Navalny's Election Headquarters. Image by Dmitry Rozhkov

Departed Russia of the Future

How and why the former coordinators of Navalny's headquarters left the country

Author: Oksana Baulina for The Insider. Translated with permission.

Two years ago, The Insider wrote about how neither mass searches, administrative arrests, nor heavy fines could stop the heads of Navalny's regional headquarters. After Navalny was poisoned and sentenced in a trumped-up case, the situation has drastically changed: by the end of 2021, almost none of the opposition leader's key allies were left in the country, because they were threatened by the 'extremist' criminal cases with enormous prison sentences. The Insider spoke with former coordinators of Navalny's regional headquarters to find out how they made their decision to leave, how they crossed the border, what they do in exile, and under what conditions they are willing to return to Russia.

Ivan Zhdanov, former director of the Anti-Corruption Foundation, says it took Navalny's team six months to recover from the new reality, when offline work in Russia had become impossible. The Regional Headquarters, the main project of another Navalny associate Leonid Volkov, was shut down, but that did nothing to save its staff from the pressure of the law enforcement agencies. And the former coordinator of the headquarters in Ufa, Lilia Chanysheva, was placed under criminal investigation for 'establishing an extremist community'. At present she is in the pre-detention center No. 6 in Moscow, and three lawyers were not allowed to visit her. Chanysheva faces up to 10 years.


'I walked 30 km to the border.'
Alexei Schwartz, ex-coordinator of the Headquarters in Kurgan

The day before the all-Russia rally on January 23, when Navalny flew to Russia, a friend picked me up in a cab. We were supposed to go to him to get ready for the event tomorrow. And we were chased. A car tailed us, lined up behind us, but didn't overtake us. And at the traffic lights, law enforcement ran up from all sides, shouted [that it was a] criminal investigation, knocked our phones and wallet out of our hands. We couldn't even pay the driver! They grabbed us and tied our hands. The man holding my hands behind me was very nervous. That is, I was standing calmly, but he was shaking and I found it funny. Then they took us to the police station, in two cars, each with four police officers. At the station, the FSB (the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation — REM) officer couldn't make a report properly and even mixed up the names of my friend and me.

They kept me in jail until the trial. The trial took place just as the rallies began in Kurgan. I was given 30 days in jail. The conditions at the detention center were torturous. I got very ill and had pus coming out of my ears. The doctor came and said, 'Listen, you're not going to die today. Get out of here - and run straight to the hospital. I can't do anything, I don't have any equipment or even medication.' And the cop replied, 'He's been given a month, there's no way he can go to the hospital.' The doctor told me to ask my relatives to bring me medicine. My girlfriend came, but they wouldn't let the medication through.

Then they took me to a cell. They didn't give me any food, motivating it by the lack of paperwork. In the evening the officers from the Center for Countering the Extremism came to 'talk'. They wanted me to give them the keys to the office. I said, 'What are you talking about? What would have to happen for me to give them up?'

At some point they put an elderly man in my cell. He smelled terrible, because he had a gangrene. His legs were literally rotting. I am from the countryside and I know how rotten meat smells. After a few days he couldn't get up anymore and was [going to the toilet] under himself. The stench was terrible. Even the police officers did not come into our cell.

I wrote a complaint and was summoned by the Prosecutor's Office to inspect the poor conditions of our detention. When they put me in jail the second time, the doctor called me in and started pressing me about why I publicized the situation with this elderly man since they had an inspection come because of that.

I served exactly one hundred days in prison this year. My chronic illnesses worsened, my vision deteriorated, my right eye could not distinguish colors well. My eyesight began to deteriorate very badly in prison because of the poor lighting.

I saw that the authorities would not give up. I understood that everything was being done to incarcerate me. I didn't marry my girlfriend on purpose, we lived together for seven years and didn't register our marriage, to keep her safe. But they came for her anyway, and she was arrested. My parents were searched and interrogated on the New Year's Eve. You can imagine: on January 61, the parents were at the interrogations. The Investigative Committee was specially opened for them, to interrogate them, asking why I dodged the military service. That is, I realized that nothing would help — they went after my family. And in prison I decided that we were going to apply for resettlement in Germany.

I am an ethnic German, in our village German traditions were observed, we have relatives and family friends who live in Germany. We were engaged in documentation and information gathering. But the fact was, our family [history] remained in the NKVD2 archives, the documents were classified, and it was very difficult to get information. My grandfather was exiled, I was born in the settlement where he was serving his sentence. So, roughly speaking, I grew up in the Gulag.

The hardest thing for me was to leave Russia. I was actually under an undertaking not to leave the city and to behave properly. There was a great risk of being caught somewhere at the airport or at the border. So that's what happened. We got up very early and I bought a ticket an hour before boarding. We immediately got into a cab and flew to Moscow. We were followed, and it was a little bit stupid. People are following you, you go to the bathroom, and they wait. You get off, take your luggage, go to the Aeroexpress (a train to the airport — REM), wait for the next flight, and they're still waiting for you by the carriage. We go out of the subway, make a lap to download the map. When we go back in, the same people are following us again. My wife and I pretended that we were about to jump into the subway car. At the very end they jump, and we get off, and they just drive away. We threw off our tails and quietly went to get the last documents we needed to cross the border.

My wife and I crossed the border separately. I had to walk 30 kilometers to the border, but they caught me still on the Russian side, took me to a cell, it lasted a very long time. In 2017 I made a promise to myself never to lie, but in this situation I had to break it. It was very hard to tell a lie, but it saved my life. And I was released at the Russian border. I can't tell you more about it, unfortunately.

Then in the country I came to they shook my hand and told me, 'Good luck, but don't stay here too long, keep running.'

I can't say where I am now, for the security of the country that temporarily sheltered me. I was explicitly told at the border checkpoint to keep my head down, or they could easily ask for an extradition or exchange.

I don't regret working as a coordinator for Navalny's Headquarters one bit. It was one of the best things I ever did. It was a springboard, where I could realize myself as an activist against uranium mining in the Kurgan region. I got to know some of the best people in the country, with some of them I keep in touch as friends. I would do it again if I had the choice and knowing the whole path.

I'm not going to go back to Russia. I am going to continue my scientific work in Germany. In Russia there is not even trivial equipment and technology for this.

 

'I don't want to be a crying emigrant.'
Irina Fatyanova, former coordinator of Navalny's Headquarters in St. Petersburg

I've been in Georgia for the past few weeks, and I've managed to adapt a little bit, sorted out some basic everyday issues.

In April, when the case from the Moscow prosecutor's office for declaring the Anti-Corruption Foundation 'extremist' was launched, a lot of people who worked in the headquarters wondered what to do next. It was clear that it would not be easy to get involved in politics. I talked to a lot of people — lawyers, attorneys, a psychologist — and analyzed this question for myself. And then I decided what my red line would be. Everything before that, the criminal cases connected with the 'Dadin's article'3, with the blocking of roads, and everything else that was hanging over me, that was a risk I was ready to take. But the 6 to 10 years — a term that might be faced by Liliya Chanysheva, the former coordinator of the Headquarters in Ufa — that was a red line for me.

Before that, a number of former coordinators had already left Russia, and the circle had narrowed. I'm probably in the top ten, who they could come after with such a criminal case.

But if I went back in time, I would have done exactly the same thing. It was inevitable that I would end up at the HQ — my values, my previous life experience, my civic position - everything led me to this and to running for office. I do not believe that I or the people I worked with did anything illegal. We all see these excerpts from the case file saying that participation in the elections is a crime, it's absurd.

It's clear that in six years in prison I won't be able to do anything useful. And this is an additional burden on everyone who helps political prisoners: human rights defenders and lawyers. They kept writing to me, 'Please go away. We are very worried about you.'

I flew through Yerevan with a Russian passport and I left a day later for Georgia. The only problem was at the border when I was flying out of St. Petersburg. As a result I was standing for 10 minutes at the passport control and then they took me to a separate room to the department head for another 20 minutes and asked different questions — where I was going, why, for how long, when I was coming back, and they called somebody. At that point I was worried that I wasn't going to leave now, and this was the only plane, my ticket would be used up and everything would be delayed.

I still have a lot of emotions about it. My campaign slogan is 'I'm not afraid, and neither are you!' It kept taking on some new meaning for me, for the whole team, and for the volunteers. I always felt and still feel this responsibility for the fact that I used this slogan to encourage people to do something cool and to participate in the elections. For me, accountability to the people was the main factor that kept me from leaving.

Really, the whole campaign was like you're constantly battling to get something basic, important, and useful done. They put sticks in your wheels, you beat your face against the table, then you get up again after a moment of sadness and go forward. It was like some kind of marathon where you constantly have to bring yourself up to speed. I feel like I've been hit even harder now and it's even harder to recover from that. A strategic retreat, let's call it that.

I have a remote job in Russia. It is not related to politics, but I would not like to say publicly what kind of work it is. For now, the main thing is that it is there, because I like it, it inspires me, motivates me. Secondly, it occupies a lot of time, so I do not have much time to think about how bad it is that I left Russia.

I associate my life with Russia and St. Petersburg — no other places. But I have this attitude that while I am not in Russia, I don't want to be a crying emigrant who sits on a suitcase every day. I want to live a full life, to integrate into the culture in which I am. I want to fulfill myself wherever I am.

 

'Thought I was going away for two weeks, but now I don't know when I'll be back home.'
Semyon Kochkin, former coordinator of Navalny's Headquarters in Cheboksary

I left almost immediately after the Investigative Committee press release of September 28, saying that Navalny and his comrades-in-arms had set up an extremist community in the form of Navalny's Headquarters in 2011, and they had opened cells in 38 regions. And I was like, 'Well, this is about me. I worked as the coordinator of Navalny's Headquarters in Cheboksary from 2017 until the liquidation of the headquarters. A cell!'

I considered that the probability of arrest is very high. In the end, that's what happened. Lilia Chanysheva was charged for what has been a legal And, man, we even paid all our taxes.

A friend and a human rights defender wrote to me, 'I never told you this, but you're in real danger right now. You need to decide if you're willing to take new risks. There's a super difficult option — to stay. Or leave and wait it out for a few months.'

After the closure of the Headquarters, I began a public campaign in my region for the Duma elections, filming investigations, making videos, advising people how to vote, how to kick United Russia out of Chuvashia. I understood that the locals were obviously after me and that it would be better to sit it out, but I didn't expect things to get so hectic so quickly.

I had a day planned: I was going to my grandparents, they lived 100 km away from Cheboksary. There's a station there where you can take a train to Moscow. I bought tickets from Cheboksary for the train, then had to do a number of things and go to my grandparents, but I didn't manage to see them.

As soon as I came out of the building's entrance, an official from the 'E' Center (Center for Countering Extremism, a division within the Ministry of Interior — REM) detained me and took me to the police station. They made two protocols for displaying or promoting extremism: for the symbols in the form of two 'Smart Voting'4 logos, one on Twitter and one on Facebook. They kept me overnight at the station. In the morning they drew up another protocol, for mentioning Navalny's headquarters without a notification about the organization being designated extremist. They took me to court, but the courts didn't want to consider these protocols.

While the cops didn't understand what was going on, I got in my car and left. My things were packed, I took a BlaBlaCar and left for Moscow. But I didn't get to see my grandparents. They basically stole that time away from me. Maybe I can get the grandparents out here.

Now I've been in Tbilisi for over two months. I thought I was going for two weeks or a month, and now I don't know when I'll be back home.

It's amazing that the new center of Russian life has become the Georgian city of Tbilisi. Who would have said it would be like this, I wouldn't have believed it a year ago. I continue to work on my [social media] channel. While I was living in Cheboksary, that was all I did after the closure of the Headquarters.

I now have the task of bringing my two cats here, and that's some incredibly difficult stuff. I don't want to carry them in the luggage compartment. Plus, the landlady of the apartment we rented is against cats.

Moving is a tough thing. It's hard and frustrating not seeing your friends and family.

I'm really scared for those who are now under criminal charges and can't leave. All the HQ coordinators are cool professionals. We know how to do cool things, handle super difficult situations. We are creative, in general, and all of us realize ourselves if not in Russia, then in another country. I'm not worried about that, but I am worried about those who stay under prosecution and who will have trials in criminal cases. That's who I'm afraid for.

I had a dream since I was 18 to work as a coordinator of a presidential candidate's headquarters in my home town. What we did was awesome! We kicked out the head of the republic, we kicked out a thug mayor, and we took away the mandates of the United Russia party in the elections. What should I regret? I haven't done anything wrong, I haven't violated a single article of the Criminal Code. If we talk about administrative cases, they are all absurd. I have a huge file. If you stack it up, you can bring back a whole grove.

We can't regret that the regime is crazy. I was beaten by an alcoholic — is that my fault? No, he's the crazy alcoholic. And now the regime is crazy, disgusting, evil, and aggressive. Should we blame Alexei Navalny for the regime locking everyone up? Alexei couldn't help but come back, and I don't think he regrets what he did. In terms of morality, it was the right thing to do. Okay, the regime is willing to destroy politicians, but when they recognize a book lovers' community as foreign agents? Blame it on Alexei? He couldn't have done it any other way, he acted in good faith, and I think that if it were possible to take it all back, he would have done it the same way. The issue is crazy Vladimir Putin, not Alexei.

 

'I decided to leave because I would be useless in prison.'
Maria Petukhova, former coordinator of Navalny's Headquarters in Kaliningrad

Before the January 23 rally, our campaign was left without a coordinator. The previous coordinator was summoned to the Center for Countering Extremism a few days before the rally, they conducted the so-called 'preventive work' with him, after which he recorded a video message on Instagram saying that he did not need to go to the rally and was relinquishing his duties as the coordinator. I became acting coordinator. I have had to organize to the rally, I could not fail.

I realized that I would be followed, I left for another apartment. But they tracked me down. On the eve of the rally, I saw through the window that there were suspicious cars standing in the courtyard, blocking the entrances. In the morning there was a full complement: police and Center 'E' officers.

I began feverishly thinking of options. For example, to go down a rope ladder from the fourth floor. I almost started ordering a ladder from an online store. But there was little time, and I decided that I could try to change. I cut a few strands off, put glue on my face, and glued myself a mustache and a beard. I hid my hair under a hat, put on glasses, and some old jacket. It was unclear that I was a girl.

It turned out quite plausible. But I still had doubts — they had my face in all the databases, but surprisingly it turned out that they were pretty dumb. I walked half a meter away from them, and they didn't realize it was me. My heart was beating really hard. I thought they were going to grab me now and say, 'What kind of a circus are you running?' But I came around the corner of the house and exulted, 'Yes, yes! I fooled them!'

That's how I got to the rally. They tried to detain me right at the rally. And there were quite a lot of people there for Kaliningrad - about three thousand people. People stood up against the wall, so I wouldn't be dragged off the podium. I felt a great admiration and unity with people.

Still, I was detained after the rally and sent to a holding center for seven days. An FSB officer came to the detention center. He was regaling me with facts from my life that no one else knew, giving me all kinds of details. He tried to frighten me with the idea that there would be blood and I'd pay for it, that it was all a takeover of state power.

We talked for about forty minutes, and I was quite rude to him, because we were on unequal terms. I told him that, too. He replied, 'Watch out, we're collecting materials on you. If you do that again, you'd go to a place not so far away.'5

I served my seven days, and when I got out they took me away again. They charged me with hooliganism, that I was cursing on the street, and they locked me up again for five days. When I was serving my second sentence, I thought that nothing would prevent them from locking me up as long as they wanted, just like they did in the summer of 2019, when Ilya Yashin served five terms in a row.

It wasn't that fear crept in then, but some unpleasant feeling. It made me wonder if I wanted to go to prison or if I wanted to do something else. I would be useless in prison, and that would probably break my spirit. When you know when you're getting out, you just fill that time. And when you don't know, like Alexei Navalny, you need some other resources not to despair.

I decided to apply for a Lithuanian visa, but I was detained at [the entrance of] the Lithuanian consulate. I didn't have a phone, they identified me through the 'Safe City' cameras. I walked with my friend from the cab to the gates of the consulate and I heard her say: 'Masha, Masha, the ['E' Center officers]!' I didn't even have time to turn around. They grabbed me by the arms, grabbed me and took me away. They took me for a long ride around the city, brought me to the Interior Department, and then to court.

Then I managed to get a Polish visa very quickly. I bought my ticket less than a day before my departure, so it wouldn't get into the database. I spent about an hour at the border guards' window. They were calling somewhere, going somewhere, double-checking my documents a few times. This is a car crossing, and there was no way I could have run up to the Polish border guards and shouted that I was asking for asylum. It was unsettling, but eventually a border guard came out, recorded on camera that I was aware that I was leaving Russia, and let me go.

I didn't give up politics, I didn't give up activism. I participated in the 'Vote Abroad' Project. Before the election, I and several other people assembled a team, made a website, ran social media, and tried to tell Russian immigrants — both those who had lived abroad for a long time and those who had recently arrived — that if they had Russian citizenship, they were entitled to vote at any consulate in federal elections. It's amazing that almost half of the people didn't know about this. And we got amazing feedback. There was a wonderful case where, at the expense of voting in London and Paris, a candidate recommended by the 'Smart Voting' won in the Tomsk region. It was great, and it showed that you shouldn't sit idly by and you can change something, even when you don't have the resources.

I am currently working on a women's media project that talks about women's issues, gender, juvenile issues, and LGBT. This is a wide range of problems that are taboo in Russia. We have traditional values, patriarchy — everything is so wonderful! But there is no law on domestic violence, minorities are oppressed, there is no protection for women. And if a man wants to go on maternity leave, there will be public pressure, because it is not a man's job to be on maternity leave.

Also, I help my colleagues to integrate migrants, to integrate Russians into Polish culture. I want people to know that Russia is not only Putin, nuclear weapons, poverty, cold, and vodka. Russians are generous, kind people. They are not to blame for what is happening in the country right now. Russia is not Putin. I want to get that across to people, because there are a lot of stereotypes among people in Europe and America thanks to propaganda and actions like the annexation of Crimea.

I continue to do what I've been doing. It may be taking a little bit different forms, but you can't get that out of me.

 

'I had to explain to my young children that I'm not in jail because I'm a criminal.'
Sergei Bespalov, former coordinator of Navalny's Hadquarters in Irkutsk

I was the most senior coordinator in Navalny's headquarters — I'm 47 years old now. I'm a grown-up man, I have four children. I was not particularly afraid of some kind of pressure. I put a 'Navalny' sign on the back window of my car and posted it on social media. A huge number of people wrote to me, 'They're going to smash my window, don't even doubt it. As a result, this glass is still there, nothing happened.

Inside Irkutsk, there was an unspoken gentleman's agreement: only I and the staff members who were on the payroll were put in jail for holding rallies. For all the other people it was safe to participate in the activities of the Navalny campaign. In January this tradition was broken: for the first time in Irkutsk, grassroots protesters were arrested. I myself did not even make it to the January 23 rally — as soon as I left home, I was detained and spent 10 days in jail.

When I was first arrested, I was so angry and literally fuming that this was unfair. There was such a sad, but funny moment. When I came out of the isolation ward, my wife came up to me and said: 'For the kids, you were on a business trip.' The next day my first-grade son comes home from school and says, 'Daddy, somebody's parents in our class were watching TV and said that Stepa's daddy was in jail.'

And then he looks at you like that, and you realize that you now have to give the kid a lecture about how not everyone in our country who is in prison is a criminal. I had to tell my two children at a young age that there is an unjust regime that represses people.

I understood that the regime would get tougher and there would be criminal prosecutions. Inwardly I decided that I would not be ready to continue when I was criminally convicted.

I was sued by a supporter of NOD6 — these people are very aggressive [Putin supporters]. She claimed she came up to talk to me on the central square, and I allegedly hit her on the arm, and she felt unpleasant pain and suffering. On February 12, I was sentenced to restriction of liberty.

I had a big argument with my lawyer about it. He insisted that I leave before the pronouncement of the sentence, fearing that I would be arrested in the courtroom. When you come to the courtroom for the reading of the verdict, and there's a guard there, your first thought is, 'That's it, you've done it. I should have left earlier.' But I believed that if the HQ coordinator was the first to run away, then such coordinator [is of no use].

I understood that I would be released from a Russian prison without health and without teeth that would not be knocked out, but would fall out on their own. All that time I would have no financial participation in the life of my children and my family, they would become impoverished, and I myself would become an additional burden for all my relatives — financially, in the first place.

Restriction of liberty is a regime where you are not immediately sent to prison. But for one violation you can immediately go to jail. Realizing that I could have conducted such a 'violation' very quickly: for example, a police officer could draw up a report that I was using foul language — the next day I went to Turkey, and from there to Lithuania.

Lithuania was more of an accident. In 2018 I was imprisoned three times for rallies, and in the detention center I decided that I would specialize in forest management. You can't just walk around with a poster saying 'Putin, go away!', you have to propose something. I went to Lithuania, because there are private forests there, and people speak Russian. I got acquainted with the local human rights activists. They said, 'If things get really bad, we'd help you.'

All in all I spent 77 days in various places of detention. I had four 'trips', if one may use that criminal term. Irkutsk is a very old prison, and under the tsar there was a stable next to it. This stable was converted into a special detention facility.

They kept trying to organize some kind of a 'wrong' social surrounding for me. They [put in my cell] a man who was an HIV-dissident, he was already dying, he had spots on his skin that were bleeding. When he walked into the cell, he said: 'I'm HIV-positive. I was told that one dude should come to his senses.'

I carried the tubercle bacillus on me after my second term. The doctor told me that I had a man in my cell who was coughing badly. I went to the Tuberculosis clinic, they found a reaction, I was prescribed two medications, I took them, and I am fine, I do not have TB.

Some homeless people were brought to me. The employees apologized, saying, 'Because of you they declared a homeless "operation" in the city. We're sorry, we don't like it either.' I made these people bathe and wash their clothes, because it was impossible to be in the cell because of the stench.

I can't say that it was terrible there, but our detention centers in Russia are not the right place to be, even for people who have violated something.

I'm not the most usual Navalny supporter, not just because I'm the oldest, but because I have a lot of experience in small and big business. When I was 30 years old, it seemed to me that money ruled the world, and I was actively earning it: I worked in Yukos and other major companies in director's positions. But you realize very quickly that this is not all you need in life. I went into small business: in the 90s it was possible to do it almost anywhere, the authorities were not yet pressing it, people had a lot of money, the economy was growing. For a long time in our country we had the feeling that there was no need to fight for freedom: it had fallen into our lap on its own in 1991, and then high oil prices followed. It was great — we had money, we were happy, and no one bothered us.

But now there is no money, and people are bothered quite seriously. And not just Alexei Navalny, but a huge number of people who are forced to live in fear or flee the country. Those who couldn't defend themselves are sitting in jail. Putin and his fellow stalwarts want an atmosphere of fear and terror in the society, because they themselves understand nothing but fear and terror.

I feel sorry for our country because people are living worse lives than they could have without Putin. I believe that Alexei Navalny has made the biggest contribution to fighting and destroying our Russian authoritarianism, which has now become classic fascism, just like in the textbooks. Of course, I would have preferred a different political career, but we are living the life we have, and I have nothing to regret.

This era will pass, a lot of people will be ashamed of the way they behaved afterwards. Life is always cyclical. Putinism will end and those people who thought they had cut us out of life will most likely find themselves cut out of life next.

 

References:

1 Orthodox Christmas Eve, a state holiday in Russia — REM

2 The People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs, abbreviated NKVD, was the interior ministry of the Soviet Union — REM

3 A criminal article named after political prisoner Ildar Dadin — REM

4 A tactical voting strategy developed by the team of Alexei Navalny to help deprive the United Russia party of votes in regional and federal elections — REM

5 A common reference to a prison — REM

6 The National Liberation Movement, abbreviated NOD in Russian, is a Russian political movement — REM

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Krasnodar 2021 election results, by S. Shpilkin
#Analysis

According to the analysis by Sergey Shpilkin, 889 thousand out of 1.7 million votes for United Russia in Kuban do not fall into the normal mathematical distribution. This can result from direct falsifications, pressurized voting of the employees of state-owned enterprises, public institutions, and local authorities, and the use of an administrative resource.

Voters queuing in Sverdlova village of Leningrad Oblast. 'Map of Violations' screenshot
#Report

The election campaign in the Leningrad Oblast ended on October 4 with the first meeting of the new convocation of the Oblast Legislative Assembly. Golos' analysis indicates that official election results reflect the undistorted will of voters in only 6 of the 25 districts of the region. Here is an overview of how the seventh convocation of the Leningrad regional parliament was formed.

CPRF rally in Moscow, 2011. Photo by Wikimedia

The Communist Party received 19% of the votes in the last elections to the State Duma. After that, the party's supporters faced unprecedented pressure for the 'systemic opposition.' They were detained, fined, sentenced to administrative arrests, and blocked in the party premises. CPRF continues to challenge the election results and demand an investigation by the Ministry of Internal Affairs.

Russian State Duma raises retirement age. Image by Wikimedia

On Tuesday, October 12, the new convocation of Russia's State Duma convened for its first session. Roughly a fifth of all lawmakers — 88 of 450 deputies — received their seats from higher-ranked candidates on party lists, winning the jobs because others didn't want them.

Election observation headquarters. Photo by Golos

Statement of the 'Movement in Defense of Voters' Rights "Golos"' on inclusion of its members into the Foreign Agents Registry, October 5, 2021.

Map of Violations, Screenshot Oct. 8, 2021
#Report

In total, from the beginning of voting dated September 17, 'Map of Violations' by the 'Movement in Defense of Voters' Rights "Golos"' published 4592 reports. The Map is a project that collects information about possible electoral violations using the principle of crowdsourcing – observers, voters, members of commissions may report alleged violations witnessed during the electoral campaigning or voting using a submission form on the website or a telephone hotline.

REV-2021. By Nackepelo

The "remote electronic voting" or online voting held in the Russian capital during the September 17-19, 2021 elections was scandalous, to say the least. In response, two groups have been formed by the Russian public to scrutinize the results.

Regions by level of electoral fraud
#Analysis

In order to help assess the outcomes of 2021 State Duma elections, the 'Movement in the Defense of Voters' Rights "Golos"' provides a reference analysis, dividing Russian regions into six groups based on the level of falsifications in the federal elections of 2016 and 2018 and in the all-Russian voting in 2020.

#Commentary

A scandal in the capital: lengthy vote tabulation, a radical overhaul of the whole election results, and shut down of the observers' node.

"We don't trust Churov - we trust Gauss". Image by Golos
#Analysis

Sergey Shpilkin analyzes data from 96,840 polling stations that cover 107.9 million registered voters out of 109.2 million on the list. His analysis demonstrates that at the polling stations where the results appear genuine, the turnout is on average 38% and the United Russia's share of votes is between 31% and 33%.

Voting. By Photobank Moscow-Live
#Report

This is a preliminary statement on findings of observation on the main voting day, September 19, 2021, by the 'Movement in Defense of Voters' Rights "Golos".' Golos ran long-term and short-term observation of all stages of the campaign. In the course of the elections, the united call center's hotline received 5,943 calls. The 'Map of Violations' received 4,973 reports of alleged violations by noon 20 September, Moscow time, including 3,787 on the voting days.

Voting. Image by Photobank Moscow-Live. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Voting. Image by Photobank Moscow-Live
#Report

This is a brief overview of election monitoring findings on the Second Voting Day, September 18, 2021 by citizen observers of the 'Movement in Defense of Voters' Rights "Golos"'.

Duma elections. by George Shuklin, CC BY-SA 2.5
#Report

This is a brief overview of election monitoring findings on the First Voting Day by citizen observers of the 'Movement in Defense of Voters' Rights "Golos"'.

Campaigning in Samara. 2011 elections. Image by Golos
#Report

The September 19, 2021 elections are marked by growing pressure on media and individual journalists, attempts at blocking information about "Smart Voting", and massive coercion of voters to vote and register for e-voting and mobile voting. In parallel, social media has been growing in importance for years as a space of more freedom and an alternative information channel. Here are the main findings of the report that focuses on the impact of these two antipodal trends.

Victor Vasnetsov. Three bogatyrs (Medieval Russian Heroes). Photo by flickr user paukrus
#Report

This report covers the monitoring of social networks from the 10th to the 11th week of the election campaign (August 23 to September 5) to the Russian State Duma, scheduled for September 19, 2021.

Russian passports. Image by MediaPhoto.Org, CC-BY-3.0
#Analysis

One aspect of the 2021 Russian parliamentary elections that differentiates them from previous federal elections is the potential participation in the voting process of dozens of thousands of people located on the Ukrainian territories outside of control of the Ukrainian authorities and not recognized as part of Russia by the Russian Federation itself.

Map of Violations Update Sept 6-12. Image by REM
#Report

This is the seventh overview of reports of possible violations of electoral legislation gathered via the 'Map of Violations' by the 'Movement in Defense of Voters' Rights "Golos"' between September 6 and September 12. Since the beginning of the election campaign, 945 messages from 72 regions have been published on the Map.

Poll worker displaying an empty ballot box before the opening of a polling station in Moscow, 18.03.2018. Photo OSCA PA, CC BY-SA 2.0
#Analysis

The de facto impossibility to participate in elections for parties that must register candidates via signature collection turns their existence into a mere formality. This creates a vicious circle in which the system reproduces itself by welcoming only actors that are already 'in' and effectively barring new political players from elections.

Map of Violations Update - Aug 30-Sept 1
#Report

This is the sixth overview of reports of possible violations of electoral legislation gathered via the 'Map of Violations' by the Movement in Defense of Voters' Rights 'Golos' between August 30 and September 5. In total, from August 30 to September 1, 125 messages have been received by the Map.

Social media. Image by Gerd Altmann on Pixabay
#Report

This report covers the monitoring of social networks from the 5th to the 9th week (July 20 - August 22) of the election campaign to the Russian State Duma, scheduled for September 19, 2021.

Vladimir Putin on XVII congress of United Russia in 2017. Image by Wikimedia Commons
#Analysis

Despite its dismal approval rating, Russian President Vladimir Putin's ruling political party can – and likely will – win a constitutional majority in September's legislative elections.

Map of Violations, Golos website. Screenshot - Sept. 1, 2021
#Report

This is the fifth overview of reports of possible violations of electoral legislation gathered via the 'Map of Violations' by the Movement in Defense of Voters' Rights 'Golos' between August 23 and August 29. In total, 100 messages have been received by the Map during this period.

2019 Rally for right to vote in Moscow. Image by Wikimedia Commons

The Moscow City Court has designated the Anti-Corruption Foundation, Alexey Navalny's Headquarters and the Citizens’ Rights Protection Foundation as 'extremist' organizations. Inter alia, it implies the prohibition to participate in elections.

The authorities have proceeded to banning pro-opposition candidates from running to the State Duma and other legislative bodies on a pretext of involvement in Navalny's projects.

State Duma elections in Sochi, Dec 4. 2011. Image by flickr/Andrew Amerikov
#Report

The elections of the State Duma of Russia of the eighth convocation are marked by considerable tightening of rules for candidate nomination and registration. In fact, the rules are much worse than in 2016, when the current membership of the parliament was elected. Run on the background of harsh restrictions on freedom of expression and information and freedom of assembly and association, the elections are accompanied by a political crackdown against the most active pro-opposition citizens.

Map of Violations, Golos website. Screenshot - Aug. 20, 2021
#Report

This is the fourth overview of reports of possible violations of electoral legislation gathered via the 'Map of Violations' by the Movement for the Defense of Voters' Rights 'Golos' between August 16 and August 22. In total, 98 messages have been received by the Map in that period.

Behind a camera. Photo by Bicanski on Pixnio
#Report

Equality of rights of candidates in media coverage of their election campaign is one of the most important conditions for holding free and democratic elections. For a significant part of Russians, television remains to be one of the main sources of information. During the election campaign, the influence of television in shaping the attitude of the majority of voters towards elections and candidates is often decisive. Here is a summary of monitoring findings for the five main federal television channels during the first eight weeks of the campaign.

Map of Violations, Golos website. Screenshot - Aug. 20, 2021
#Report

This is the third overview of reports of possible violations of electoral legislation gathered via the 'Map of Violations' by the Movement for the Defense of Voters' Rights 'Golos' between August 9 and August 15. Since the beginning of the election campaign, 452 messages from 62 regions have been published on the Map.

 

Screenshot of Golos' statement cover image

On August 18, the Ministry of Justice of Russia included the Movement 'Golos' as the first unregistered organisation into the registry of unregistered public associations performing the functions of a foreign agent. Here is the translation of their statement.

Russian regional elections in 2018. Image by Wikimedia Commons
#Report

According to the CEC data as of 9 July 2021, 4,370 elections and referenda are scheduled for 19 September 2021, including elections to the State Duma, nine gubernatorial elections (new heads will be elected in three more regions), 39 elections to regional parliaments, and 11 elections of representative bodies of regional centres. Here's an overview of legal regulations and peculiarities of these races.

Participants of Just Russia rally take off their uniforms 5 minutes after the start of the Yekaterinburg rally on May 1, 2019. Image by Wikimedia Commons
#Analysis

PART 4: JUST RUSSIA-PATRIOTS-FOR TRUTH

According to sociologists, the same four parties represented in the parliament now: United Russia, the Communist Party of Russian Federation (CPRF), the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR), and Just Russia will probably be elected again in 2021. How are these four parties organized? What is their support base in regions?

A screenshot of a live broadcast of the voting process. Image by 'Golos' Movement.

In 2021, the Russian Central Election Commission decided to scrap open video broadcasts from the polling stations – a feature of Russian elections since 2012. The Movement in Defense of Voters' Rights 'Golos' has appealed to the President to help overturn this decision.

Map of Violations, Golos website. Screenshot - Aug. 12, 2021
#Report

This is the second overview of reports of possible violations of electoral legislation gathered via the 'Map of Violations' by the Movement for the Defense of Voters' Rights 'Golos' between August 2 and August 8.

May 1st, 2009. LDPR Rally. Photo by Photobank Moscow-Live / flickr
#Analysis

PART 3: LDPR

According to sociologists, the same four parties represented in the parliament now: United Russia, the Communist Party of Russian Federation (CPRF), the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR), and Just Russia will probably be elected again in 2021. How are these four parties organized? What is their support base in regions?

The Rt. Hon. Sir Alan Duncan represented the UK at the 23rd OSCE Ministerial Council in Hamburg, Germany, 8-9 December 2016.
OSCE Flags. Photo by Alex Hammond / FCO. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
#Commentary

The OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights and the Parliamentary Assembly will not deploy international election observation missions to the 2021 State Duma elections due to major limitations imposed on the institutions. Announcing the decision, ODIHR Director noted that the ability "to independently determine the number of observers necessary for us to observe effectively and credibly is essential to all international observation."

Reporter's notebook. Photo by 2008 Roger H. Goun. CC BY 3.0
#Commentary

On 28 July 2021, the Central Election Commission adopted a new media accreditation procedure that restricts media access to observe and report on the electoral process. The new rules violate the freedom of media editorial policy and may significantly reduce the transparency of the election process.

Map of Violations, Golos website. Screenshot - Aug. 5, 2021
#Report

This is the first overview of reports of possible violations of electoral legislation gathered via the 'Map of Violations' by the Movement for the Defense of Voters' Rights 'Golos' between June 22 and August 1.

May 1st Demonstration of the Communist Party, 2012. Photo by Photobank Moscow-Live / flickr
#Analysis

PART 2: CPRF

According to sociologists, the same four parties represented in the parliament now: United Russia, the Communist Party of Russian Federation (CPRF), the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR), and Just Russia will probably be elected again in 2021. How are these four parties organized? What is their support base in regions?

Ballot stuffing, elections March 18, 2018, Lyubertsy. Image - Golos
#Commentary

Less than two months before the elections, the Russian Central Election Commission (CEC) decided to scrap open video broadcasts from the polling stations, which have been the feature of Russian elections since 2012.

1st of May Demonstration in Moscow. 2010. Image - Photobank Moscow-Live / flickr
#Analysis

PART 1: United Russia

According to sociologists, the same four parties represented in the parliament now: United Russia, the Communist Party of Russian Federation (CPRF), the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR), and Just Russia will probably be elected again in 2021. How are these four parties organized? What is their support base in regions?

Ballot box for voting on Constitutional Amendments 2020. Photo - Wikimedia Commons
#Report

Since the last State Duma elections in 2016, lawmakers have introduced 19 amendments to the election law. In the year leading up to the State Duma elections in September 2021 alone, seven significant legislative amendments have been introduced, six of them in less than four months before the start of the campaign.

TV reporter, Bryansk. Photo - pxfuel
#Analysis

After almost a decade of crackdowns on big players, the landscape of critical journalism in Russia is dominated by local or smaller niche projects. But if the 2020-2021 trend of relentless attacks on media, journalists, and bloggers continues, many of these small projects are not likely to survive into the autumn. The regime makes it pretty clear that it no longer intends to tolerate any dissent.

"1941- ssshhh!" - Image by James Vaughan / flickr

The laws on "foreign agent" and "undesirable organizations" continue to hamper the work of affected organizations, stigmatize and damage their reputation, and isolate the civil society from international cooperation and support. What are these provisions and how are they being applied?

Vladimir Putin Speech at State Duma plenary session 2020-03-10. Image - Wikimedia Commons

The Russian State Duma's seventh convocation is coming to the end of its five-year term. And according to a new report from iStories and Znak.com, dozens of its deputies haven't said a word in a parliamentary session since they were elected in 2016. Others haven't put forward a single bill. Be that as it may, this hasn't stopped these lawmakers from collecting high salaries and planning to put their names on the ballot for the State Duma election coming up in September.

Kaluga. A Holiday. Image - flickr
#Analysis

During the United Russia primaries, experts detected possible falsification of the results and instances of interference in the electronic voting process. According to some analyses, 99% of votes for the first 22 candidates on the United Russia party list were falsified while the amount of falsified votes for candidates in single-mandate constituencies reached 80-95% of the votes cast.

Arrest by the police. Image - Wikimedia Commons
#Report

According to election observers, recent amendments further limiting citizens' passive suffrage constitute a "fifth wave" of depriving Russians of their right to stand for election since the collapse of the USSR. New restrictions have a particular impact on politically active citizens.

Programming, computing and information concept. Image - Peshkova, Getty Images Pro
#Report

In May, the Russian Federation has tested a new system of remote electronic voting. The Movement in Defense of Voters' Rights "Golos" observed the testing phase, took part in the voting, and shared their conclusions and recommendations in a respective report.

"I have the right to choose!" Photo - EPDE.
#Analysis

Opportunities for independent citizen election observation and civil society space in general have been shrinking steadily in Russia over the past decade. Recently, further restrictions have been adopted that limit the ability of citizens to independently monitor electoral processes.

May 1st Demonstration of the Communist Party, 2012. Image by _TMY2892/flickr
#Analysis

Over the past 14 years, the authorities have blocked 120,000 candidates from participating in elections of various levels, depriving millions of Russian citizens of the right to choose their representatives.

A demonstration in Moscow. Image - by Andrey, Pxhere.

Russia has finally outlawed Alexey Navalny's political and anti-corruption movement. Here's how the crackdown affects activists, journalists, and ordinary supporters.

Plenary meeting of the State Duma. Image - Wikimedia Commons
#Commentary

The President of Russia approved the law prohibiting those who are "involved" in the activities of an extremist organization from running in elections.

Electoral headquarters of Alexey Navalny. Photo - Wikimedia Commons
#Analysis

On June 9, the Moscow City Court, based on the charges by the Moscow Prosecutor's Office, recognized the Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK), the Foundation for the Protection of Citizens' Rights, and the headquarters of Alexei Navalny as extremist organizations. Now, many citizens are under a threat of pressure and persecution.

Vladimir Putin at the United Russia Congress (2011-11-27). Image - Wikimedia Commons
#Analysis

Between May 24 and 30, United Russia held its preliminary selection of candidates for 2021 State Duma elections. Nearly 12 million citizens participated in the party's primaries. Yet, a more careful examination shows an increasingly controlled and non-transparent process, aimed at having the public formally 'endorse' a carefully vetted list of pre-selected candidates.

Meeting of Central Election Commission Chair Ella Pamfilova with OSCE / ODIHR Director Matteo Mecacci. Photo - CEC
#Report

Between 2003 and 2018, OSCE/ODIHR published 139 recommendations on how to improve the conduct of elections in Russia. In the run-up to the State Duma elections in 2021, Russia has fully implemented just over 10% of them. Some have been tackled more promptly than others.

Man using computers. Photo by: Lisa Fotios from Pexels
#Analysis

Ahead of the State Duma election on September 19, 2021, Russia just tested its remote electronic voting system. While the Central Election Commission of the Russian Federation (CEC) is preparing the report about the results of the test, election monitors say Russia's electronic voting system is a black box.

Alexei Navalny. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
#Analysis

The Russian authorities are expected to orchestrate a result in the upcoming State Duma elections that will give United Russia a clear majority of seats. This does not mean, however, that the manipulation of the electoral process by the authorities is complete. In a limited number of competitive districts, true opposition candidates including candidates who are associated with Aleksei Navalny have a real chance of winning if they are allowed to run. In recent weeks, steps have been taken to block these 'undesirable' candidates from participating.

Central Election Commission (CEC) of Russian Federation during April 21, 2021, meeting. Photo by: CEC.
#Commentary

On March 19, 2021, the new composition of the Central Election Commission (CEC) of the Russian Federation was revealed. Out of 15 members, eight new people joined the CEC. In particular, the new Commission has been 'reinforced' by bureaucrats from the Presidential Administration, the State Duma, and the Civic Chamber (a consultative civil society institution closely linked to the government).