadcast yesterday September 11 by NTV called "Master Class for Provocateurs" in which Mendeleyev, a municipal deputy from Yasenevo District in Moscow and Lithuanian politician Mindaugas Lapinskas are portrayed as discussing how they took part in a "secret" seminar about elections observations whose true purpose, NTV claimed, was to disrupt the elections, Novaya Gazeta reported.

Mendeleyev later told Novaya Gazeta that it was "difficult" for him to tell if the NTV footage was authentic but statements appeared to be taken out of context. For example, he noted, if you were describing ways that elections are falsified with the intent of preventing them, if your introductory phrase was removed, it would appear as if you were advocating such falsification yourself.

Asked if he had been detained near Kostroma with Stanislav Ryabov, Mendeleyev said it was not true. The information about Ryabov was not confirmed.

Some of the footage of the NTV program appears to have been taken from films seized from the office of Open Russia during a search in April, Mikhail Yastrubitsky, who is involved in Open Russia's educational program, told Novaya Gazeta. He said the seminar on election observation was not "secret" and that a quotation used by NTV in their program was also ripped out of context.

In the NTV video, Yastrubitsky is shown saying "I don't hide it, it's not true" as if in answer to a question of whether or not he worked with Open Russia. But Yastrubitsky said that his answer came in an interview with an NTV reporter on the day of the search in April, who asked him another question, not about his work at Open Russia.  Yastrubitsky also noted that it was not clear how videos confiscated by police from the office of Open Russian wound up in the hands of NTV, to be spliced together out of context.

According to Slon.ru, Vladimir Churkov, head of Russia's Central Elections Commission, said that "external forces" were attempting to "interfere" with local elections.

Ongoing coverage of election today in Russian is available at Open Russia.

(Note: The Interpreter is a project of Institute for Modern Russia, which is funded by Pavel Khodorkovsky, the son of Mikhail Khodorkovsky.)

-- Catherine A. Fitzpatrick