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Sochi Litmus Test, Part 2

Ilya Yashin

The mayoral election in Sochi – which President Dmitry Medvedev has hailed as a sign of healthy democracy in Russia – is coming down to the wire, with official voting scheduled for April 26 (although local officials already have the tried-and-true “early voting” scam working at full speed).

People interested in following this important election could do a lot worse than reading the blog of Ilya Yashin, a Yabloko youth activist who is running former Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov’s campaign. Yashin’s blog is a fascinating catalogue of dirty tricks and illegal tactics used against Nemtsov. Among other things, the blog documents with photos and video how state-sector workers and soldiers are being bused in by the regional administration to vote early (and often?).

It also has in its entirety a 20-minute piece of black PR against Nemtsov that was run by all four local television channels on April 17 (the same local channels that have officially declined to participate in the campaign or to present free airtime to candidates). The piece, which features Kremlin-connected political consultant Gleb Pavlovsky and hatchet-man journalist Sergei Dorenko, trashes Nemtsov’s record as governor of Nizhny Novgorod Oblast in the 1990s and his tenure as deputy prime minister under Boris Yeltsin. It also lingers long on Nemtsov’s support for Ukraine’s Orange Revolution and his opposition political activity with “failures” such as Garry Kasparov and Eduard Limonov. One of the most brilliant strokes is how it blames Nemtsov for the failure of his old party, the now-defunct Union of Rightist Forces, to get into the Duma during the last elections. The party, it will be recalled, was the victim of a massive Kremlin-directed campaign of harassment and intimidation and the Duma election itself was little more than a rigged farce. But now Nemtsov’s failure to win that rigged vote can be used as evidence that he is a failure!

The film ends with a black screen and the ominous words: “Do you need a mayor like this?”

On April 16, Yashin posted about how the local administration had prepared a “hidden-camera” report featuring a man who claimed to be working for the Nemtsov campaign making all sorts of allegations against Nemtsov (“a playboy with a naked torso”) and the campaign.

Perhaps Yashin’s most interesting post appeared on April 7, in which he describes a meeting that he and Nemtsov held with Krasnodar Krai Deputy Governor Murat Akhedzhak. Akhedzhak is the official “director” of the election and has come to be called “the local Surkov,” in reference to deputy presidential administration head Vladislav Surkov, the Kremlin’s don in charge of domestic politics.

The meeting took place at Akhedzhak’s insistence on the day the local election commission was to decide whether to register Nemtsov for the race. Akhedzhak reportedly told Nemtsov that they had to meet before noon that day because the commission was awaiting his instruction on what to do about Nemtsov’s application.

Akhedzhak asked Nemtsov to refrain during the campaign from attacking Krasnodar Krai Governor Aleksandr Tkachev, which Nemtsov refused to do. Akhedzhak said that a survey had found about 40 percent of voters will vote for acting Mayor and Unified Russia candidate Anatoly Pakhomov, while Nemtsov was in second place with about 17 percent. (The complete results of the poll are on Yashin’s blog.) Akhedzhak told Nemtsov that he has been tasked with ensuring a first-round victory for Pakhomov with about 54 percent of the vote (remember that figure!).

According to Yashin, Nemtsov then asked directly whether the authorities will falsify the election results, and Akhedzhak answered that the chances of falsification are only about “10 to 15 percent.” Instead, he reportedly said, “we have every ability to destroy you on television” (see above!).

Akhedzhak denied that he was responsible for an incident in which someone threw ammonia into Nemtsov’s face (“That was Surkov’s kids,” he said.) or another in which a Russian businessman in New York illegally transferred money into Nemtsov’s campaign account (“Moscow thought that up and the FSB took care of it.”).

They say Medvedev is a big fan of the Internet, even has his own Livejournal blog. Maybe he’ll take a look at what Yashin is writing and the photographs he is posting. I know we’ll be reading it eagerly between now and the time the Sochi drama is played out.

-- Robert Coalson

About This Blog

The Power Vertical
The Power Vertical

The Power Vertical is a blog written especially for Russia wonks and obsessive Kremlin watchers by Brian Whitmore. It offers Brian's personal take on emerging and developing trends in Russian politics, shining a spotlight on the high-stakes power struggles, machinations, and clashing interests that shape Kremlin policy today. Check out The Power Vertical Facebook page or


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