Opposition groups called for a boycott of the by-elections in Russia

MOSCOW (AP) – Months before Russia’s parliamentary elections, government officials launched an unprecedented crackdown, ensuring that the Kremlin’s most prominent and outspoken opponents do not run.

Others have been barred from seeking public office under new oppressive laws. Others have been forced to leave the country after being threatened with prosecution. Others were arrested.

Problems also spread on independent television and human rights activists: Journalists and civil rights groups were given the crippled names of “foreign delegates” and “unnecessary organizations” or prosecutors.

Opposition groups say the Kremlin has left them with little or no choice before the September 19 election, which is known to be a crucial step for President Vladimir Putin to maintain order. But he still hopes to end the rule of the ruling United Russia party in the State Duma, or parliament.

“We still want to get more seats from United Russia so that more illegal people (and officials) become State Duma ministers and provincial councilors,” Leonid Volkov, a member of the opposition leader Alexei Navalny, told The Associated Press.

These elections are important because the Kremlin wants to oversee the next parliament, opposition politicians and political analysts. This year’s Duma election is still in place in 2024, as Putin’s term expires and he has to decide whether to run for re-election or another option.

Politician Abbas Gallyamov, a former Kremlin journalist, said: “Putin likes to remain uncertain and make decisions in the end.”

“No one knows until the last minute what they will do in 2024,” Gallyamov said. … Is the change necessary, or should the new minister be approved, or should the electoral law be changed? … All roads must be open to Putin, he must feel that his decisions are not limited to anything. For this reason, parliament must be fully compliant. ”

It is also important to address any threats from lawmakers who support the protests that could take place in 2024, Gallyamov said, because a directly elected body that opposes the Kremlin and its protesters could take the dispute to another level.

It would not be difficult, however, to retain United Russian rule in parliament, which seats 334 out of 450 seats.

An independent Levada Center poll revealed only 27% of Russians who are ready to vote for the party. As a result, pushing opponents back and using the only way to run the system, Gallyamov said.

Navalny, Putin’s main opponent, who has ruled the United States to rule in recent years, has been sentenced to two years in prison for violating a parole bill in a politically motivated case. This followed his return to Russia from Germany, where he was poisoned by a madman who accused the Kremlin, which he denies.

Navalny’s top rivals have been prosecuted, and its Foundation for Fighting Corruption and regional offices have been banned as dangerous organizations.

This has brought hundreds of people who join the groups to be prosecuted. Parliament also enacted a law banning those involved in bribery and bribery.

As a result, no one is running in the Navalny team, and many have left the country. About 50 pages run by Navalny and their associates have been closed, and many regional offices have been closed. Several other opponents were not allowed to run because they supported Navalny.

Another prominent Kremlin protester, former Dmitry Gudkov, was briefly arrested in June along with his aunt on false charges. Gudkov said he wanted to run in the Moscow government against a well-known United Russia, but was turned down by the authorities.

“He took my aunt, got a 6-year-old loan to pay off a rented apartment, added me to the case, arrested us both for two days, and it is clear that if I do not leave the election and do not leave the country, my aunt will arrest me,” Gudkov told AP. the country.

Authorities have also detained Andrei Pivovarov of the Open Russia opposition group backed by Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a Putin dissident who moved to London after serving 10 years in prison on charges of politically motivated retaliation.

Pivovarov, who had planned to run for Duma, was removed from a flight to Warsaw shortly before leaving St. Petersburg. Petersburg and take him south south of Krasnodar. He was charged with aiding and abetting a rival last year on behalf of an “unsolicited” organization and was arrested at the end of the investigation.

Open Russia closed a few days before Pivovarov was arrested. In return, Pivovarov was allowed to vote for Yabloko’s favor even after being in jail on the last day. Allies say it would be impossible for them to win.

“He destroyed everyone, who looked a certain way, like politicians,” said Marina Litvinovich, a human rights activist and one of the Kremlin’s few running opponents.

Litvinovich was a former member of the State Public Monitoring Commission which oversees the treatment of prisoners and detainees but was removed after disclosing the abuse of Navalny detainees. He decided to run in the Moscow government on behalf of Yulia Galyamina, a well-known politician who was found guilty last year and banned from running.

Litvinovich told the AP that it was difficult to know that at any time, “you could be locked out of the race, or face terrorists tomorrow, or take part in a criminal investigation.”

“But we are trying to overcome those ideas and move forward,” he said.

Navalny ally Volkov also expressed his feelings.

“It doesn’t feel good, when a giant, very heavy, speechless elephant runs towards you,” he said.

Despite the war, the Navalny team is planning to use its Smart Voting strategy – a task to help potential candidates from United Russia. In 2019, Smart Voting backed candidates to win 20 of the 45 seats in Moscow’s city council, and last year’s by-elections saw United Russia lose most of its seats in three cities.

Volkov said it has been difficult to promote Smart Voting, where many pages have been closed and people have been threatened with violence: The online registration for the project went up a year ago after the Navalny poisoning, but this year there are few.

There have been recordings, however, of the team’s mobile apps, which are very difficult for the government to ban.

Some are planning to continue promoting non-voting for United Russia. Pivovarov’s supporters decided to continue his campaign despite his arrest. Last month, he opened campaign offices in Moscow and Krasnodar, using Pivovarov cardboard pieces to greet his supporters.

“For us, the service is a megaphone,” Pivovarov’s senior colleague Tatyana Usmanova told AP at the Moscow office that opened last month.

“What Andrei was looking for was for more people to understand that they should not vote for United Russia, that elections are not good. … Now we have the opportunity to let people know all about it.”


Daniel Kozin in Moscow and Tanya Titova in Kyiv, Ukraine, contributed.

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