Category Archives: elections

Even United Russia is Repulsed by Putin’s Fraud

Blogger Robert Coalson of The Power Vertical reports on a valiant young member of the United Russia party of power who ran for a local government post on the party’s ticket, won, and then refused the seat after realizing he only “won” because of shameless fraud by the party in rigging the ballots:

Yesterday, The Power Vertical wrote about the amusing story of 23-year-old Anton Chumachenko, a Unified Russia member in St. Petersburg who announced that he is refusing a seat on a local district council because the results of the election were falsified by local election officials.

The naive young man’s eyes were opened when he saw that the officially published polling station protocols were completely different from the ones he and his staffers had seen in person on election night. Today, RFE/RL’s Russian Service was able to ask Chumachenko a few questions about his surprising decision to go public with information that everyone in Russia knows, but about which few insiders are willing to speak. Here is the interview in full [followed by his open letter exposing the fraud]:

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EDITORIAL: More Electoral Fraud in Putin’s Russia

EDITORIAL

More Electoral Fraud in Putin’s Russia

When a country is as riddled by incidents of spectacular fraud as Russia, something truly special has to happen before any given incident will be noticed.    Something just that horrifying happened earlier this week as the results of nine local legislative elections became known.

America is one of the world’s wealthiest, most successful nations.  Yet, the country’s recent economic downturn resulted in wholesale slaughter of the ruling Republican Party at the polls last November, handing power to their rivals the Democrats. Russia, by contrast, has never experienced a civilized transition of that kind in its entire history.

Russia’s economic performance has been far more dismal than America’s, and Russia started out from a position of excrutiating poverty in the first place.  Russia stock market, currency and reserves have been all but obliterated under the incompetent guidance of Russia’s current crop of rulers.  And yet, in every single one of the nine legislative races Russia’s ruling party prevailaed by landslide margins.  In the Tatarstan region,  where it had its strongest showing, United Russia “won” over 80% of the ballots.

There is only one word for this behavior on the part of the Russian voters, and that word is barbarism.  Just imagine how the world would have reacted in November 2008 if Barack Obama’s party had been defeated by George Bush’s party by a margin of 80%!

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Russia Ratifies Foreign Dictatorship

In another installment of its series of reports on Russia that are translated into Russian and published on a blog for Russian comment, with selected comments translated into English, the New York Times reports on how Russia is shamelessly ratifying electoral fraud in former Soviet states so as to maintain influence through dictatorship:

The voting monitor began his rounds on election day here at Polling Place No. 7. “Issues? Violations?” he asked the poll workers, glancing around like a casual sightseer. They said no, so he left. The monitor, Kholnazar Makhmadaliyev, breezed from one polling site (“What’s up? Things O.K.?”) to another (“Everything fine here?”), shaking a lot of hands, offering abundant compliments and drinking brandy with this city’s mayor. Such went Mr. Makhmadaliyev’s stint on a large observer mission led by the Kremlin that concluded that Belarus, a former Soviet republic and an ally of Russia, had conducted a “free, open and democratic” parliamentary election in late September.

The Kremlin monitors’ version of reality, though, clashed with the one described by a European security group, whose own monitors dismissed the election as a sham tainted by numerous shortcomings, not the least of which was vote rigging. The monitors dispatched by the Kremlin did not report anything like that. Nor did they raise concerns about Belarus’s security service, still called the K.G.B., which had exerted harsh pressure on the opposition, imprisoning several of its leaders over the last year and thwarting their campaigns. Or about state-controlled television broadcasts repeatedly branding opposition leaders as traitors. Or, for that matter, about the final results: a sweep of every seat in the 110-member Parliament by supporters of President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko, often described as Europe’s last dictator.

The Kremlin under Vladimir V. Putin has sought to bolster authoritarian governments in the region that remain loyal, and these election monitoring teams — 400 strong in Belarus alone — are one of its newer innovations. They demonstrate the lengths to which the Kremlin will go to create the illusion of political freedom in Russia and other former Soviet republics, even though their structures of democracy have been hollowed out.

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EDITORIAL: “Elections” in Russia

EDITORIAL

“Elections” in Russia

Surely the most telling indicator of the barbaric depths to which Vladimir Putin’s KGB regime has driven Russia is the plain impossibility of using normal democratic terminology to describe his regime.  One must use quotation marks when referring to “president” Putin and “prime minister” Medvedev since not only were their elevations to these posts shamelessly rigged but nobody has any real idea which job either man is doing, not even in regard to the management of Russia’s economic catastrophe.  It’s quite convenient for both, of course, since that means it is impossible to apportion blame when their policies fail disastrously, as for example when we watch the Russian stock market continue to slip beneath the waves despite their massive campaign to artificially inflate its value with government purchases.

And above all, though, one must use quotation marks when referring to “elections” in Russia, as last weekend’s local polls across the country showed so horrifyingly.

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The Kremlin Confirms: Russians Can’t be Trusted to Vote

Reuters reports:

Russia’s government on Tuesday ruled out restoring direct elections of regional governors, scrapped four years ago in a move that critics said undermined democracy. Russian media this week quoted the governor of the Tatarstan region, a major industrial centre on the Volga river, as saying direct elections for the 85 regional chiefs should be re-instated if Russia is to be truly democratic. Dmitry Kozak, the minister for regional development and a close associate of President Dmitry Medvedev, said changing the system for selecting governors again was not on the agenda. “Let’s not dash off in different directions. We have just changed it. We are not going to change it back,” Kozak told Reuters on the sidelines of the Renaissance Capital annual investment conference.

Some observers have predicted Medvedev, a 42-year-old former law professor, could ease the Kremlin’s tight grip on power established during President Vladimir Putin’s presidency . Other analysts are sceptical he can implement real change without the consent of Putin. After stepping down from the presidency last month, Putin stayed on as prime minister and continues to wield huge power. Prompted by Putin, Russia’s parliament in 2004 changed the law to scrap direct gubernatorial elections. They were replaced with a system under which governors are nominated by the president and then confirmed by regional legislatures. The president can dissolve a legislature if it rejects his nominee.

KREMLIN CONTROL

But there was some indication the issue may be on the long-term agenda after Kremlin loyalist and speaker of Russia’s upper house, Sergei Mironov, was quoted by Itar-Tass as saying, the topic should at least be discussed. “At the present stage, it’s possible to think about the return of the election of governors,” Tass quoted Mironov as saying. He added he was not in favour of any quick decision. Opposition parties, rights groups and Western governments cited the change as an example of what they called an excessive concentration of power by the Kremlin. The change was introduced soon after the Beslan siege in which more than 300 people — half of them children — were killed in a stand-off between security forces and Islamist insurgents who had seized a school in southern Russia.

The Kremlin said it needed to tighten its control over regional administrations so the country was better prepared to handle such challenges. The move also responded to fears among many for the unity of a vast country, still shaken by the disintegration of the Soviet Union.

Putin Apes Stalin

La Voz, the newspaper of De Anza College in Cupertino, California, shows students there are right on top of their studies where Russia is concerned with the following editorial:

Putin’s tactics disturbingly reminiscent of Stalin


Although former Russian President Vladmir Putin has supposedly relinquished power to new Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, Putin continues to weild significant influence over the country in his new position as Prime Minister.

Medvedev, who was previously Putin’s chief of staff, was handpicked by the Putin to be his successor. Medvedev won the presidency by a large margin of around 70 percent. Medvedev has been accused of acting as a puppet and it seems Putin is not yet ready to hand over the reins of power.

During his presidency, Putin fostered increasingly acceptance of Joseph Stalin’s political tactics, portraying Stalin as a national hero. Putin told schoolteachers in Russia that their history was “nothing to be ashamed of” and that it was their duty to make students feel “proud of their motherland.” Stalin is described in some history books as “the most successful Soviet leader ever.”

One of the more frightening aspects of Putin’s Stalin-like tendencies has been his intolerance of critics in the media. During his presidency, Putin brought important media outlets, including some television and radio stations, under state control. In some cases he shut them down entirely

In addition, a slew of important journalists who were openly critical of the president were murdered during Putin’s time in office, most notably Anna Politkovskaya, a Russian journalist who was killed while walking out of her apartment. Though her murder was never directly linked to the Kremlin or to Putin, the timeliness of her murder and the execution-like style of the killing raised many eyebrows in the international community.

During his tenure as president, Putin also tightened his authoritarian grip on parliament. He changed the rules, no longer allowing governors to be elected. Instead they were appointed directly by Putin.

Mikhail Khodorkovsky, an independent oligarch openly critical of ‘democracy’ in Russia, has been quoted as saying: “It is the Singapore model – it is a term that people understand in Russia these days. It means that theoretically you have a free press, but in practice there is self-censorship. Theoretically you have courts; in practice the courts adopt decisions dictated from above. Theoretically there are civil rights enshrined in the constitution; in practice you are not able to exercise some of these rights.”

EDITORIAL: Mr. 35%

EDITORIAL

Mr. 35%

Thanks to the determined work of Russian physicist and computer expert Sergei Shpilkin, we now know 56% of Russians voted in the recent “presidential elections,” not 70% as the Kremlin claimed. Moreover, of those who voted, 63% cast votes for the “winner,” Dimitri Medvedev — not 70% as the Kremlin falsely alleged.

The Kremlin, lying through its yellow, broken teeth, claimed that Medvedev won 70% of 70% of the electorate — in other words, that Medvedev had the support of 49% the country’s eligible voters. In fact, he got 63% of 56% — a mere 35% of the country stood behind him.

14 million of Medvedev’s claimed 53 million votes were fraudulent, as was 15% of his claimed 49% “mandate.” Even under the Kremlin’s corrupt scenario, less than half the country supported Medvedev. In actual fact, barely a third did so. Little wonder, then, that the Kremlin felt the need to be so aggressive with the fraud.

This is the predictable result of allowing a proud KGB spy to rule a country. He’ll lie to you, without remorse, whenever he gets the chance, about everything and anything. You’ll live your life in a fog until that one day when a tsunami of truth sweeps over you by surprise, as it did when the USSR disappeared.

In recent days, we have seen two utterly ridiculous Russophile myths laid to rest. First, that Vladimir Putin would step aside after his second term ended. Instead of doing that, he’s not only assumed the prime ministry but vastly expanded the powers of that office and seized control of the party of power, United Russia, as well. And second, that he was so overwhelmingly popular in Russia that there was no need to engage in fraud to propel Medvedev to victory. Even though every legitimate opposition candidate had been purged from the ballot, Medvedev still only had the support of one-third of the population. What might have happened if there was a real race, with debates and pointed criticism of Medvedev’s credentials? Clearly, Medvedev would have been in desperate jeopardy.

Moreover, if the fraud was unnecessary and Putin engaged in it anyway, there could be no more brutal insight into the utter malignancy of his character than that. It would mean he’s pure evil.

A joke is making the rounds in Russia these days. Putin and Medvedev are sitting in a restaurant having dinner. The waiter approaches and asks what Putin will have for his main course, and Putin responds: “I’ll have the steak.” The waiter replies: “And what would you like for your vegetable?” Putin answers, glancing sidelong at Medvedev: “The vegetable will have steak too.”

It’s a telling anecdote, because it’s not only Medvedev, but the entire nation, that now serves as Putin’s vegetable. True, 65% of Russians withheld their support from Putin’s hand-picked successor — but that’s the least they could have done. Though knowing Putin’s replacement was a sham, they still meekly allowed the ballot to be purged of rival candidates, stand mute when electoral fraud is exposed, and turn a blind eye as political parties and media outlets are brutally crushed under Putin’s jackboot.

Soon, Russia’s vegetables are going to be harvested by Farmer Putin, sucked up into a giant neo-Soviet threshing machine and pulverized into pulp, shoved into cans and stacked on shelves to await the next ice age.

It’s a fate that’s, sadly, nothing short of what the vast majority of Russians deserve, one they’ve brought on themselves. We tried to warn them, as did many others. They paid no heed.

Annals of Russian Electoral Fraud

The Moscow Times reports:

There are numerous curiosities to be found in the official returns of the March 2 presidential election. At a polling station in the Dagestani town of Kizilyurt, for example, more than 700 voters cast their ballots, but not a single one voted for President-elect Dmitry Medvedev, who captured more than 90 percent of the vote in the republic and more than 70 percent nationwide. While one could imagine a neighborhood where antipathy toward Medvedev runs aberrantly deep, one blogger has crunched official election results and found strikingly anomalous voter behavior across the country.

Analyzing official returns on the Central Elections Commitee web site, blogger Sergei Shpilkin has concluded that a disproportionate number of polling stations nationwide reported round numbers — that is, numbers ending in zero and five — both for voter turnout and for Medvedev’s percentage of the vote. The statistical anomalies offer mathematical evidence of election fraud in Medvedev’s victory, math-savvy bloggers, election analysts and economists said. “This is an unnatural distribution, and it points to blatant manipulation of numbers,” said Andrei Buzin, who heads the Interregional Association of Voters and has a doctoral degree in math and physics.

In most elections, one would expect turnout and returns to follow a normal, or Gaussian, distribution — meaning that a chart of the number of polling stations reporting a certain turnout or percentage of votes for a candidate would be shaped like a bell curve, with the top of the bell representing the average, median, and most popular value. But according to Shpilkin’s analysis, which he published on his LiveJournal blog, podmoskovnik.livejournal.com, the distribution both for turnout and Medvedev’s percentage looks normal only until it hits 60 percent.

After that, it looks like sharks’ teeth. The spikes on multiples of five indicate a much greater number of polling stations reporting a specific turnout than a normal distribution would predict. A suspicious voter might say polling officials stuffed ballot boxes to achieve a nice, clean percentages like 65, 70, 75, 80 and so on. The analysis and results mirror Shpilkin’s study of the Dec. 2 State Duma elections, in which he found a similar predominance of round numbers both for voter turnout and for the percentage of the vote captured by pro-Kremlin party United Russia. Local election officials were clearly thinking in round numbers while rigging turnout and Medvedev’s percent of the vote, said economist Mikhail Delyagin, head of the Institute of Globalization Problems.

While the spikes on round numbers certainly reveal manipulations, they also demonstrate “an administrative demand” for a specific turnout to be reported to superiors, Shpilkin said in e-mailed comments. Furthermore, according to Shpilkin’s analysis, the higher the turnout, the higher Medvedev’s percentage of the returns — a correlation not seen in the returns of the other three candidates: Liberal Democratic Party leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky; Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov; and Andrei Bogdanov, who heads the tiny Democratic Party of Russia. Buzin said this correlation clearly indicated ballot stuffing on a massive scale, though Shpilkin and Delyagin said it was feasible that where turnout was higher — whether due to voter enthusiasm, coercion or herd mentality — voters may have been more inclined to vote for Medvedev.

A written request to the Central Elections Commission for comment on the anomalies was not answered in time for publication. In February the commission would not comment on similar anomalies in the Duma elections. Arkady Lyubarev, a researcher with Independent Institute of Elections, said he had tried on numerous occasions to discuss statistical anomalies in election results with commission officials but was repeatedly snubbed. “They are not mathematicians, they are legal experts,” Lyubarev said. “And from a legal perspective, you cannot use these anomalies to officially challenge the results of an election.”

Given the similar anomalies in both the Duma and presidential elections, officials have either not learned how to manipulate returns to make them more plausible, do not care about public opinion, or both, said Sergei Shulgin, an analyst with the Institute of Open Economics who studies elections. “The repetition of the anomalous spikes after they were reported in the media and widely discussed in the Russian blogosphere [after the Duma elections] confirms that there is no feedback between election officials and the public,” Shulgin said. Shulgin, who has crunched numbers for national elections dating back to the mid-1990s, said statistical distribution for voter turnout in Russian elections was becoming increasingly aberrant.

With each national election, the downward slope for turnout in what should be a bell curve rises higher and higher, Shulgin said. In Medvedev’s victory, it became more or less a straight line peppered with spikes on round numbers. This trend, Shulgin said, indicates that in areas where turnout is traditionally strong — such as rural areas and ethnic republics — more and more voters are showing up at polling stations with each new election. This does not necessarily indicate ballot stuffing, Shulgin said. Intense efforts by officials to lure or coerce voters to polling stations could be an important factor as well, he said. “In this presidential election, it looks like there was an order to get every voter out, and it worked,” Shulgin said. Meanwhile, what happened at Polling Station No. 682 in the Dagestani town of Kizilyurt remains unclear.

According to the Central Elections Commission web site, of the 766 ballots cast at the polling station, not one went to Medvedev. What’s more, Bogdanov received 95 percent of the votes. The numbers stand in stark contrast to those for all of Dagestan, where Bogdanov got 0.15 percent of the vote and Medvedev 91.92 percent. Nationwide, Bogdanov received 1.3 percent compared with 70.28 percent for Medvedev. Buzin suggested that Dagestani election officials may have accidentally swapped Medvedev’s and Bogdanov’s figures as they filed their reports. A spokesman for Dagestan’s elections commission was incredulous when told of the results at the Kizilyurt polling station, despite the fact they are posted on the Central Elections Commission’s web site. “It is a provocation,” he said without elaborating.

Annals of Russian Barbarism: Killing the Messenger

The Other Russia reports:

A political expert who reported on violations in recent Russian elections and even took the electoral commission to court has been assaulted and beaten in the city of Dolgoprudny, some 20 kilometers north of Moscow. Grigory Belonuchkin, who works for the Panorama Analytical Center, believes that the attack is connected with his outspoken criticism of violations during the December 2007 Parliamentary elections in Russia.

According to Andrei Buzin, one of Belonuchkin’s colleagues, the analyst was lured from his apartment by unknown men who called up and asked to speak with him on an important matter. When he came to the street, he was thrown on the ground and kicked on his torso and his head. He is in stable condition, and is recovering from his injuries.

Belonuchkin is currently engaged in a court case on elections violations against a local territorial electoral commission (TEC). The case, launched on March 19th, involves a questionable vote recount that took place at polling station 306 on the night of December 2nd to the 3rd. The court is trying to determine why the figures of the recount were so drastically different from the original numbers. The recount raised the number of ballots distributed from 740 to 998, upping voter turnout for the pro-Kremlin ­United Russia party from 54.4% to 82.4%, and lowered the number of cancelled ballots from 258 to one.

Igor Pantyushin, an observer from the Communist Party who spent the day at the polling station in question, testified that the initial count was correct, and that 258 blank ballots were annulled when the voting station closed.

Belonuchkin launched the investigation after word from two independent political parties that their counts differed from the official figures.

Electoral monitors have accused electoral officials of widespread fraud during both the December 2007 State Duma and March 2008 Presidential elections in Russia. Recorded violations include electoral manipulation and fraud, ballot stuffing, pressure on voters, misuse of resources on the part of the administration, and the administrative “cleanup” of all politicians not under the Kremlin’s control from the political landscape.

The Other Russia opposition coalition has not recognized the results of the Parliamentary and Presidential elections. The group has scheduled a meeting of the “National Assembly,” an alternative Parliament, for May 17th-18th.

Ryzhkov on the "Elections"

Vladimir Ryzhkov, a State Duma deputy from 1993 to 2007, and host of a political talk show on Ekho Moskvy radio, writing in the Moscow Times:

Every so often in life we come up against situations where we have to do something unpleasant and boring but necessary. Men’s daily ritual of shaving is a good example.

For many authoritarian regimes, an equally burdensome but unavoidable chore is holding elections. These are boring, embarrassing, unpleasant and pointless affairs, but they still must be staged from time to time to provide an outward appearance of legitimacy — even if it is clear to everyone that they are, in reality, a complete sham.

Another goal of these elections is to provide an ironclad guarantee that power will remain in the hands of the ruling elite. In this way, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, Uzbek President Islam Karimov and the Aliyev family in Azerbaijan, to name a few, periodically prolong their terms in office. Sadly, modern Russia has joined their dishonorable ranks.

The widespread, popular myth is that President Vladimir Putin has abided by the Constitution by stepping down from office and holding an election. Just the opposite is true: Sunday’s vote was the latest, and most significant, chapter in a whole series of actions taken by the Kremlin to eliminate free and fair elections in the country.

Why then didn’t Putin simply disregard the constitutional limit preventing him from serving a third consecutive term as president? After all, President Nursultan Nazarbayev had no problem at all doing this in Kazakhstan. The only explanation is that the country’s political elite was concerned that Western countries would initiate punitive actions against its foreign financial interests if Putin stayed on for a third consecutive term.

After all, family members of top Russian bureaucrats live in luxurious homes in the West and their children study there. The money they have stolen from the state budget and major state-owned companies sits in foreign banks accounts. Russia’s leaders are forced to act as if they were abiding by the Constitution because they fear that the West will deny them entry visas, block access to their foreign bank accounts or investigate their financial dealings. This is the regime’s real Achilles’ heel. This is where the Pied Piper’s fabled flute is capable of bewitching Russia’s high-ranking “patriots.”

The presidential election campaign, which was carried out in a classic authoritarian fashion, was a complete farce. Medvedev’s three political “rivals” were reminiscent of the three “competitors” who were propped up by Karimov in Uzbekistan’s December election. Medvedev refused to participate in the presidential debates. In the end, the “debates” were limited to the Kremlin’s three other handpicked candidates hurling insults at each other without much enthusiasm, while tiptoeing around subjects the authorities might deem too sensitive. At the same time, the Putin-Medvedev duo dominated television airwaves as usual, occupying 70 percent to 80 percent of all election coverage.

The campaign was devoid of any criticism of the Kremlin, which meticulously orchestrated every scene. Viewers were treated to a smorgasbord of staged events: Medvedev with Putin, Medvedev with children, Medvedev with pensioners, Medvedev helping the Serbs give the Americans a licking. These dishes were peppered with Medvedev’s meaningless quips about incorporating “the rule of law,” “putting people first” and “helping small businesses,” with no specifics given about how to accomplish these bold tasks.

It is no wonder that Medvedev’s success was the predictable final act of the dull and boring theatrical show that the Kremlin called the presidential election.

History shows that most authoritarian regimes agree to reforms or make concessions to their citizens only when faced with military defeat or economic catastrophe. That was true under Peter the Great and after Russia’s defeat in the Crimean War. It was also true following the chaos caused by war communism from 1919 to 1921, as well as after the Soviet Union’s failures in Afghanistan and after the economic crisis of the 1980s. These preconditions for reform do not exist under Putin’s oil- and gas-fueled eight-year economic boom, which our leaders assume will never end.

What does the continuation of Putin’s Plan under President Medvedev promise for the country? Russia will continue plodding along for the next few years, but the country’s serious and chronic illnesses will become more acute. Corruption and the already large income gap will grow even more. The technological gap between Russia and other nations will continue to widen, and the country’s infrastructure will deteriorate even further. The monopolization of the economy will intensify, high inflation will remain a huge problem, and Russia will become even less competitive in world markets.

Authoritarianism has destroyed Russia several times throughout its history, and the current leaders are again leading the country down this same self-destructive path. The ruling elite’s main interest is in acquiring personal wealth, and it is willing to betray its own people to get what it wants. It has not built the modern social institutions and state structures that are necessary for the nation’s long-term development and for improving the living standards of its citizens.

In the latest survey by the Levada Center, 60 percent of respondents agreed with the statement, “Overall, the country is moving in the right direction.” They are the ones who dutifully cast their votes on Sunday in strict accordance with the Kremlin’s instructions. Once again, the majority of Russians placed their bets on a shell game in which they have no chance of winning.

An Open Letter to the Leaders of Russia

Asia News reported March 1st:

On the eve of tomorrow’s voting for the new president, in a tough open letter to the heads of the Russian federation, well-known human rights activist Sergei Kovalev (pictured) denounces the “mangled electoral legislation” and the “moral crisis” in politics; he points his finger at “a sycophantic puppet parliament, a decorative Constitution, a justice system working to order and an uncontrolled leadership reappointing itself”.

Kovalev, born in Ukraine in 1930, began his efforts in defence of human rights in Russia in the 1960’s. He is a founding member of the Initiative Group for the Defence of Human Rights in the USSR. In 1974, he was arrested and sent to the gulag, and then sent into exile for having made public some of the cases of detained activists. During his detention and exile, until 1987, he was declared “a prisoner of conscience” by Amnesty international.

Russians [went] to the polls [yesterday] to select the next president of the federation. For 24 hours, before the opening of the polls, all political advertising and campaigning will be prohibited. According to most of the observers, the results of the voting [was] already assured: the winner will be Dmitrij Medvedev, the candidate supported by the current head of state, Vladimir Putin. Challenging Medvedev, who according to polls should receive about 70 percent of the vote, will the three candidates: the communist Gennadij Zjuganov, the nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovskij, and the almost unknown pro-European Andrej Bogdanov. In the runup to the latest elections, which the critics of the Putin government describe as a “farce” of democracy, we publish the complete text of the open letter that Kovalev has sent to Putin himself, to Vladimir Churov, president of the central electoral commission of the Russian federation, and to foreign minister Sergei Lavrov .

Dear Sirs,

Gentlemen, I have no doubt that you are well aware that the free expression of the will of free citizens via free democratic elections can never result in 99.4% of the votes being cast for one party with a turnout of 99.5% of the voters.

Now obviously that is only impossible where there is open, transparent political competition between electoral candidates, with equal opportunities for public campaigning, where there is no administrative pressure on individuals and where one finds impeccable honesty and scrupulous accuracy from the election commissions.

Yet all these are surely the crucial conditions for democratic electoral procedure?

No need to prove to you that these very 99.4% votes “for” provide incontrovertible evidence of vote-rigging. You know that as well as I do, and as well as any remotely literate citizen with at least commonsense, not to mention a basic awareness of the nature and possibilities of the popular vote. You of course also know that such results far above 90% (i.e. the same fraud) did not happen in isolated polling stations, no, in several subjects of the Russian, if one may use the term, “Federation”. This unfortunate circumstance is more than sufficient to correctly assess the tasteless farce being played out by untalented directors on the entire boundless Russian stage on 2 December, and for good measure in the coming event on 2 March.

It is entirely redundant to tediously collect up the electoral commission protocols rewritten in retrospect, or evidence of shenanigans with ballot papers etc – it’s all clear enough anyway. The authorities (who by the way you represent, Gentlemen), mangled electoral legislation and then wantonly, with no finesse, came up with some kind of imitation of elections. In doing so they sneered at the Constitution and armed themselves with administrative resources. The simulation was not for us but for the West you so dislike.

I am not in the slightest claiming that “United Russia” would not have got into the State Duma without the rigging. For goodness sake, obviously they would have been in first place anyway. That’s quite another, also painful problem for the country.

However on another subject now. Through your deliberate efforts, Gentlemen, in a country where the democracy was only budding forth, we once again have no elections – the main criterion for a democracy. And for a long time. Not even Stalin could have dreamed of the Chechen record. In his “elections”, that sort of percentage was gained by a single candidate with no alternative. While in the present case this pathetic 0.1% was supposedly shared by virtually 10 parties.

It’s not by hearsay that we know what’s happening to a country which receives a sycophantic puppet parliament, a decorative Constitution, a justice system working to order and an uncontrolled leadership reappointing itself (like the profoundly expressive word “successor” which has sullied our political lexicon for a good 10 years). Details are hardly appropriate. It would seem that that does not frighten you and you have decided to try it yet another. Or maybe you simply don’t know anything else.

Well, the choice – conscious and well-thought-out – has undoubtedly been made -, and long ago, and I am quite well aware that I can’t stop it. I do have a question, however: will you be able to stop if at some stage you don’t wish to follow things through to the all too familiar end?

It’s clear that the lies exuding from all your lackey screens, are powerless to hide the electoral shame. Yet despite that, you are forced to lie shamelessly and hopelessly, with arrogance and anger jumping down on any doubts (like “… let them teach their wives …”). You don’t have another choice, I mean you can’t say: “Well, we took over here, slightly corrected the results, and there they went overboard. Well don’t be too critical, it’s all though their enthusiasm and uncontrollable functionary zeal.

And in your step there are the adepts hurriedly bustling to get themselves onto the patriot register. Earlier our leaders quite often had to lie tediously and brazenly for decades, denying the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, or the Katyn Massacre of Polish prisoners of war, or the arrest of Wallenberg. In a word, what was obvious to all around them and now it’s you. History is unfortunately repeating itself.

The lie which you so decisively have again established in government use and which you are incapable of rejecting has an important and extremely dangerous quality – I would say a particularly corrupting force. The point is that the majority of your listeners don’t believe you, and that includes your convinced supporters. That is, they are of course pleased with “United Russia’s” victory, but they understand very well whatever you say how the mould for such a victory was set.

We have a paradoxical change – you lie, your listeners know this and you know that they don’t believe you, only pretend to believe, and yet they also know that you know they don’t believe you. Everybody knows everything. The very lie no longer aspires to deceive anyone, from being a means of fooling people it has for some reason turned into an everyday way of life, a customary and obligatory rule for living. You have a Mr Markov, supposedly a professor, supposedly a political expert, and in fact a hardened and dense cynic. Speaking with him about our “politics”, a journalist said: “lies have short legs”. “Human memory is even shorter”, was Markov’s response. Horrible, yet it would seem that this is in fact the case. Of course they’ll forget a lot about the two grubby spectacles in succession in a couple of months after 2 March. However they’ll never forget something else – that the top figures of the state lie through their teeth. And how could they forget when lying is your natural element?

This memory is catastrophic and its results irreparable because the customary lies of leaders always generate and cultivate cynicism in society and cannot achieve anything else. Whatever your people now say about freedom being better than lack of freedom, about the right to self-expression and so forth, these pompous speeches are fixedly (and fairly, by the way) perceived as a continuation of your untruth. They’re mere words. There is exactly the same attitude to the bombastic ambitiousness of your utterances about the guaranteed phenomenal and swiftest successes in all conceivable areas, matters and issues.

It would seem, however strange this may be, that for us, coming from the Stalin era, those in power also need public support. So you want to rely on cynicism? Yet cynicism is cowardice, the flight from burning problems and hard-hitting discussion. It is the lowest pragmatism, petty timeserving teetering on the verge of baseness, or having toppled over that edge. It is intrigue, preferred to competition, and a rejection of moral taboos.

Can any serious political force really base itself on such social tendencies? Well, yes, cynicism does not scorn obsequious enthusiasm. We all remember well enough the paid mobs of your “nashy”, 150 per body. So what do you expect – they’re your prop in the flamboyantly announced “innovations” and other achievements? Enough, after all you, Mr President, openly shared with us your devastating assessments of your main people – the party of power “United Russia”. What other “innovations”?

What then, do you expect with pitiful charms about “four and “to turn a mob into a creative force? Now that is foolish! From dishonesty, Gentlemen, nothing grows barring new dishonesty. On that road you have already achieved your real main goal. Publicly you name it ponderously as stability, whereas in fact its total power. Simply speaking, modernizing and improving (cynically, yet reasonably subtly one must say) Soviet ideology and political practice, you have built a political construction in Russia within which it’s impossible to win the elections.

Not even squeeze them in any way in parliament. Not even exert any noticeable political pressure. This is a blind alley that can no way lead to democracy. And gradually going back by the same path we came on is almost impossible since you are doomed to lie. As I said before, you can’t renounce the lies once spoken, or your whole system will come tumbling down.

What you are to do in this situation is of no interest to me. Most probably you’ll continue your course, perhaps on the way filling your pockets (those in the know say that you’ve long being doing this – I don’t know, I’m not an expert in this area). What the country is to do, having ended up under you, now that is the question. It is immoral and very dangerous to put up with you indefinitely. Since your present shameless “elections” are absolutely useless, we therefore need an entirely different instrument in other hands.

We don’t need “political experts” and “political technology specialists”, not economists and not politicians in the traditional sense of the word. We need intelligent, daring and extremely well-meaning leaders who instead of loud opposition noises, can create a decisive, calm, persistent and unwavering protest and not allow it to slip out from the tradition of the great peaceful Eastern European victories over despotism, to not allow bloodshed and the brown-shirt plague. This is incredibly difficult. It is much harder in Russia than it was in Poland or Czechoslovakia, harder even than in Ukraine.

Yet who promised that our life would be easy? I believe that these people will at some stage come. I see no other possibility for overcoming our shameful moral crisis. However it’s not with you that these problems need to be discussed.

With the most sincere and unwavering lack of respect,

Sergei Kovalev

The Sunday Scam

The Moscow Times reports:

When a French journalist asked President Vladimir Putin recently how United Russia captured almost 100 percent of the vote in Chechnya and Ingushetia during the State Duma elections, an Ingush reporter jumped in and said 10 of his relatives voted for the pro-Putin party.

It was, perhaps, fitting that the reporter cited a round number.

Two bloggers have crunched the election results and found that a disproportionate number of polling stations reported round numbers — that is, numbers ending in zero and five — both for voter turnout and for United Russia’s percentage of the vote in the Dec. 2 election. The analyses by chemist Maxim Pshenichnikov and a LiveJournal blogger nicknamed Podmoskovnik offer mathematical proof of either election fraud or extremely anomalous voter behavior, economists said. “It is a study that explicitly demonstrates that the results were manipulated,” said Konstantin Sonin, an economist at the New Economic School who writes a column that appears in The Moscow Times.

Without the statistical anomalies, United Russia would not have secured a constitutional majority in the Duma, concluded Podmoskovnik, who declined to give his real name when contacted by e-mail and also declined to be interviewed by telephone. In most elections, one would expect the turnout to follow a normal, or Gaussian, distribution — meaning that a chart of the number of polling stations reporting a certain turnout would be shaped like a bell curve, with the top of the bell representing the average, median, and most popular value.

But according to Pshenichnikov’s analysis [see chart at left], the distribution looks normal only until it hits 51 percent. After that, it begins spiking on round numbers, indicating a much greater number of polling stations reporting a specific turnout than a normal distribution would predict.

The same trend is seen in the analysis of United Russia’s results conducted by Podmoskovnik [see chart below right]. United Russia, for example, received 89 percent of the vote at 633 polling stations, according to Podmoskovnik’s analysis of the results. But 927 stations reported 90 percent for the party, while 770 stations reported 91 percent. A suspicious voter might say polling officials stuffed ballot boxes to achieve a nice, clean 90 percent figure.

Podmoskovnik found that the spiking on round numbers begins after United Russia’s returns hit 55 percent. Taken together with Pshenichnikov’s calculations, it appears that the higher the turnout, the higher United Russia’s percent of the returns — a correlation not seen in returns of the other 10 parties on the ballot. Furthermore, the spikes in both analyses coincide on several round numbers, including 75 percent, 80 percent, 85 percent and 90 percent.

The anomalies are not necessarily evidence of fraud, Podmoskovnik dryly wrote on his blog, Podmoskovnik.livejournal.com: “One could well imagine that United Russia voters radically differ in their social behavior from other parties’ voters and are distinctly predisposed to collective voting for their favorite party when turnout is at its peak.”

If the anomalies were smoothed out, turnout would have been 50.2 percent, rather than the official figure of 63 percent, Podmoskovnik said. Furthermore, United Russia would have secured only 277 seats in the Duma, he concluded. This would deny the party the 300 seats needed for a constitutional majority.

Official election results gave United Russia 315 seats. The other parties represented in the Duma — the Communist Party, the Liberal Democratic Party and A Just Russia — took 57, 40 and 38 seats, respectively. According to Podmoskovnik’s analyses, the three parties should have received 73, 51 and 49 seats, respectively.

The Central Elections Commission declined to comment when asked to explain the anomalies revealed in the two analyses. But several economists agreed with Podmoskovnik’s findings. Mikhail Delyagin, head of the Institute of Globalization Problems, said local election officials clearly decided in advance what the figures would be for turnout and United Russia’s percentage of the vote. “As many human beings do, they were thinking in round numbers,” Delyagin said. The disproportionate amount of round numbers indicates that low-level officials were manipulating returns as they saw fit rather than as part of a centralized effort to fix the vote, said Sergei Shulgin, an analyst with the Institute of Open Economics who studies elections. “Men on the ground decide which digits will please their bosses,” he said.

Low-level officials do not grasp that hundreds of polling stations reporting figures in round numbers distort normal distribution, thus clearly revealing manipulations, Delyagin said. More round numbers could emerge in Sunday’s presidential election, which Putin’s preferred successor, First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, is expected to win in a landslide. Officials in the far eastern Primorye region have been ordered to ensure 65 percent of the vote for Medvedev, Kommersant reported last week, citing a copy of a document distributed to local officials. Administration and election officials in the region denied the report.

Meanwhile, the Kirov region weekly Vyatsky Nablyudatel last month cited local officials as saying they were preparing to guarantee 80 percent of the vote for Medvedev. But given the resonance of Podmoskovnik’s study in the Russian blogosphere, election officials will likely try to avoid such spikes in turnout and results in Sunday’s election, Delyagin said. Shulgin disagreed, saying anomalies indicating manipulation of returns have increased with each presidential election since 1996. Furthermore, the spikes on round numbers in Putin’s re-election in 2004 were even more evident than those in United Russia’s victory in the December 2003 Duma elections, he said. “So my forecast is that … the anomalies in the upcoming presidential election will be even more explicit than in the latest Duma election,” he said.

n Central Elections Commission chief Vladimir Churov on Wednesday called on election officials in regions where turnout was exceptionally high in the Duma elections to encourage independent observers to conduct “alternative counts of all voters,” Itar-Tass reported. This, Churov said, would help to verify that near 100 percent turnout in some regions is in fact genuine. Meanwhile, Churov on Thursday shrugged off Western criticism about the fairness of the presidential vote, calling it part of a campaign against Russia.

The Elections Charade: Barabarism in all its Horror

The Moscow Times reports more evidence of how popular Vladimir Putin is:

The Kremlin didn’t need to lift a finger this time.

Governors know that they need the support of the likely next president, Dmitry Medvedev, to keep their jobs, and they are working hard to get out the vote for him on March 2, a senior election official said, “What’s the best way to show the next president that you love him? In this election the answer is to guarantee him a good turnout so that Medvedev becomes Russia’s legitimate president in everyone’s eyes,” said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of fear of reprisal. The official’s account was backed up by doctors, professors and businessmen who said they had been ordered to vote and increase turnout. Representatives of several governors’ offices flatly denied trying to curry favor with the Kremlin.

Ahead of the State Duma elections in December, the Kremlin and United Russia ordered governors to ensure high turnouts, said the election official and other people familiar with the situation. But this time the initiative appears to have come from the governors themselves. “They didn’t wait for orders to come from above,” the official said. The president holds the power to appoint and dismiss governors after Putin ditched gubernatorial elections in 2004, ostensibly as a way to strengthen the state. With their future in the Kremlin’s hands, governors and their administrations are eager to show Medvedev their loyalty. “Most governors have an agreement with Putin but not with Medvedev. Now they are working hard to build it,” the official said.

After the governors started working on turnout, the Kremlin asked them to aim for at least 65 percent, the official said. If turnout is low, election officials are ready to stuff ballot boxes with absentee ballots, the official said. A Kremlin spokesman had no immediate comment Thursday. The Kremlin has denied similar claims about the Duma elections.

The 65 percent target seems attainable after average turnout for the Duma elections reached 63 percent. Recent nationwide surveys, however, indicate that only 54 percent of voters intend to cast their ballots on March 2. In practical terms, that means about 40 percent of voters will actually vote, the election official said. With opposition candidates prevented from running and Medvedev’s victory all but a foregone conclusion, the Kremlin faces the specter of low turnout because of voter apathy. High turnout would especially help legitimize the vote after international observers decided to skip the election following Moscow-ordered restrictions that they said would severely hamper their work. To reach 65 percent, regional officials have turned for help to state hospitals, universities and big and medium-size factories.

Large factories have been asked to organize polling stations on their premises and demand that their workers get absentee ballots to vote there, the election official said. This way employers can check whether the workers voted. Some employers have asked workers to show them their absentee ballots, the official said. Employers are following orders in order to avoid trouble with the authorities. The owner of a factory outside Moscow said he had refused to help United Russia in the Duma elections and had subsequently been forced to pay a large fine after surprise tax and fire inspections in January uncovered alleged violations. “Only my connections have helped me keep my business. They told me to keep quiet this time and to do what they [the authorities] want,” he said. “I had to ask my workers to go and vote,” he said.

A doctor at a large Moscow hospital said she and the hospital’s other 2,500 workers had been asked to get absentee ballots to vote at the hospital. The hospital’s chief doctor, she said, had told the personnel that “it was important for the hospital to show a good turnout if it wanted to get funds from the state.”

Election officials organize polling stations at hospitals on election day to allow patients to vote. Under the law, hospital workers can also vote at the polling stations if they file a simple written request. A dean at a private Moscow university said he had received a letter from a senior Moscow official asking that he attend a meeting “to prepare for the presidential election.” About 20 officials from various Moscow universities attended the meeting, he said. “They told us that they had been asked to provide a high turnout. They said that if we performed well, we would be rewarded,” he said. The dean said the Moscow official emphasized that the Kremlin was upset that student turnout in the Duma elections had been around 25 percent in the city. University officials were told to demand that their students obtain absentee ballots and vote at university polling stations. The dean said state universities would follow the orders to avoid funding cuts, while private schools wanted to avoid the prospect of being harassed by tax and fire inspectors.

Even low-ranking bureaucrats have an interest in getting out the vote because they are likely to lose their jobs if the Kremlin fires the governor. “New governor, new people. Everyone is working for his own future,” the official said. There is also a financial incentive. Moscow district heads and election officials who helped United Russia in the Duma elections received cash bonuses, the official said. Regional administrations denied that governors wanted a high turnout to impress Medvedev. “Our governor was confirmed six months ago. He doesn’t need to demonstrate anything to the new president,” said Alexei Khastrikin, a spokesman for Bryansk Governor Nikolai Denin. “On our regional television channel you see more of Zhirinovsky and Zyuganov than Medvedev,” he added. The three candidates running against Medvedev are Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov, Liberal Democratic Party leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky and Andrei Bogdanov, an independent.

Dagestani leader Mukhu Aliyev is not afraid of losing his job over a low turnout, said his spokesman, Abutalib Mamayev. “We had a 91 percent turnout [in the Duma elections],” he said. “People love Putin and love Medvedev, and I’m sure that the turnout will be the same this time.”

In Moscow, election officials are prepared to stuff ballot boxes with absentee ballots if turnout does not reach 65 percent, the election official said. In previous elections, the official said, voters were packed into buses and ferried around to polling stations to vote “as many times as needed.”

“If I have 30 people, I could take them to 10 polling stations and I have 300 more votes for the city,” the official said. The official said Moscow district heads would have a good idea of their turnout figures by 4 p.m. on election day, since most people vote between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. If the turnout is low, they could then call in the buses. Authorities are also keeping an eye on people likely to vote against Medvedev, the official said. In Moscow, for example, authorities are not encouraging disgruntled residents of apartment buildings whose courtyards are being exploited by city developers to vote. “They know that people like that will vote against Medvedev. Who needs that?” the official said

Annals of Neo-Soviet Barbarism: The Presidential Charade

The Moscow Times reports:

Ads at polling stations will inform voters that presidential candidates Gennady Zyuganov, Vladimir Zhirinovsky and Andrei Bogdanov concealed their true incomes while applying to run, the Central Elections Commission said Monday.

First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, confirmed by President Vladimir Putin as his chosen successor and nominated by the pro-Kremlin United Russia party, is the only candidate who comes out clean in the ad.

In accordance with election laws, posters containing information about undeclared income by the three candidates will be placed inside voting booths, commission member Nikolai Konkin said in an e-mailed statement, adding that all regional commissions will receive the posters by Tuesday. According to information provided by Konkin, each of the three candidates misrepresented his income and assets in his application to run. “Information about incorrect data contained in the section concerning real estate assets was obtained from the Federal Tax Service [and] the Federal Registration Service,” Konkin said. Zyuganov, leader of the Communist Party, failed to declare gifts from a charitable organization of just over 17,000 rubles ($690), the commission said in an e-mailed statement. “They alleged that I had concealed 17,000 rubles,” Zyuganov told Ekho Moskvy Monday. “But they didn’t give me a kopek — this is nonsense.” Zyuganov spokesman Alexander Yushchenko confirmed that Zyuganov failed to declare gifts in the form of a medal and a certificate in recognition of his “contribution in the development of orphanages,” Yushchenko said. When asked to put a price on the medal, he answered, “I don’t know, it was an ordinary, metallic medal.”

Democratic Party leader Bogdanov failed to declare a Moscow apartment owned by his wife with an area of 64.3 square meters. Bogdanov said he did not mention the apartment in his application because his wife had actually never lived there and was only joint owner of the property with her parents. He said he wasn’t really troubled by the posters. “You can’t blame the mirror if the face in it is crooked,” he said.

Zhirinovsky, meanwhile, is charged with failing to declare over 12.6 million rubles ($512,000) in interest income from bank deposits, earnings from Moscow State Open University over the previous four years of 25,000 rubles ($1,010) and a 576-square-meter plot of land in the Saratov region. “I have never concealed anything,” the Liberal Democratic Party leader said Monday in an e-mailed statement.

The fourth presidential candidate, First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, did not conceal any income, Central Elections Commission member Maya Grishina said.

Medvedev reported an income of $71,000 per year over the past four years, owns a 367.8-square-meter apartment in Moscow, a 4,700-square-meter plot of land outside the city, and savings of 2.74 million rubles (about $110,000). His application says he does not own a car. Along with his post in the government, Medvedev is chairman of Gazprom, which in 2006 reported a profit of $13 billion. Putin declared an income of about $81,000 last year when he ran for parliament. He said he owned a small apartment in St. Petersburg and a plot of land outside Moscow.

Another Original LR Translation: Inspecting Russian Elections (by our Original Translator)

Better They Not Come At All

Yezhednevniy Zhurnal

February 6, 2008

The latest round of negotiations between international election monitors and the Russian Central Elections Commission (CEC) on exactly how the former will be allowed to observe the Russian presidential elections scheduled for March 2, has ended without result. The OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) insists on having its main group of 50 observers arrive in Russia no later than Friday, February 15. “What Russia has offered us is good, but we insist that our observers be allowed to arrive in Russia no later that next week, even if it is on February 15,” announced ODIHR representative Curtis Badden.

The CEC earlier had issued an announcement saying that Russia was prepared to grant a concession to the ODIHR and receive a group of five technical specialists as early as February 5. The first group of 20 observers would then be allowed to begin work on February 8, while the main group of 50 observers could begin on February 20.

—————–

Evgeniy Ikhlov, “For Human Rights” (Za Prava Cheloveka)

The arrival of election observers means that the elections will be viewed as a democratic process. Indeed, there are no elections in China, North Korea or Vietnam. But human rights workers back in September announced that under the current system, in which the opposition has no access to mass media and absolute tyranny reigns – confiscation of campaign materials, surveillance of activists, state-controlled mass media acting as if they belonged to a particular party – in these conditions, elections mean nothing. They become just a ritual. The arrival of a delegation of international human rights workers on the day of this ritual would be a joke. They could have with equal success come and observed Brezhnev’s elections – back then there was also perfect order and no manipulations of any sort.

At issue is something completely different: it is understood that monitoring the election situation can be done only in the context of the information campaign that is conducted well before the elections. On the eve of elections or the day of voting, there is nothing to see in this regard. It will be established only that the people came and voted, and of course they will mostly vote for the Kremlin’s candidate. But elections are not simply a matter of counting votes. They are a complex democratic process, which includes a number of other things: access to mass media (for example, the refusal of the main candidate to participate in debates – this is certainly interesting too), the absence or presence of pressure on people, and whether intimidation or force are used to make them vote.

What will they see on the February 20 or 25, just ten days before the ritual? Everything will occur on cue: they will talk with students, teachers and doctors; everyone will turn out; the absentee ballots will be gathered. What sense is there in watching the final spectacle?

Of all the principles of democracy, there is really only one we have to adhere to: submit to the arithmetic majority from the elections. Everything else – access to the media, freedom of civil action, freedom of assembly and rallies – all of these things, it has been made clear, are not in fact guaranteed under the Constitution. Only one thing is guaranteed: the will of the people will be shown by the majority of those voting for it. How this majority is achieved is of no importance. There is no guarantee that all socio-political movements will have an equal opportunity to appeal to the nation. None at all. And this is not a shortcoming, not a violation, but simple the absence of a basis for democracy. If a person has no legs, you can hardly say he walks badly. And so it is with democracy in Russia: there is no democratic tradition, no way for public opinion to influence events, no basis for democracy. The country is run by lawyers and hair-splitters, in the worst sense of the word – they obsess over every dot on an “i”. You get just exactly what is written down. It is said you will have access to the media, fine: you can give your campaign speech on TV… at 7:00 a.m. At seven o’clock in the morning, you can appear for five minutes and talk about the issues of the day to your fellow citizens who have not yet waken up. The citizen expresses his view of all this by simply not voting. And the election observer asks, What exactly is it that I am supposed to be observing?

I am convinced that the best way for these negotiations to end would be for the OSCE representatives to say: “This is not an election, this is a farce. It bears no relationship whatsoever to democracy. We have no intention of observing it.”

A New Low in Neo-Soviet Hypocrisy

Other Russia reports:

Russia’s Central Electoral Commission (CEC) has challenged the income declarations of three Russian presidential candidates, Interfax reports. Contenders are required to turn in a list of incomes and assets to the Commission, which then makes the information public. The CEC oversees elections, and is responsible for registering candidates.

According to the electoral body, only Dmitri Medvedev, the chosen successor of President Vladimir Putin, was accurate in his filings. Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the leader of the Liberal Democratic Party, allegedly withheld 12 million 638 thousand rubles (€349,414 or $516, 083) worth of investments, and a 25 thousand ruble salary from the Moscow State Open University. According to tax records, the candidate also owns a 574 square meter plot of land in the Saratov oblast.

Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov allegedly left of the value of presents received from the “Patrons of Art of Century” International Welfare Fund. The total value is estimated at 17,084 rubles (€472 or $697).

Andrei Bogdanov, of the Democratic Party failed to declare the Moscow apartment of his wife, Irina. The CEC notes that the couple has joint ownership of the 64.3 square meter flat.

The fourth and final candidate, Dmitri Medvedev, apparently filed everything correctly. Political experts had earlier scoffed at his paperwork, which states that the First Deputy Prime Minister earns just $71,000 per year. The candidate holds a second job as chairman of Gazprom, Russia’s natural gas monopoly, from which no income was declared. The company earned $13 billion in profits for 2006. According to the records, Medvedev also doesn’t own a car, and shares his wife’s 9-year-old Volkswagen Golf.

The Commission reiterated that it will not revoke the registrations of any of the candidates. However, the information will be published in the agency’s informational posters, and may be publicly embarrassing.

One candidate, Zyuganov, has questioned the allegations. “I am astonished at such a remark, because I didn’t receive any presents from the “Patrons of Art of Century” International Welfare Fund,” he told Interfax. “This fund bestowed me with its award for helping orphanages, and I was given a folder and booklet about the fund’s activities. That’s all that I can say.”

The Sunday Stalin: Putin Turns the KGB Wolf Pack Loose

The Moscow Times reports:

President Vladimir Putin ordered Russia’s domestic intelligence service on Wednesday to increase its vigilance against attempts by foreigners to interfere in the March presidential election. Putin has portrayed domestic liberal opponents, who accuse him of reviving autocratic rule, as Western puppets, and he wants a smooth transition of power to his chosen successor, Dmitry Medvedev. “You must step up efforts to receive timely information about any attempts to interfere in our domestic affairs,” Russian news agencies quoted Putin as telling a meeting of Federal Security Service leaders. “This country is a sovereign state, and we will not allow anyone to manipulate the election campaign from abroad.”

Putin’s eight years in power have seen strong economic growth and the return of relative stability after a decade of post-Soviet turmoil. Putin, a former KGB spy, has often said Russia’s economic and diplomatic resurgence has fuelled envy and opposition in the West. Opinion polls indicate Medvedev will win an overwhelming victory on March 2. Opponents say they are allowed little or no access to the media and suffer from government interference. “The task of all state structures is to make sure that [the polls] are democratic, that there is social and political stability,” Putin said. Putin has described the FSB as a “key national institution” and has sharply increased its budget.

On Wednesday he praised the FSB for what he said was its progress in fighting terrorism in Russia. “In past years, the state was not capable of effectively opposing terrorism,” Putin said, referring to political turmoil and economic crises in the 1990s. “The number of terrorist acts was incredible and the terrorists’ impudence was immense. Now, the number of terrorist attacks elsewhere in the world is on the rise, while their number in Russia drops annually by 70 percent.” Putin said the FSB’s new task was to make sure corruption and criminality did not disrupt Russia’s economic boom. “You should stop corruption and abuse of power, use all your potential to uncover cunning schemes to steal budget funds,” he told the FSB leaders.

Medvedev is a Coward (of course)


The Moscow Times reports:

The Central Elections Commission on Tuesday finalized the schedule for televised debates between candidates in the March 2 presidential election. But viewers won’t be seeing front-runner Dmitry Medvedev squaring off against his three opponents.

Medvedev, the first deputy prime minister and President Vladimir Putin’s preferred successor, has opted to take Putin’s tack and forego the debates, which will be shown on Channel One, Rossia television and TV Center beginning next week. Medvedev is “choosing to work” instead of participating in the debates, which would use up his time “at the expense of the voters,” Vyacheslav Volodin, a senior official with United Russia — which nominated Medvedev — said at the commission’s headquarters Tuesday. “We can’t allow this to happen,” Volodin said.

Medvedev’s poll numbers and the history of Russian elections seem to offer little motivation for him to debate policy with other candidates. Medvedev had the backing of 82 percent of the 1,600 decided voters polled by the Levada Center in 46 regions from Jan. 18 to 21, and neither Putin nor former President Boris Yeltsin ever participated in a televised debate ahead of elections. Furthermore, Medvedev has enjoyed a huge advantage in television coverage in recent weeks over the other candidates — Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov, Liberal Democratic Party leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky and Democratic Party of Russia leader Andrei Bogdanov.

Zyuganov’s campaign chief, Ivan Melnikov, accused Medvedev on Tuesday of undermining the election with his refusal to debate and threatened that Zyuganov could follow suit. “In a democratic state, a candidate’s withdrawal from debates would have meant his withdrawal from the race,” he said. The final decision on Zyuganov’s participation was to be made Thursday.

Zhirinovsky and Bogdanov, whose tiny party is widely considered a Kremlin project aimed at splitting off votes from democratic opposition parties, were more upbeat about Medvedev’s decision. “We will get the chance to criticize them all,” Zhirinovsky said, Interfax reported. Bogdanov, who told reporters Tuesday that he proudly heads up the country’s largest Masonic Lodge, said he would like to ask Medvedev if he knows what life is like “on the other side of the tracks.”

“I bet he doesn’t,” Bogdanov said.

Candidates were allocated 42 hours of free airtime, including debates and campaign ads on radio and television. Asked what Medvedev’s campaign spots would look like, Volodin said, “You’ll know them when you see them.”

TV Center will air 10 debates at 5:50 p.m. over the next month beginning Monday. Channel One will air debates Tuesdays from 7:05 a.m. to 8 a.m. beginning next week. Rossia television will broadcast debates Thursdays at 10:55 p.m. Central Elections Commission member Maya Grishina said the debates would be canceled if every candidate refused to participate. Should only one candidate agree to debate, he would have the entire time to himself.

Another Original LR Translation: Latynina on Kasyanov, by our Original Translator

The Major’s Syndrome

Yulia Latynina

Yezhednevniy Zhurnal

January 24, 2008

Now they want to exclude Mikhail Kasyanov from the presidential elections. But whatever for? So what if Kasyanov runs and gets 2% of the vote? Whom would this bother? On the contrary, it would help legitimize the election.

Remarkably, and almost simultaneously (January 21), something very similar happened: Russia issued an Interpol warrant for the arrest of Mikhail Gutseriev, accused by the Tverskiy court of fraud and money laundering.

This cannot be called an especially wise move. The problem is that the temperamental Gutseriev, unlike others who were in the process of having their businesses taken over by the authorities, did not restrain himself, but instead wrote a letter in which he accused the Kremlin of stealing his company. After which all of his company’s stock was frozen and a federal arrest warrant was issued for Gutseriev himself.

After that Gutseriev’s son was killed. The young man was involved in an auto accident in his personal car, but refused hospitalization (an ambulance crew that arrived immediately after the accident gave him a shot). He returned home, called his relatives to assure them that it was nothing serious, then went to bed – and died.

So the young man died of acute pride – he did not want to bother his father, who already had his own heap of problems without having to worry about an auto accident, a trip to the hospital, etc. Mikhail Gutseriev will always have to ask himself whether his son would have died if he, Gutseriev, had not been in the process of having his business confiscated.

But more to the point: immediately after the accident rumors started swirling around Moscow. That the accident was staged; that the ambulance arrived suspiciously quickly after the accident; that the paramedics injected Gutseriev’s son with poison. And all this was done to trick Gutseriev into coming back to Russia to bury his son. Paradoxically, the rumors were being circulated by both the enemies of FSB chief Igor Sechin – locked in mortal combat with him for the graces of the monarch – and, apparently, his followers, who were trying to highlight the omnipotence of their patron.

Gutseriev is now, as far as is known, still in London.

In this situation, issuing an Interpol warrant for Gutseriev’s arrest would seem, to put it mildly, unwise. More exactly, it was stupid.

Any legal procedure brought against Gutseriev while he is in London will end with his triumphantly receiving political asylum. Furthermore, I doubt that the British public, following the Litvinenko Affair and the Papua New Guinea-like story of what happened with the British Council, will be so skeptical as yours truly is toward the theory that Gutseriev’s son was killed by the Russian intelligence services, who were trying to take over his father’s business.

In that case, you ask, why in the world would they issue a warrant for his arrest – if up to that point he had been sitting quietly in London, not requesting asylum, and apparently even hoping to negotiate for a peaceful resolution to his case? And then, after issuing an arrest warrant through Interpol, you get not only an international scandal and refusal to extradite, but also an enraged guy from the Caucasus, with three billion dollars and a dead son?

The answer is simple: just don’t analyze the actions of the authorities from the perspective of what benefits the Kremlin (Putin, Sechin, etc.). The Kremlin is so little in control of the situation that the actions of the authorities should be analyzed only from the perspective of what benefits the Major [TN: the middle-ranking officer].

What were they thinking, going after Kasyanov? Did they want to give another card to those who are going to doubt the legitimacy of the elections? Certainly not. But here’s poor Mr. Churov, Chairman of the Central Elections Commission. And if he doesn’t expel Kasyanov from the elections, then tomorrow some little cockroach wanting to take his job will come running to the Kremlin with a story about how Churov didn’t exclude Kasyanov because Churov is a secret supporter of the “Orange Plague”. What should Churov be thinking about? The strategic interests of the Kremlin, or his own job security?

What were they thinking, issuing an arrest warrant for Gutseriev? That this time a London court, hearing from Putin, Sechin & Associates, would embarrass them worse than they ever dreamed of? Certainly not. But here’s some Major, charged with going after Gutseriev. And if he doesn’t issue an arrest warrant, then tomorrow some little Captain, wishing to take his place, will come running with a story about how the Major didn’t issue an Interpol arrest warrant for Gutseriev because he’s taking money from him and plotting against Sechin. What should the Major be thinking about? The strategic interests of those who want to steal Gutseriev’s company, or keeping himself out of jail?

Oh, just imagine how much that little Major must hate those s.o.b’s who get to steal whole companies, while he, the Major, has to wince and worry as he slips 10 measly rubles into his pocket.

The Sunday Persecution

A letter to the editor of the Moscow Times:

Editor,

So Andrei Lugovoi allegedly assassinated Alexander Litvinenko. And that’s fine — he becomes a hero, gets elected to the State Duma and is appointed second head of the LDPR party list. He also gets asked if he will run for president.

Vitaly Kaloyev, the architect from the Caucasus region of North Ossetia, assassinates Peter Nielsen, a Swiss-based air-traffic controller, and Kaloyev gets a senior government job in his hometown.

Now, just what message about Russian society and morals does that send?

Giles Cattermole
Sonning-on-Thames, U.K.

A Moscow Times Editorial:

The harassment this week of campaign workers trying to get Mikhail Kasyanov registered for the March 2 presidential election is a clear, a well-coordinated effort designed either to discredit the former prime minister or force him out of the race altogether.

First police and Federal Security Service agents detained Rustam Abdullin, the head of Kasyanov’s campaign headquarters in Ioshkar-Ola, the capital of Marii-El. Abdullin was detained on suspicion of forging 50,000 signatures, and prosecutors then opened a criminal case against him. He maintains that the signatures are legitimate. Federal prosecutors also announced on Tuesday that a similar case had been opened in the Yaroslavl region.

According to Kasyanov campaign representatives, officers from the Interior Ministry’s organized crime and terrorism unit also found time in their busy schedules to go door to door in several regions for “informal” talks with those collecting signatures for Kasyanov. The campaign officials say this was an attempt to intimidate the collectors into making false statements that they had faked signatures.

The Central Elections Commission is expected to announce whether Kasyanov will be allowed to run on Sunday, but its secretary, Nikolai Konkin, has already made it clear that the answer will likely be no. Konkin said Thursday that the commission had determined that 13 percent of the signatures submitted by his campaign were invalid, and that this was proper grounds to refuse his candidacy.

Kasyanov, meanwhile, maintains that the commission’s decision will have nothing to do with signatures and everything to do with whether President Vladimir Putin — who has already named First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev as his preferred candidate — wants him in the race.

We don’t know if Kasyanov is right in his assessment or, if there is a campaign against his supporters, who is coordinating it and at what level. But if those supporting Medvedev’s candidacy want his election to seem a legitimate exercise in democracy rather than a carefully scripted and fully orchestrated charade, then the most intelligent approach would be to leave Kasyanov’s people alone. The Central Elections Commission should be guided by evidence and the law when deciding if Kasyanov should be allowed to run.

What makes the authorities’ behavior so puzzling is that Kasyanov has virtually no chance of winning. Medvedev is already the choice of over 80 percent of voters, according to the latest nationwide survey by the Levada Center, while Kasyanov’s level of support was below the margin of error. The prospect of his supporters hitting the streets in a successful Orange Revolution-style protest that so concerns the Kremlin is difficult to take seriously. Thus, lifting the pressure from Kasyanov’s campaign team and allowing him to run would be no threat to Medvedev. On the contrary, both Medvedev and the country’s image stand to gain from holding an open campaign in compliance with election law and democratic principles.

Annals of Russian Barbarism I: Indicting Kasyanov

The Moscow Times reports that just as before the last presidential election Putin’s chief rival Mikhail Khodorkovsky was sent to prison so he couldn’t make a challenge to the Kremlin, now Putin’s own former prime minister gets the same treatment this time:

Prosecutors announced Tuesday that they had opened a criminal investigation into purportedly forged signatures submitted by former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov in his attempt to register as a candidate in the March 2 presidential election. Evidence that Kasyanov’s campaign workers forged thousands of signatures on petitions to get him on the ballot has been uncovered in the Marii-El republic and the Yaroslavl region, Prosecutor General’s Office spokeswoman Tatyana Chernyshyova said. “A criminal investigation has been opened … into the falsification of election documents,” Chernyshyova said in televised comments.

Independent candidates must submit 2 million signatures in support of their bids to the Central Elections Commission, which then verifies the signatures. The case involves Rustam Abdullin, the head of Kasyanov’s campaign headquarters in Ioshkar-Ola, the capital of Marii-El, who was detained Jan. 11 on suspicion of forging 50,000 signatures, which police found in a bag he was carrying. He has been released, but ordered not to leave the city. Ioshkar-Ola prosecutors determined that 12,000 of those signatures were forged, Chernyshyova said. If charged and convicted with forging election documents, Abdullin could face up to three years in prison.

Reached by telephone Tuesday, Abdullin said the petitions were genuine and accused authorities of pressuring signatories to testify that someone had signed the petitions for them. “We are used to this,” Abdullin said. “The authorities are hunting down all the honest politicians. Our work is, and has always been, clean.” A criminal case is to be opened as well in the Yaroslavl region city Rybinsk, where prosecutors have uncovered 3,500 forged petitions, Chernyshyova said.

There have been several criminal cases and convictions throughout the country on charges of forging signatures on election documents, including for the independent candidacies of Irina Khakamada, Sergei Glazyev and Ivan Rybkin in the 2004 presidential election. At a hastily called news conference Tuesday at his office in southwest Moscow, Kasyanov said authorities began carrying out a “massive, large-scale campaign of intimidation” against his staff after his preliminary registration as a potential presidential candidate. “The authorities are scared of a genuine political fight,” Kasyanov said.

Meanwhile, Central Elections Commission member Nikolai Konkin said that of the 400,000 signatures in support of Kasyanov inspected by the commission as of Tuesday, more than 15.5 percent were invalid. Should Kasyanov make it onto the ballot, polls this week suggest he would suffer an overwhelming defeat: Less than 1 percent of respondents said they would vote for him in a VTsIOM poll released Tuesday. Among the three candidates that have successfully registered, First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev had 60 percent; Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov had 7.5 percent; and Liberal Democratic Party leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky had 6 percent in the VTsIOM poll.

The only independent candidate other than Kasyanov trying to make it on the ballot, Democratic Party leader Andrei Bogdanov, will likely be registered as a candidate, Konkin, the Central Elections Commission member, said Tuesday. Of the signatures that Bogdanov submitted and have been inspected by election officials, only around 3 percent are invalid, Konkin said. If more than 5 percent of the signatures submitted by a prospective candidate are invalid, he cannot by law be registered.

The commission is to consider Bodgdanov’s registration Thursday.

Annals of Hypocritical Russian Elections Fraud

Writing on Radio Liberty, the always-brilliant Robert Coalson exposes the outrageously hypocritical nature of Russian “election” fraud:

Even as the Russian Foreign Ministry was condemning the January 5 presidential election in Georgia for alleged violations, the president-making machine in Moscow was swinging into action.

The ministry’s complaints about Georgia — that the vote saw “the widespread use of administrative resources, blatant pressure on the opposition candidates, and stringent restriction of access to financial and media resources” — pretty much sum up the Kremlin’s strategy for installing First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev as the successor to Vladimir Putin.

The Kremlin’s task in this case is easy. Polls show Medvedev already has the support of more than half of all voters and more than 70 percent of decided voters. In second place with some 13 percent of the vote, according to the Levada Center, is Putin himself, although he is not eligible to seek another term. Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov and Liberal Democratic Party of Russia leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky are languishing with 5-7 percent, while former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov registers 1 percent or less.

Medvedev’s campaign — headed by Kremlin political guru and deputy presidential-administration head Vladislav Surkov — has begun to activate regional administrations in support of its aims. More than 60 regional leaders who agreed to head up the local party lists of the Unified Russia party before the December Duma elections are now being pressed to head the local Medvedev campaigns as well.

Securing Officials’ Support

It is a clear fusion of administrative muscle and political ambition, and illustrates exactly why this vertical of power — in which governors are directly dependent on the Kremlin — was created in the first place. As RFE/RL’s Russian Service reported on January 11, the purpose of Medvedev’s recent trips to the regions — he has made widely covered visits to Murmansk and Kaliningrad in recent days — is not to meet with voters but to establish working relations with local officials. In addition to the normal task of creating a plausible scenario to arrive at a predetermined percentage of the vote for Medvedev, governors will also have the more difficult task of persuading voters that the so-called national projects — sweeping reforms in the areas of housing, health care, education, and agriculture that Medvedev has overseen — have brought them benefits on the ground.

The yoking of the country’s administrative resources to the goals of Unified Russia proved powerfully effective in December. In Ingushetia, for instance, the local administration claimed that 98.35 percent of voters turned out in December, and 98.72 percent of them voted for Unified Russia. In the face of these unrealistic figures, local activists began collecting statements from voters who swore that they did not go to the polls at all. Last week, the movement announced it had collected such statements from more than 87,000 voters, about 54 percent of the republic’s entire electorate. The activists have said that if prosecutors refuse to investigate, they will take their complaint to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

Although the likely levels of falsification in the North Caucasus — in war-torn Chechnya, 99 percent of voters came out, according to official figures, and 99.36 percent of them voted for Unified Russia — are colorfully extravagant, the pro-Kremlin forces benefited from administrative resources across the country. In the Duma elections, opposition party events were thwarted, election materials were impounded, demonstrations were banned, opposition candidates’ access to voters was restricted, and media support was as intensely biased toward the pro-Kremlin parties on the local level as on the national. As political analyst Sergei Markov told RFE/RL’s Russian Service, “you can’t have too many political resources.”

Meanwhile, the two candidates trying to make the ballot without the support of a party represented in the Duma — Kasyanov and Democratic Party leader Andrei Bogdanov — have been beavering away at the task of collecting the 2 million signatures required of such self-starters. Although the Democratic Party, usually seen as a Kremlin-backed pseudo-opposition group, picked up fewer than 90,000 votes in the Duma ballot, Bogdanov supporters claim they have already reached the 2 million goal. Kasyanov, on the other hand, is running up hard against the January 16 deadline. INDEM think tank analyst Yury Korgunyuk told “Vedomosti” that he thinks Kasyanov’s chances of getting his signatures approved by the Central Election Commission are practically zero.

Kremlin Machinations

Bogdanov recently told “Moskovsky komsomolets” that one Kremlin tactic is to pay off or infiltrate the companies that are hired by opposition campaigns to organize the collection of signatures. They submit a certain percentage of bad signatures that the commission has no trouble finding. Of course, such machinations are impossible to prove, but it is not hard to imagine that such consulting firms could see considerable benefits from being more loyal to the Kremlin political machine than to minor candidates who have no political future.

What is easy to prove is that the Kremlin-controlled media machine is already grinding away. “Nezavisimaya gazeta” wrote this week that the central television channels are already giving “complete supremacy” to Medvedev, and have succeeded in marginalizing the other candidates. The paper said the main channels mentioned Medvedev 344 times in the two weeks ending on January 13, while Zhirinovsky came in second with 96 references. While Medvedev received 12 full hours of coverage in the period, Kasyanov’s voice was heard on state television only twice during the two-week period, as opposed to Medvedev’s 172 times.

On January 26, the Central Election Commission will certify the final list of candidates and all indications are they will be Medvedev, Zyuganov, Zhirinovsky, and — for spice — Bogdanov. The campaign begins on February 2 and voting will be March 2. But Medvedev already won the election on December 10, with 100 percent of Putin’s vote.

Will Kasyanov Make the Ballot?

The Moscow Times illustrates that dominating the parliament was not the only purpose of the Kremlin’s blatant perversion of the recent Duma elections; as well, excluding all the opposition parties means that it becomes much more difficult (if not impossible) for them to field challengers in the presidential poll in March:

Alexei Dugin was cheerful despite the subzero temperatures and the nearly impossible task of challenging the Kremlin. It was late Thursday morning on Triumfalnaya Ploshchad, and Dugin was looking for potential supporters for former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, who must collect 2 million signatures by Wednesday in order to register as a presidential candidate.
“Everybody knows he’s not going to become president,” Dugin said. “But there’s got to be some sort of competition if we want to be a democracy.

While most Russians tuned out of politics over the New Year’s holiday, Kasyanov’s supporters were busy gathering signatures, collecting 1.7 million as of Tuesday, according to his web site. By law, candidates have two ways to get on the ballot in the March 2 presidential election: They can be nominated by a political party in the State Duma, or they can submit 2 million signatures to the Central Elections Commission, which experts describe as a daunting — but not impossible — task. Adding to the difficulty, no more than 50,000 signatures can come from any one of Russia’s 85 regions, and candidates have less than a month to collect the signatures.

“In principle, it’s realistic,” said Alexei Makarkin, an analyst with the Center for Political Technologies, noting that liberal candidate Irina Khakamada and Rodina party co-founder Sergei Glazyev managed to do it in 2004. Back then, Khakamada and Glazyev delivered truckloads of signatures to the Central Elections Commission just hours before the deadline.

Kasyanov may cut it close too. The former prime minister’s supporters plan to collect 2.4 million signatures, weed out the questionable ones, and submit 2.1 million by Wednesday, said Yelena Dikun, a Kasyanov spokeswoman. “We’ve been planning this for months,” Dikun said. She said no signatures would be forged and no voters bribed — practices that were alleged to have occurred ahead of past elections.

Besides Kasyanov, the other candidate seeking to get on the ballot by collecting signatures is Andrei Bogdanov, leader of the Democratic Party of Russia, a small liberal party widely seen as a Kremlin project to divide the opposition. Bogdanov’s campaign manager, Vyacheslav Smirnov, announced this week that 2 million signatures had already been collected for the candidate — a claim that prompted disbelief from some observers, especially since the DPR received less than 90,000 votes in last month’s State Duma election. “Our support came from people who did not vote,” Smirnov said by telephone Thursday. “This is more than half of the Russian population.” Smirnov said most of Bogdanov’s signatures had been collected by campaign workers going door to door. Many of the signature-collectors had worked for other parties in the Duma vote, including United Russia and the Communists, he added. DPR representatives have consistently denied that the party is backed by the Kremlin.

The candidate overwhelmingly favored to win the election, First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, does not have to submit signatures because he has been nominated by two parties in the Duma, United Russia and A Just Russia. The two other candidates, Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov and LDPR leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky, are also spared the signature requirement thanks to their parties’ nominations. Of the five potential candidates, Kasyanov is by far the biggest outsider. Since being dismissed as prime minister in 2004, he has become a fierce critic of President Vladimir Putin, speaking regularly at anti-Kremlin street protests. Kasyanov’s supporters claim that they have been subject to a harassment campaign masterminded by the Kremlin — a charge the Kremlin denies. Among other things, they say their meetings have been disrupted when officials have shut down their planned meeting venues for fire-safety reasons.

Similar troubles have allegedly plagued Kasyanov’s signature-gathering campaign. In Pskov and Rostov-on-Don, no notaries agreed to confirm the validity of his signatures, Kasyanov said during a visit to Samara this week, Interfax reported. Dikun said the main problem has simply been ignorance among voters. “In many cases, our signature collectors have had to inform people that there is an election scheduled for March 2,” she said. The biggest question mark hanging over Kasyanov’s campaign, however, is whether the Central Elections Commission will approve him as a candidate. Many experts believe that if the Kremlin does not want him as a candidate, the elections commission will reject his signatures on technical grounds.

Elections commission chief Vladimir Churov said this week that the 4 million signatures expected to come in from Kasyanov and Bogdanov would be inspected by a team of specialists from the Interior Ministry, the Federal Security Service and the Defense Ministry, Interfax reported. “These are professional experts,” Churov said in a radio interview. The commission has until Jan. 27 to announce whether the signatures are valid, which will finalize the list of candidates. The same day, Kasyanov’s supporters are planning to hold a Dissenters’ March street protest. Dikun said the protest was meant to pressure the authorities to “guarantee a free election,” but she did not link it to the commission’s deadline.

In the meantime, Kasyanov’s foot soldiers are focused on reaching the 2 million mark. That seemed like a distant goal at Triumfalnaya Ploshchad on Thursday morning, where only a small trickle of pedestrians were stopping by a van lined with Kasyanov posters. Dugin said he was getting about 100 signatures per day, mostly from people fed up with the Kremlin’s monopoly on power.

“He’s the only non-Kremlin candidate,” Dugin said.

A reader writes: “Of course another take on the Kozlovsky abduction is that this was timed deliberately to divert the energy of the opposition as well as removing one of their key campaigners, at a time when they need every bit of help they can to get their two million signatures. The sophistication of their evil never ceases to amaze me. I have a Russian friend who refers to the Kremlin/KGB/Putin inc as “Mordor”. The description is apt.”

Nemtsov Drops out of Presidential Race in Protest

The Washington Post reports that Boris Nemtsov has concluded there will not be a real election in March for the Russian presidency and therefore has dropped out of the race, urging the other candidates to do the same; it also reports that Putin will impose the same draconian restrictions on elections monitors that were present during the parliamentary vote:

For the second time this month, a leading Russian opposition figure has withdrawn from March’s presidential election complaining of a political landscape that has made open competition impossible.

“It’s clear that the presidential election, like the parliamentary elections, will be a farce, since candidates do not have equal opportunities to campaign,” Boris Nemtsov, a deputy prime minister in the 1990s and a leader of the Union of Right Forces party, said in a statement Wednesday. “Goebbels-like propaganda, force and bureaucratic pressures are being used against the opposition.”

Joseph Goebbels was Adolf Hitler’s propaganda chief.

Nemtsov’s withdrawal follows the decision of Garry Kasparov, the chess grandmaster and critic of President Vladimir Putin, not to seek registration as a candidate. Kasparov said the authorities had blocked his attempts to hold a nominating convention this month.

Neither Kasparov nor Nemtsov presented any real threat to the Kremlin’s anointed candidate, First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, according to opinion polls. Medvedev is backed by Putin and the pro-Kremlin United Russia party, and he enters the race as the overwhelming favorite.

Medvedev has said he would like Putin to remain on as prime minister, a prospect that burnishes the untested candidate’s standing with the electorate and ensures that the current president will continue to wield considerable influence in Russia after he leaves the Kremlin.

Nemtsov called on the remaining two candidates who are independent of the Kremlin to also withdraw unless they receive pledges that they will have equal access to the news media and that state resources will not be used to damage their campaigns.

“I think that if authorities refuse to fulfill these absolutely justified demands, this will be serious grounds not to take part in the elections,” Nemtsov said, directing his plea to Gennady Zyuganov, head of the Communist Party, and Mikhail Kasyanov, a former prime minister under Putin who later broke with the Kremlin.

Nemtsov said the Kremlin should agree to meet four conditions: Medvedev must take part in televised debates; all candidates must have equal access to state-controlled TV channels; national TV channels must stop blacklisting certain members of the opposition; and the use of state resources to promote Medvedev and marginalize his opponents should be barred.

“Your participation in the elections add to their legitimacy,” Nemtsov said, addressing Zyuganov and Kasyanov. “I call on you to give up taking part in the election campaign.”

Kasyanov responded that he was not considering dropping out; Zyuganov told reporters he didn’t rule out quitting. “I have been nominated by my party, but if the government keeps using dirty tricks, my party will question my further participation,” he said.

“There is even greater administrative pressure in the course of the current election campaign than was the case during the parliamentary elections,” he said. That vote took place Dec. 2.

Zyuganov said he had spoken to Nemtsov by telephone Wednesday. The Communist leader said that Nemtsov had suggested demanding specific governmental measures to guarantee honest elections and that this was an “interesting” suggestion.

To get on the ballot, Kasyanov still faces the formidable task of gathering 2 million signatures by Jan. 16. Zyuganov, because he is backed by a party with seats in parliament, doesn’t have to meet that requirement.

Also running are Vladimir Zhirinovsky, an ultranationalist, and Andrei Bogdanov, head of the Democratic Party, a tiny group that ostensibly advocates such steps as Russia joining the European Union. Their candidacies are backed by the Kremlin, which political analysts say sees them siphoning votes from Medvedev’s opponents.

Russian officials also said Wednesday that they will not issue invitations to international election observers until the end of January and that approximately the same number of observers will be invited as took part in the parliamentary elections this month.

The region’s principal election monitoring group, the observation arm of the 56-nation Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, refused to observe the parliamentary elections, citing visa delays and obstruction by the Russian authorities.

Moscow Times Blasts the Holy Russian Empire

In another heroic editorial, the mighty Moscow Times delivers a withering blast at the Holy Russian Empire:

Patriarch Alexy II has blessed First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev as the next president, giving a literal meaning to the idea that Medvedev is President Vladimir Putin’s anointed successor. In supporting Medvedev during an address Thursday, the patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church spoke highly of Putin and expressed hope that there would be “a continuity of the course that has been implemented by Vladimir Putin in the past eight years.”

The patriarch is not the only religious leader who has backed Putin’s choice to succeed him in the March 2 presidential election. Chief Rabbi Berl Lazar, a senior mufti and a Baptist leader have also voiced their support for Medvedev.

Citizens of a country that is constitutionally defined as a secular democracy have the right to support whomever they want in elections, and the clergy are no exception. But you have to wonder about the ethics of a situation where a religious leader clad in flowing robes wholeheartedly endorses a politician in front of television cameras for lengthy broadcast on all state television channels. A secular democracy, after all, provides for the separation of state and church.

Church leaders should realize that supporting specific politicians — no matter how much they like them — will drag them into politics. This may eventually bring the church under the control of the ruling elite at the cost of its independence. If anything, the Russian Orthodox Church should have learned what close proximity to the state can entail from its experience after the Bolshevik Revolution. The church suffered from repressions by adversaries of imperial Russia and the subsequent infiltration of its ranks by secret police agents.

Moreover, the Russian Orthodox Church is a supranational entity beyond the authority of one national government, with entire dioceses in countries like Ukraine and Estonia, and it has condemned previous attempts by local Orthodox churches to break away from the Moscow Patriarchate. Therefore, it should think twice before endorsing a candidate in one country — which might have poor relations with another country where it has dioceses.

Finally, Alexy should keep one more tactical consideration in mind. What if the Kremlinologists who see politics in a Machiavellian light are right and Putin decides to endorse a second candidate for the sake of a “fair” competition in the presidential election? What if that candidate also promised to continue Putin’s course? What would the patriarch say then?