The main opposition coalition of liberal parties has fallen apart with the stress of persecution and arguments about how to respond to it, and as we report this week, the Parnas party, the acronym for People’s Party of Freedom and Republican Party of Russia) has been beset with divisions over first to set-aside of the top position to Mikhail Kasyanov, co-chair of the party, then the candidacy of Vyacheslav Maltsev, a controversial populist candidate known for anti-semitic remarks elected to the second position on the party list.
The third slot went to Prof. Andrei Zubov with considerably less votes — but all the candidates have little chance of attracting enough votes to cross the 5% threshold, and it would be a miracle if any of them gained a seat through the single-mandate elections in districts.
As Paul Goble of Windows of Eurasia writes, the field is crowded: according to Russian officials, candidates from 21 different parties are competing in the current Duma elections. “Too much” democracy can be one way of ensuring there isn’t enough. Moscow analysts say only three parties are likely to have deputies in the new parliament, one less than at the present time; the Party of Pensioners may have a chance.
Today RIA Novosti reported that in the end, five were expelled; in addition to Yuryevich, Butov and Mikhailov, Oleg Savchenko and ex-mayor of Kaliningrad, Yury Savenko were also removed also other reports dispute the removal of Savchenko.
RBC reported that despite party procedures that require only conventions to remove candidates, the expulsion was made by the presidium.
Yevgeny Artyukh, chairman of the party, commented:
“Today the party is undergoing an exam: either we are a real political force which forms a competitive list or we are a spoiler which succumbing to some pressure, refines its lists.”
Artyukh told Kommersant that he did receive phone calls from unknown persons telling him to take people off the list, but he couldn’t be sure they weren’t “pranksters,” and party leaders were just removing them “out of fear,” he said.
A source told RBC that the party’s reason for not publicizing its lists was precisely to avoid pressure. Now it will depend on whether the CEC approves the list or heeds Artyukh’s call to re-convene a party convention; he has filed a dissension with the CEC urging it to suspend the authority of the party’s presidium.
o Yabloko Party Releases List of Candidates Topped by Yavlinsky, Slabunova, Ryzhkov
The fall elections have already been branded as this year’s “most boring,” and public apathy could affect turnout. In Kostroma, some voters aren’t taking the elections seriously.
Translation: A resident of Kostroma is trying to nominate her cat Begemot [Hippo] to the elections to the State Duma.
Translation: for the Russian common man, other people’s elections and other people’s coup d’etats are substitution therapy for the deficit of the former and latter at home.
There’s no question that ethnic hatred and anti-semitism will increase with the elections — which may explain why some demonstrative cases against extremists are already underway.
Translation: The already openly ruling United Russia bourgeois Russia mocks the people! Down with teh elections of the ruling Jewish bourgeoisie of Russia!
The sign says “There’s No Money, But Hang On!” a widely-quoted comment from Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev during a visit to Ukraine, intertwined with the letters for United Russia.
Law-enforcers made three more arrests of Misanthropic Division activists in Moscow, Rostov-on-Don, and Arkhangelsk.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
In April, we asked if the Russian opposition — a
fraction of the size it was in 2011 when protests against President Vladimir
Putin’s fraudulent rise to power were at their heyday — would even make it to
the September parliamentary elections. Did it even matter whether the Russian opposition, fragmented and stretched across
political positions from the left to right stayed united?
Since then, we’ve seen only more repression of the remaining groups opposing
the Putin regime, with hacking of phones and web sites,
trials, and continued pressure.
A recent article in The
Guardian spoke of opposition infighting,
covering the disagreements about tactics which really boiled down to one
scandal involving Mikhail Kasyanov, former finance minister in the Putin
government who leads the Parnas party (the name of which is an acronym of a
merger of two past parties, the People’s Freedom Party and the Republican Party
of Russia). Using clandestine film footage, the state television NTV, which has
long cooperated with the Kremlin’s intelligence services to stalk and harass
the opposition, aired a show called “A Day in the Life of
Kasyanov,” revealing that he had an extramarital affair with another Parnas
leader, Natalya Pelevina. Pelevina has also
been targeted for searches and interrogation in an investigation of her use
of foreign grants to defend the Bolotnaya Square anti-Putin rally of May 2012.
This scandal prompted calls within Kasyanov’s own party for his resignation and
divisions about whether to continue his campaign, which then led to a split in
the Democratic Coalition over whether Kasyanov should stay at the top of the
party’s list or submit himself to the judgement of primaries to see if he could
keep the slot. He refused.
Then in the last week, Russian social media has avidly
discussed further scandals at Parnas surrounding the nomination of Saratov
blogger Vyacheslav Maltsev, a former policeman and populist regional deputy who
has swung back and forth between United Russia and both left and right
opposition parties and has allegedly blogged in the past about “Jews and
The disarray has left some asking “What would Boris do?” –
Boris Nemtsov, the opposition leader and co-chairman of Parnas who was
assassinated in February 2015, and whose alleged murderers are to go on trial
Lawyer Vadim Prokhorov, attorney for the Nemtsov family, was
one of those who urged people to think “what Boris would have done,” and
applied the scientific approach for which Nemtsov, a physicist, was known. He
noted that the Parnas party’s federal council had lacked only one vote to expel
Maltsev. He pointed out that the official Central Elections Commission had not
recognized their primaries anyway so it’s as if they hadn’t existed. Furthermore,
many in the party had wanted the results declared invalid after the party’s
site was hacked and personal data exposed and had finally decided only to “take
them into account.”
While these arguments seemed petty or arcane, giving the
ostensible need to hold together in the face of Putinism, as we pointed out earlier, there’s an
issue of principle that even Western leaders struggle with and Western nations
are divided about: how do you behave in the face of Putin’s aggression and his
ample use of provocations against people, turning their weaknesses or flaws
against them? Do you accommodate and cave to his sabotage or do you fight it,
perhaps only to lose?
The subsequent rows in Parnas over controversial deputy and
video blogger Maltsev revolve around a matter of principle: given the
difficulties already faced by opposition parties, should they grab on to
populist candidates with dubious pasts as an engine for success at the polls?
American and British party leaders face no less of a quandary.
And does it matter, anyway? At this point, the Russian
opposition is faced barely with the prospect of a “show” in a “win, place, or
show” formula in this race. No party will reach the 5% threshold required to
get into parliament and only one or two may reach the 3% threshold required to
go on getting federal funding and at least having some tangential role in
politics. Opposition parties like the Party of Progress of Alexey Navalny, the
anti-corruption campaigner, have not even been legalized. They have virtually
no access to TV except in the form of smears like programs on NTV. The official
print and online media cover them only negatively, sometimes starting massive,
hysterical campaigns such as those
in January with a million people marching in Grozny, some carrying signs
denouncing the “Fifth Column” and showing the faces of top opposition leaders.
The independent press, which does cover the opposition,
sometimes with partisan zeal and other times with greater sarcasm than state
media, is now itself under tremendous pressure from the Kremlin, with dismissals
of editors at RBC and Gazeta and replacement with more compliant editors from state media.
All parties in the parliamentary elections have to select a
federal list for their party, i.e. a list of their top candidates as a party,
as well as a single-mandate list, i.e. a list of those who will run in
individual districts as opposition candidates. So if as a whole, the party
crosses the 5% threshold required by law to enter parliament, depending on the
percentage of the overall votes they take in the country, they will be able to
seat their candidates in the order of their list. In addition, their members
who beat others in single mandate districts can represent that district.
in Parnas: Yashin’s Critique
On July 2, Ilya Yashin, the former deputy chair of the
Parnas published a critique of the Parnas convention that day on his Facebook page. He mourned the break-up of the
Democratic Coalition because he believed their strength was in attracting
allies, and felt Kasyanov was insisting on keeping his first spot on the list
at the expense of losing key partners.
Yashin feels that not only has Parnas lost important allies
who left, but it has acquired new allies that will drive others away, notably
Vyacheslav Maltsev, who was voted 2nd place on Parnas’ federal list
at their convention. As he wrote (translation by The Interpreter):
didn’t have a position on his candidacy until yesterday, when he spoke at the
political council. For about an hour, we listened to a crazy stream of
consciousness about the “Jewish mafia in medicine,” the Masonic
conspiracy,” and “political losers.” For dessert, Maltsev announced that Parnas
deputy chair Vladimir Kara-Murza, Jr. was poisoned not by the Chekists, but
“one of his own people — for mundane reasons.”
from everything, he believes that Maltsev with his audacious ‘charisma”
will bring the party additional votes. I doubt it: patients at psychiatric
clinics who believe in ‘Masonic conspiracies,’ traditionally vote for
Zhirinovsky, whom Maltsev clearly tries to imitate. But why vote for a
caricature of Zhirinovsky, if the leader of the LDPR [the ill-named Liberal
Democratic Party of Russia — The Interpreter] himself is taking part in
elections. So we will hardly attract new voices.
Yashin also said he didn’t agree with Kasyanov’s program and
slogan “Let’s Reset the System” – the system had to be changed, not rebooted,
he said. He also felt the job of the opposition was to bang on topics others
were afraid to mention – Chechnya, and the call for the resignation of leader
Ramzan Kadyrov for allegations of crimes and human rights violations; Panama
offshores, and kickbacks at state corporations. The election shouldn’t be about
who could complain the loudest against the “pathetic and worthless government”
of Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, said Yashin.
What was left unclear was whether the opposition would take
on economic issues like the likely freezing of state budget workers’ wages, the
ban on foreign imports, the road fees for truckers, and so on which undoubtedly
would be addressed at least by district candidates.
While withdrawing his own name from the party list over
these disagreements, Yashin remains a member of the party and said he would
help with campaigning because “it is the only party in the elections totally
independent from the Kremlin.” As he and others have pointed out, Yabloko is
funded by the government as a “3% party” and that means its leadership’s
salaries come from the Kremlin, meaning a possible form of social control over
While there were some “defectors” to other parties, the
rank-and-file of the party did not appear to be massively rebelling, and in the
the convention approved a party list of 113 candidates.
(The enumeration of the people in the list is not related to their position of
priority on the list.)
Kasyanov was accorded first place, Maltsev second, and third
is Prof. Viktor Zubov, a former professor at the Moscow Institute of
International Relations (MGIMO), dismissed in 2014 over his criticism of the
annexation of Crimea. It’s not clear if Zubov, a liberal who has often promoted
human rights, commented on Maltsev.
At the convention, some Parnas
members made the compelling point that they had to respect the democratic
result of the primaries, even if disliked, and also Maltsev’s existing
credentials as a democratically-elected official. As Svoboda reported, the
ballot for the list was secret, but Maltsev won 78 for and 45 opposed, mainly
influenced by Kasyanov’s support. Then when a vote was taken again about
whether to approve the list as a whole; 25 were opposed of the 104 delegates.
To get a snapshot of how well the liberal opposition can do
in an area they campaign we can see the reporting of Svobodnaya
votes were counted on the last day of the primaries, Maltsev had 5,471 and
Andrei Zubov had 1,665. Then, despite segregation and safeguarding of data,
outside hackers managed to expose the personal data of voters and placed them
on the party’s site — which invalidated the primaries vote, the party’s
election commission was forced to conclude. This immediately sparked rumors
that Kasyanov had engineered the hack to bypass the unpleasant results of the
primaries; deputy chairman Konstantin Merzlikin himself made this allegation.
Convention: Maltsev’s Claim of a “Jewish Mafia”
On July 4, journalist Mikhail Sokolov of the Russian-language
service of RFE/RL Radio analyzed the Parnas convention
describing Maltsev as “the brutal Saratov politician who has several
hundred thousand viewers on his videoblog” and Zubov as “the most
intelligentsia-like emigre from the academic world.”
He pointed out that the convention, in which about 100
people took part, was plagued with organizational as well as political problems
and divergence of views. While Kasyanov’s invoked truisms like the lack of
separation of powers in Russia and the falling of people’s income by 8% a year,
seemingly “softened” from Parnas’ previous positions, Zubov gave a fiery speech
saying the opposition was going to liberate the people of Russia, and not just
to “remove the Putin group from power”. To be sure, Zubov’s prescription was
peaceful dissent, because otherwise “the alternative to elections is rebellion”
– something Russians fear with their memories of not only the 1917 revolution
but perestroika and the economic convulsions of the collapse of the Soviet
As Sokolov reported, Maltsev earned himself major animosity
by demanding that two members be removed from the party list: Ilya Yashin and
Vladimir Kara-Murza, Jr. a journalist and program manager for Open Russia
founded by exiled businessman and former political prisoner Mikhail
Khodorkovsky. He also proposed eliminating Aleksandr Potkin-Belov, a
nationalist currently held in Lefortovo Prison on charges of
“extremism” who took fifth place in the primaries.
As noted, Maltsev also denounced Kara-Murza for testifying
that he believed he was poisoned deliberately for his activities – although
many independent journalists and observers support Kara-Murza’s claim. Maltsev
believed the poisoning was related to “mundane matters” and could be
a relative or friend. His claim seemed to be retaliation for Kara-Murza’s
proposal even back in June to remove him.
Andrei Pivovarov, another Parnas member, also spoke against
Maltsev and said the party would lose voters, who would go over to Yabloko:
have a chance in St. Petersburg. And it will be hard for me to answer the
reproaches: you have in your troika a person who believes there is a ‘Masonic
conspiracy’ and a ‘Jewish mafia.’”
With Maltsev now turning out possibly to be Parnas’ best
hope of actually getting into parliament, there has been a lot of dissecting of
his past and present.
A lengthy entry on compromatsaratov.ru
(“kompromat” is a Russian term meaning “compromising materials”)
records Maltsev’s past with numerous links to regional press which curiously
seems to show little activity from 2013-2016. His main claim to fame seems to
be his popular YouTube channel
show called “Bad News”.
to his official biography, Maltsev was a member of the Soviet Komsomol who
served in the Soviet border guards, which were under the KGB, and eventually
graduated from night school with a law degree, working as a police inspector
until 1989, after which he went to work for a private detective agency. He was
first elected a deputy to the Saratov regional legislature in 1994 and has
since been re-elected twice, serving in committees on law and civic
organizations and heading up the Popular Front of Saratov Region. While once a
member of United Russia, Maltsev later turned on it with criticism of
corruption. He seems to have come by his intolerant views not from nationalist
movements — although he has flirted with them — so much as from Soviet and
provincial culture in general.
As SP pointed out Maltsev, in the last 9 years, had swung
from supporting Kasyanov’s Russian Popular Democratic Union to the ultraright
party Great Russia to Yabloko to the Communists, winning on their ticket. While
he called himself a “leftist radical” and “national
democrat,” he claimed:
“Those who called me an advocate of
rightist views are simply fools. Of course I’m leftist. And yes I have radical
convictions. Therefore, I’m a leftist radical.”
View Through a Microscope
Denis Yastrebov, a Saratov political commentator said
Maltsev was “an opportunist and a filibusterer,” and that he had
changed parties and movements many time and it was “funny” that he
had wound up in Parnas which he said was “a quite marginal organization”:
the other hand, if he’ll be there, even so, it will be a big scandal for that
crowd. Still and all, he’s a well-known nationalist, and from the perspective
of the liberal community, a homophobe. Purely stylistically, he and Mikhail
Kasyanov are simply not compatible.”
Yastrebov thought the scandals within Parnas only helped
Yabloko, and that Parnas members would cross over to Yabloko and then Yavlinsky
“might raise his chances of crossing the 3-percent barrier.” But from the
perspective of sociology, he said in any case, these issues “can be viewed only
through a microscope.”
When Maltsev took the podium to defend himself from critics,
he pointed out that not only Kasyanov but Nemtsov had supported his candidacy
in the regional legislature in 2012 but Viktor Ryzhkov, Parnas’ one-time
co-chairman, had opposed him. He pointed out that while he won the elections,
Parnas candidates of that time lost with less than .03%. Maltsev cited his
YouTube credits — 1.4 million visitors from Russia — and to counter claims of
his anti-semitism — even 14,000 from Israel.
But in his defensive speech at the convention, Maltsev he
seems to have dug himself in deeper, as can be seen from a video excerpted by
anti-semitism: first, they dragged in some article, it turned out to be written
by a different Maltsev. So they needed to smear Maltsev with the claim of
anti-semitism but there was nothing to it. I worked professionally in criminal
justice. One of the methods of criminology is to isolate groups — criminal
groups, that is, and ethnic groups as well. So if Maltsev is an anti-semite,
then Sergio Leone is as well, no? should also be an anti-semite, correct? Did
you see the film “Once Upon A Time in America”? What is this film
about? What is this film “Once Upon a Time in America” about, anyway?
from the audience] About the Jewish mafia.
Correct! Therefore, if you can’t speak those words, then…
Sergio Leone was an Italian film director who created “Once Upon a Time in America” starring Robert De Niro and James Woods. The film, made in 1984, was about the life of Jewish ghettos and organized crime, spanning the 1920s through 1960s. The story of individual Jewish street kids in mafia gangs in the 1920s was not about a purported “Jewish mafia” running the world then or now.
As for Masons, Maltsev went on to say that a piece published
10 years ago was at issue. “There was no talk of any Masonic conspiracy,
only Masonic symbols were discussed,” he claimed. He further boosted his
opposition street cred – he left the police in 1989 because they dispersed
demonstrations that had begun then in the perestroika era, and while he was
among founders of United Russia, he left it in 2003, and had founded the first
Democratic Coalition and issued the first manifesto calling it a “party of
Maltsev said in an interview that he was willing to make
common cause with the “liberal Westernizers” (Kasyanov, Yashin and
others in Moscow) for the sake of defeating the regime. He said it would
“be logical” if he was second in the Parnas list but “but I
don’t need a friggin’ seat in the State Duma” because “this body
doesn’t decide anything.”
“We need the totality of power,” he added — and
reconfirmed his belief in the conspiracy theory that the next revolution in
Russia will take place November 5, 2017.
at the Top, Unity at the Bottom
Svoboda’s Sokolov then interviewed Kasyanov July 4
about the Maltsev scandal and the negative assessment of him by his own party’s
most influential liberals. Kasyanov implied the campaign process would change
So you will re-educate Maltsev?
To some extent, yes.
Kasyanov reported that out of 102 elected via the primaries
for the party’s federal list, 95 of these remained as 7 had removed themselves
from the list — these included Vladimir Milov, former deputy energy minister.
Of these 95, he said 50 were from Navalny’s Party of Progress, Democratic
Choice and December 5 — the rest were his own party.
Thus, he was pointing out that the “implosion”
within the opposition is not as bad as the Western and Russian press have made
it out to be. Though his party did not unite with the top leadership of
Navalny’s Party of Progress and Yavlinsky’s Yabloko, Parnas backed certain
candidates in the provinces jointly, and the mixed Parnas list itself indicated
a “democratic coalition” still existed in the list and local
elections if not the leadership in Moscow.
“I don’t consider Yabloko our competitor and
rival,” he said.
Sokolov pointed out that despite the cooperation of
“rank-and-file” Yabloko members, Kasyanov’s failure to compromise
with Yavlinsky and Georgy Saratov, a prominent commentator and Yabloko member
who left the coalition over the issue of its failure to stay united with
Yabloko, looked bad. “This is probably a bad thing for those who want to
see European democracy in Russia.”
Kasyanov said he didn’t think so because what mattered is
they would continue to cooperate, and that 17 prominent civic activists had
called on voters to vote for either Parnas or Yabloko and that their programs
“were not opposed” to each other.
On July 3, Parnas had confirmed their list of 113 candidates
for the single-mandate ballots, which is separate from the federal list; these
included those supported by multiple parties such as Dmitry Gudkov, who already
has a seat in the Duma, and Prof. Zubov.
Asked if negotiations for unity might continue, Kasyanov
said yes, but that he couldn’t ask people like Nikolai
Lyaskin, an environmentalist of Navalny’s Party of Progress and
Anti-Corruption Foundation not to run against Sergei
Mitrokhin, former Yabloko leader and deputy
in the State Duma and Moscow Duma in the past.
One problem with trying to assess this issue is that most
parties in fact keep their list secret, as RBC reported. Is Yabloko supporting
any outright Parnas members?
Boris Would Have Done
Vladimir Kara-Murza, Jr., who himself is not running in the
elections, said the opposition “must take part in unfree elections”
and those who “don’t accept the regime of thievery and aggression”
must “give a political voice to those who support the alternative.”
“That was what Boris Nemtsov believed, and he himself
ran on the regional ballot in Yaroslavl, and he could have won. Someone didn’t
want this very much.”
With that statement, Kara-Murza was indicating a theory for
the murder of Nemtsov not related directly to the anti-war march he was to lead
on the eve of his assassination, nor his exposure of Russian military in
Ukraine, and certainly not his support of the Charlie Hebdo journalists. The
charismatic Nemtsov, once a first deputy prime minister, had been in power in
the Kremlin, had sat in a regional legislature, and could have been elected to
the State Duma — a scenario that those who ordered his murder may have found
threatened the monopoly of power. Said Kara-Murza:
have the opportunity to go into the elections thanks to Nemtsov’s mandate. The
congress of our allies in the Yabloko party is underway. I would like to call
for treating them precisely this way, both publicly and not publically. There
will be districts where there is a candidate in common with Yabloko: Dmitry
Gudkov in Tushino District and Andrei Zubov in the Central Administrative
District. We will have to work together after this regime is sent to the
dustbin of history!”
Thus, the leading opposition party’s best hope is a
barely-veiled provincial anti-Semite and YouTube star, and a professor whose
opposition to the annexation of Crimea runs against the majority position even
on many liberals in Russia. Other lesser-known figures in the list have been
subject to criminal cases and beatings to silence them. The prospect that they
will at least expose the process as unfair and corrupt is considerably
diminished not so much by their disunity but the crushing of independent
bloggers and media.
Whatever he would have done, Boris is gone now, and there is
little likelihood of the real masterminds of his murder being brought to
justice – a reality that ultimately marks the boundaries of the opposition’s
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick