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Russia Reform Monitor - No. 2155

Jury-rigging Russia's local elections;
The targeting of Crimea's Tatars

Edited by Amanda Azinheira, Evelyn Johns and Jack Verser
September 29, 2017

August 19:

According to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, local opposition politicians across Russia have accused President Vladimir Putin's ruling party of purposely leaving them off local ballots by exploiting a "municipal filter" mechanism which, critics claim, allows officials to weed out strong challengers to Kremlin-backed candidates. The municipal filter provision requires potential candidates to collect signatures from 5-10 percent of lawmakers in their region, almost all of whom are part of the ruling "United Russia" party. As a result, opposition candidates and those who would pose a challenge to lawmakers loyal to the Kremlin find it difficult, if not impossible, to gain the necessary signatures. In fact, a recent study published by the Committee for Civil Initiatives states that the municipal filter "makes true alternative choices practically impossible in an absolute majority of cases."

August 20:

Russian veterans of the war in eastern Ukraine are struggling to survive at home with no recognition or support from their government. The Kremlin's denial of involvement in the conflict extends to a refusal to acknowledge citizen volunteers who have returned from the fighting,
according to a report in The Atlantic. Most volunteers return physically and mentally scarred, in addition to finding it difficult to make ends meet with a dearth of available jobs in the struggling Russian economy and no recourse to veterans' benefits. Some who are physically disabled qualify for a negligible state pension "for being an invalid," but otherwise receive no income for their service. More than 3,000 Russian fighters have died in the region to date, despite the Kremlin's continued denial of their participation or presence on Ukrainian soil.

After Russia's annexation of Crimea, Muslim Tatars living on the peninsula have been targeted for their opposition to the Russian takeover - something that the Kremlin has equated with separatist sentiment.
Al Jazeera reports that the local Tatar parliament, or mejlis, has been outlawed and a large number of known activists have been arrested or have disappeared over the past three years. In fact, the number of Crimean Tatar men that have "disappeared into [Russian] prison cells" is so high that the Tatar community has formed an organization to help support their struggling families.

August 21:

The United States Embassy in Moscow announced that it will stop issuing nonimmigrant visas to Russians in response to diplomatic tension between Russia and the United States,
reports the Washington Post. The decision follows Moscow's demand that the U.S. reduce its embassy staff from 1,200 to 455.

August 22:

Kirill Serebrennikov, an acclaimed Moscow-based theater director known for his scathing satire and commentary of the modern Russian government apparatus, has been detained by investigators on embezzlement charges,
reports the Associated Press. Serebrennikov stands accused of embezzling 68 million rubles ($1.1 million) in state funds, which were given to him to support his productions from 2011-2014. However, Serebrennikov and his supporters - other prominent members of the Moscow arts community, liberals and political activists - deny the charges. The incident marks the first time since the Soviet era that a theater director has been arrested for the content of his or her work. The move, however, is not entirely unexpected; over the years, Serebrennikov has faced repeated criticism from Russia's conservatives, who view his work as too vulgar to receive state subsidies.

August 23:

The Alliance for Securing Democracy, a project of the German Marshall Fund of the United States, has released a real time, interactive dashboard called Hamilton 68 that tracks Russian Influence Operations on Twitter (RIOT).
Politico reports that the program is meant to illuminate how the Kremlin attempts to influence public opinion abroad through the timing and content of posts. Affiliates of the network, speculated to be a combination of "professional trolls, bots and some number of participating true believers," post original content as well as amplify messages from third parties that reflect positively on Russia and paint the West as societies in decline, rife with crime, corruption, and conspiracy.

J.M. Berger, a fellow with the Alliance, writes that the accounts represented in Hamilton 68 were chosen by the researchers because "they reliably amplify content related to Russia and its messaging themes." Berger also claims that the amplified content sometimes promotes far-left ideas but is skewed towards the far-right, and aims to "absolve Russia and its allies from any hint of wrongdoing."

Elvira Dmitriyeva, campaign coordinator for opposition candidate Aleksei Navalny, has been detained in Kazan. Dmitriyeva is one of dozens of Navalny campaign associates that have been detained or questioned in recent weeks,
reports Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Russian election authorities say Navalny will not be allowed to run for president due to a conviction for financial crimes, which Navalny believes was a Kremlin set-up designed to keep him out of electoral politics.

Related Categories: Russia; Russia and Eurasia Program; Ukraine

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