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A quasi-government body in the Russian region of Mordovia claimed that the woman whose hands were seen stuffing multiple ballots into a ballot box had simply been helping her sick sister.

The social-media reaction was swift when eagle-eyed viewers of Mordovian public television spotted a gloved hand appearing to stuff ballots during coverage of Russia's nationwide vote on constitutional amendments enabling Putin to seek 12 more years in office. 

An election observer declared that "all is very good" when it came to voting at polling station No. 568 in the Russian city of Saransk, with everything well-organized and no violations seen.

But eagle-eyed viewers of Mordovian Public Television noticed something amiss while watching the state channel’s coverage of the nationwide vote on constitutional amendments that open the door to President Vladimir Putin remaining in office until 2036.

Ten seconds into a clip of the June 29 news segment posted on the VK page Saransk Wall Of Shame, and just as a correspondent's voice-over talks about the fairness of the process, a blue-gloved hand is seen stuffing multiple ballots into a sealed ballot box.

Evidence of the apparent manipulation -- one of numerous incidents in the weeklong nationwide vote that wrapped up on July 1 and was marred by allegations of fraud -- was reportedly quickly removed from the television station's website, but was preserved for posterity on social media.

"The Internet remembers everything," Telegram channel Lepra said in posting an edited version of the clip.

Analysts said that Putin was eager for a high turnout and a strong "yes" vote in hopes that it would boost the legitimacy of the constitutional change allowing him to seek reelection in 2024 and 2030. Partial returns reported by the Central Election Commission on July 1 showed that the amendments would pass by a large margin according to official results, which Kremlin critics say are suspect.

Helping Hand?

The Public Chamber of Mordovia, a quasi-government body in the central Russian region 500 kilometers southeast of Moscow where the incident was captured by TV cameras on film, commented on the situation on June 30.

The chamber looked into the incident, it wrote, after receiving a citizen's complaint on its hotline. However, it determined that concerns that the video may have shown electoral interference were "unfounded."

Mordovia
Mordovia

Based on what it called an analysis by its Situation Center, including a conversation with the woman whose hands were seen putting multiple ballots into the ballot box, the chamber said "it turns out that there was no stuffing, the conclusions were premature."

It said that the woman had simply been helping her sick sister, who could not place her ballot in the ballot box on her own, and had requested permission to do so from members of the voting precinct's Election Commission.

That explanation suggested that the gloved woman cast two votes -- her own and her sister's -- but the footage appears to show a larger number of ballots being stuffed into the box.

All in all, the chamber said, no violations had been detected during the weeklong vote as of June 29.

"Let's proceed from the reality that neither on camera, nor off, there can be no ballot stuffing," state news agency RIA Novosti quoted Situation Center member Aleksei Tyurkin as saying on June 30.

The Saransk Wall Of Shame, following up on the regional Public Chamber's conclusion, was unconvinced, asking: "If it is not ballot stuffing, then why the hell was the segment urgently removed from the channel's website?"

Russian state media boss Dmitry Kiselyov is on the EU sanctions list for his role in promoting Kremlin propaganda in support of Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.

Latvia has banned Russia's RT television channels from being distributed on its territory because of international sanctions against the head of the Russian state TV network, Dmitry Kiselyov.

Latvia has banned Russia's RT television channels from being distributed on its territory because of international sanctions against the head of the Russian state TV network, Dmitry Kiselyov.

Latvia's media watchdog, the National Electronic Media Council (NEPLP), said it had banned RT's main English-language broadcast service, its Spanish and Arabic counterparts, the RT Documentary channel, as well as the HD versions of the programs. RT has no other stations that broadcast in the Baltic country.

"These TV stations have been banned because they are controlled and managed by Dmitry Kiselyov, who is under European Union sanctions for repeated calls to violate Ukraine's democracy and territorial integrity," NEPLP Chairman Ivars Abolins said on June 30.

The NEPLP also said RT attempted in its programs to present Latvia, a Baltic state that gained independence after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, as a failed state.

Last year, the NEPLP banned 10 other Russian television channels, including Rossia RTR, for "systematic hate speech and warmongering against Ukraine, including open calls to kill Ukrainian citizens."

The NEPLP said in a statement that the decision would be implemented this week.

Meanwhile, Kiselyov, a TV commentator known for anti-Western diatribes, said on June 30 that he had never been in charge of RT, which used to be known as Russia Today, and suggested that Latvia should apologize to the channel and cancel the move.

Kiselyov has been on the EU sanctions list for his alleged role in promoting Kremlin propaganda in support of Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.

Kiselyov is the head of the state Rossia Segodnya media group, which focuses mainly on Russian news and official propaganda abroad.

The group includes, along with other television channels, RT, radio stations and websites, the Sputnik news service, Prime news agency, and the Inosmi.ru media project.

Kiselyov's media group is among the top 10 state-subsidized groups in Russia. It received 20.4 billion rubles (more than $288 million) from the state from 2018 to 2020.

With reporting by AP, AFP, and Govorit Moskva

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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