Alexei Navalny delivers a speech on August 25, 2013 during a campaign rally for the Moscow mayoral election (Getty)
While experts agree that the level of falsification in Moscow elections on Sunday was historically low, the narrow margin by which Sergei Sobyanin was elected the mayor of Moscow has given credibility to opposition claims that what fraud there was could have been decisive in the contest.
Mr Sobyanin, the incumbent, won 51.3 per cent of the vote, which put him within a whisker of the 50 per cent total that would have prompted a second-round runoff against Alexei Navalny.
While Mr Navalny got 27 per cent of the vote, analysts say that in a second-round contest between him and Mr Sobyanin some of the protest vote would have gone to Mr Navalny, even though it was unlikely to have been enough to beat the incumbent mayor. Read more
–Vladimir Yakunin speaking to Vladimir Putin (Getty)
For 33 minutes on Wednesday, it appeared that Vladimir Yakunin, the powerful head of Russia’s state railway corporation, and a close personal friend of president Vladimir Putin, was out of a job.
His resignation, apparently, had been demanded by prime minister Dmitry Medvedev, and all the signs indicated that a behind the scenes bureaucratic turf battle was underway – a number of Mr Medvedev’s associates have had their careers cut short recently by people from Yakunin’s hard-line faction, and this smacked of retribution. Read more
Allegations of election rigging are nothing new in Russia. But a new study of ballot box fraud has provoked strident denunciations from Kremlin circles – because it has emerged from a corner of the regime least expected.
The study was prepared by a little-known thinktank called the Centre for Analysis of Problems and Public Governance, which concludes that accounting for electoral fraud, the opposition Communist Party should have won the 2011 Duma elections with 30 per cent of the vote, rather than the Kremlin-backed United Russia. UR officially took 49 per cent, but the study says it should have got 22 per cent, according to versions of the report leaked to the press.
The study also concluded that Vladimir Putin would have still won the presidential poll in March, but with 52 per cent rather than 65 percent of the vote.
These conclusions, questioning the legitimacy of the ruling party, and the mandate of Mr Putin, would probably have been stomached had they been raised by an opposition group.
But it turns out the Centre is connected to the solid core of the Kremlin. It’s a right-wing thinktank associated with a branch of Putin’s circle known as the “Orthodox Chekisti” for their links to the Orthodox church and their professional backgrounds in the Soviet era security services (“Chekist” in Russian is slang for spy). The Centre’s scientific director is Vladimir Yakunin, chief of Russia’s state railway monopoly, who owns a country house in the same compound as Putin on Lake Komsomolskoe near St Petersburg. Read more
Residents of Stalin's home town of Gori, Georgia, parade to mark the 60th anniversary of the former dictator's death
Mikhail Kalik remembers March 5 1953, as “a day that was like a second birth for me”. It is a private holiday he has not missed for the last 60 years, a day when he and his fellow former prisoners in Soviet gulags phone each other with congratulations or meet at restaurants to drink toasts.
Exactly six decades ago, he and the other prisoners at Ozerlag, a prison camp in eastern Siberia, were called to the frozen parade ground and told by the camp commandant that the vozhd, or leader, had died.
“He literally wept and told everyone to take off their hats,” Mr Kalik said. “But we could hardly contain our joy. Many of us were silently cheering.”
In other prison camps, the news broke stealthily. Georgy Von Zigern Korn, a prisoner in Karaganda, a mining camp in Kazakhstan, described in his memoirs waking up on March 6 and finding that the camp commandant was nowhere to be seen. The camp guards, reminisced Von Korn, “looked subdued, lost, and suddenly were polite and gentle as willow tree buds”. Read more
Traffic jam in Moscow on December 4 (Reuters/Sergei Karpukhin)
Russia has two main problems, according to an old 19th century joke: “dorogi i duraki”, or “roads and idiots”.
Over the weekend, many Russian motorists travelling between Moscow and St Petersburg were reminded of this saying, which even made a brief debut as a twitter meme “дураки + дороги” after the first snowfall of the year caused a 160km traffic jam on a highway between the two cities.
Finger-pointing in the wake of the snarl-up predictably pitted the “roads” versus the “idiots”, even as government emergency workers toiled frantically to clear new congestion on Tuesday following a fresh snowfall.
It was the drivers’ fault, claimed Andrei Kosinov, the head of the road service agency from the province of Tver, where the worst of the traffic jam occurred.
“This is mainly the result of uneducated drivers who are always hurrying somewhere, overtaking each other in the opposite lane, and so on… If there was a normal culture of driving, then these problems would not have occurred,” he said. Read more
Inter-factional feuding has always been the favourite blood sport of Moscow’s bureaucratic elite. The stakes are not as high as they were in Stalin’s time, but the tools are the same, writes Charles Clover. Read more
For human rights workers in Russia, living with death threats can be an everyday reality.
One has to be prudent, assigning some the category of “prank” while taking others more seriously.
On Thursday, Tanya Lokshina of Human Rights Watch, one of the most prominent activists in Moscow, decided that the nine text messages she had received from an anonymous sender between Sept 28-30 fell into the latter category.
The author threatened her life and that of her unborn child, knew her unlisted address and had details about her private life known only to her and her close friends. Read more
In Russia, some of the most important clues about the future are contained in how the Kremlin is thinking about the past, writes Charles Clover. Read more
A storm of protest has broken out in Russian political circles over, of all things, protesting. A new law sharply raising fines for unsanctioned political demonstrations, effectively criminalising them, was passed this week by both houses of parliament, and awaits signature by President Vladimir Putin. But is it fair? Read more
Mikhail Prokhorov during a press conference on June 4. AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko
Mikhail Prokhorov, the billionaire owner of the New Jersey Nets basketball club as well as a good chunk of the Russian economy, has created a new political party, but refused to join it.
It is a characteristically inscrutable move by Prokhorov, whose political career is nothing if not an exercise in creativity. Last fall he established a political party which then summarily expelled him, following which he ran for President, declaring that with his $18bn fortune, he “represented the Russian middle class”. He came a surprising third in March. Read more
An opposition activist during a protest on May 31. AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky
Vladimir Putin’s popularity ratings are likely to be causing a bit of concern in Russia’s ruling circles, as a March election bump in his approval scores appears to be evaporating – and the president’s rating has fallen back to territory seen early in the last decade.
On Thursday, the Public Opinion Foundation, a respected polling agency that works for the Kremlin, published figures showing the number of Russians answering “Do you trust Vladimir Putin?” with ‘Yes’ stood at 48 per cent at the end of May, down from 55 per cent March when he won re-election with 63 per cent of the vote. Read more