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Kremlin Election Fraud Revealed. Again.

NOVOYE DEVYATKINO, Russia — The most popular political myths of Vladimir Putin’s regime, too often uncritically repeated by Western commentators—that Putin and his United Russia party are “supported by the vast majority of Russians” and that the opposition is “weak” and “unpopular”—are rarely tested, since most of the time Kremlin opponents are barred from the ballot. Last Sunday offered a rare glimpse into the actual opinions of Russian voters.

On March 22nd, Novoye Devyatkino, a municipality north of St. Petersburg that has been referred to as “Russia’s New Hampshire” because its voting trends usually match the national ones, held a special legislative election. Uncharacteristically, a wide spectrum of candidates were allowed on the ballot, including Sergei Kuzin, the St. Petersburg coordinator of Open Russia, the pro-democracy movement established by Mikhail Khodorkovsky, and member of the People’s Freedom Party, founded by the slain opposition leader Boris Nemtsov.

Boris Nemtsov, 1959–2015

MOSCOW — This is probably the most difficult piece in my life.

Boris Yefimovich Nemtsov was a rarity in politics. Having raced up the political power ladder—member of Parliament at 30, regional governor at 32, senator at 34, first deputy prime minister at 38, leader of the parliamentary opposition at 40—he always maintained his honesty, his character, and his principles, never betraying his ideals or his friends.

He was the face of a different, freer, more hopeful, and more European Russia. A committed democrat and modernizer, who propelled his Nizhny Novgorod region to one of the leading economic positions in the country, helped to end the first war in Chechnya, and won election after election, Boris Nemtsov was the best president Russia never had. The most popular politician in the country, he was appointed deputy prime minister in 1997 and was openly talked about—including by the then president himself—as Boris Yeltsin’s likely successor in the Kremlin.

History decided otherwise.

Mr. Putin’s Word is Void of Value

MOSCOW — “Mr. Putin does not want to annex eastern Ukraine. I am sure of it. He told me so,” French President François Hollande affirmed in a recent radio interview. Whether this was an unfortunate turn of phrase or genuine naïveté, Western leaders should be reminded of what Russian citizens have long known—that Vladimir Putin’s promises are rarely worth the paper they are written on.

Here is but a short selection of prominent “he-told-me-so’s” from the Kremlin leader.

“To take away the people’s right to elect their regional leaders would be wrong… and would constitute an element of disrespect for the voters.” (May 6, 2000)

“I believed and continue to believe that the leaders of the regions of the [Russian] Federation should be elected by the people. This order has become established and has become a part of our democratic state system.” (May 17, 2000)

US Investigation Topples Kremlin Propaganda Chief

MOSCOW — On December 19th, Gazprom Media, the Kremlin-controlled information empire, unexpectedly announced the resignation of its chairman, Mikhail Lesin, “for family reasons.” Lesin himself declined to comment.

Vladimir Putin’s former press minister, who oversaw the destruction of three independent nationwide television networks in the early 2000s, was brought back to run a key component in the Kremlin’s propaganda machine in late 2013, just before the Ukrainian revolution and Putin’s annexation of Crimea. Over the past year, media outlets under Lesin’s control—including NTV television—intensified the information war against Ukraine, the West, and against leaders and supporters of the Russian opposition, whom the pro-regime media routinely label as “traitors” and “foreign agents.” Lesin has also launched an attack on Ekho Moskvy radio, which, though majority-owned by Gazprom Media, continues to maintain an independent editorial policy and allows alternative viewpoints on the air.

Party Crashers: Kremlin SWAT Teams Attack Opposition Meetings

CHELYABINSK, Russia — When, about an hour into the roundtable discussion on elections hosted by the Open Russia movement in this city in the Southern Urals on December 17th, SWAT teams and officers of the Emergencies Ministry stormed the room and ordered a forced evacuation, the speakers could not hide their smiles. Ten days earlier, exactly the same scenario—forced evacuation after an anonymous “bomb threat”—was used by the authorities in St. Petersburg in an attempt to sabotage the Open Russia conference there. That forum was also centered on the topic of Russia’s parliamentary elections, now less than two years away. “The regime is genuinely afraid of a serious and honest conversation about elections, because elections are becoming a problem for this regime,” said Russian political analyst Dmitry Oreshkin, who participated in the Chelyabinsk roundtable and was also shepherded outside by the police.

Europe: Deny the Vote to Putin’s Outlaw Regime

Earlier this month, the leaders of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE)—the oldest and largest pan-European organization that brings together national lawmakers from across the continent—visited Moscow for talks with State Duma Speaker Sergei Naryshkin. The principal topic of discussion was the restoration of voting rights for Russian delegates, which were suspended in April following the annexation of Crimea.

The talks brought good news for the Kremlin. According to Andreas Gross, a Swiss lawmaker and the Assembly’s rapporteur on Russia, most leaders of the European parliamentary body want to see “a full restoration of the rights of the Russian delegation” at the PACE’s upcoming session in January. The next round of negotiations will be held in December in Vienna.

If this agreement takes shape, it will represent one of the biggest acts of hypocrisy in the history of the Council of Europe.

Kremlin Returns to Soviet Practice of Stripping Citizenship

MOSCOW — One of the ways of punishing political dissenters under the Soviet regime—alongside prisons, labor camps, and “special psychiatric hospitals”—was forced exile accompanied by a loss of citizenship, to ensure that “offenders” would never return to their country (in practice, “never” was curtailed by the collapse of communism in 1991). This was done, among others, to Nobel laureate Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, samizdat publisher Alexander Ginzburg, and Moscow Helsinki Group founder Yuri Orlov.

The writer Vladimir Bukovsky—one of the most prominent figures in the Russian dissident movement—was a rare exception. Forcefully exiled from the USSR and exchanged for Chilean communist leader Luis Corvalán in December 1976, Bukovsky was not stripped of his Soviet citizenship. The Politburo decision on his release and exile did not mention such a sanction, and the senior KGB official who accompanied Bukovsky on the flight to Zurich, Switzerland, handed him a new Soviet passport, with hair and civilian clothes drawn on his prison photograph.

50,000 March in Moscow Against Putin's War

MOSCOW — Last Sunday, Russian citizens once again refuted the Kremlin’s propaganda image of a nation united behind the aggressive actions of a dictator. Some 50,000 people, according to media estimates, marched through downtown Moscow to protest Vladimir Putin’s war against Ukraine and his escalating crackdown on what remains of civil liberties in Russia. For the first time in many months, the demonstration was backed by all of Russia’s pro-democracy parties, including the People’s Freedom Party, Yabloko, and Progress Party. Demonstrators were chanting “Peace to Ukraine, Freedom to Russia!,” “No Putin, no war!,” and—by far the most popular slogan—“Russia without Putin!”

Muscovites Use Vote to Say ‘No’ to Putin’s War

MOSCOW — Russia’s regional “elections” on September 14th—cleared ahead of time of most Kremlin opponents—predictably ended with Soviet-style 80-to-90 percent approval figures for the incumbents. In St. Petersburg, where some pro-democracy candidates managed to make it onto the municipal ballot, their actual results were drowned in the thousands of “early voter ballots”—outside of the control of independent monitors—almost all of which, by pure coincidence, were cast for Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party. As a result, the liberal Yabloko party—always a strong presence in Russia’s former capital—ended up with zero seats on municipal councils. Meanwhile, the Kremlin-installed St.

More of the Same: Kremlin Suppresses Candidates

MOSCOW — On September 14th, dozens of Russian regions, including Moscow and St. Petersburg, will hold elections on different levels, from municipal councilors to regional legislators and governors. Supporters of Vladimir Putin and his United Russia party will score landslide victories across the country. This will not be because, as the Kremlin propaganda claims, the regime has widespread popular support—but because all contenders that could pose even potential danger to pro-Kremlin candidates have been removed from the ballot in advance.

Is Russia Suited for Democracy?

MOSCOW — One of the key themes of Vladimir Putin’s propaganda machine—both for domestic and for foreign consumption—has always been the supposed lack of a better alternative. However unattractive Putin’s corrupt and authoritarian regime, the implicit reasoning went, its replacement would be worse—radical nationalists or leftists. It was no accident that, during the mass anti-Putin protests in 2011–2012, state television channels went out of their way to pick out communist and nationalist flags in the crowd—even though communists and nationalists accounted for, respectively, 13 percent and 6 percent of the demonstrators, while the vast majority expressed pro-democracy views.

This “argument”—from a regime that routinely labels Russia’s democratic opposition “Russophobic”—assumes that, given a choice in a free election, the Russian people would inevitably vote against democracy; that Russians are somehow uniquely “unsuited” for a democratic system that has proven perfectly workable in other post-communist (including Slavic) states.

Harshest Sanctions on Russia Yet—From Vladimir Putin

MOSCOW —When, earlier this year, policy experts suggested that the aggression against Ukraine would be the undoing of Vladimir Putin’s regime, they could not have imagined the speed with which the Kremlin will be sowing the seeds of its own destruction. As Russian analyst Maxim Samorukov has noted, dictatorships often get away with the severest repressions at home—as long as they do not attempt to upset the international order. Vladimir Putin has stepped over the line. His chosen path of confrontation with the entire Western world, his regime’s blatant disregard for international law—accompanied by lies and hypocrisy on a scale not seen since the Soviet days—has already resulted in hard-hitting US and EU sanctions not only on senior Kremlin figures, but also on state-connected banks and corporations.

Putin’s Chess War

MOSCOW — Just as during the Cold War, when sporting competitions between the free world and the Communist camp inevitably acquired a political dimension, big sport is increasingly becoming big politics for Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin. Nowhere can this be seen more clearly than in the ongoing campaign for the presidency of FIDE, the World Chess Federation, that will be decided at the congress in Tromso, Norway, on August 11th.

Police Raids, Intimidation Greet Moscow's Campaign Season

MOSCOW — The campaign for the 2014 Moscow legislative election began, as has become customary in Vladimir Putin’s Russia, with police raids. Last week, Russia’s Investigative Committee charged Konstantin Yankauskas, a Moscow municipal legislator and a candidate for the City Duma in the September 14th vote, and fellow election contender Nikolai Lyaskin, with “fraud,” conducting searches in their apartments. Lyaskin was released under prosecutorial recognizance; Yankauskas was sentenced to house arrest and will be unable to file his nomination papers at the electoral commission.

Kremlin Prepares Election Farce in St. Petersburg

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia — This week, the Kremlin-appointed governor of St. Petersburg, former KGB officer Georgy Poltavchenko, became the latest in a string of Russian regional leaders who formally “resigned” their posts in order to seek early reelection on September 14th. Of the 30 gubernatorial polls to be held this fall, 19 will be early elections called because of the resignation or dismissal of the incumbents. The Kremlin and its regional henchmen want to capitalize on the temporary spike in support for the regime after the annexation of Crimea, and ensure reelection before approval ratings start falling again.

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