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Jailed Russian Activist Seeks Opposition Party Candidacy

Andrei Pivovarov at a court hearing in Krasnodar on June 2.
Andrei Pivovarov at a court hearing in Krasnodar on June 2.

The jailed former executive director of the pro-democracy Open Russia movement, Andrei Pivovarov, has called on a founder of the opposition Yabloko party, Grigory Yavlinsky, to register him as a party candidate for upcoming parliamentary elections.

In an open letter addressed to Yavlinsky on June 28, Pivovarov wrote that the elections to parliament’s lower chamber, the State Duma, on September 19 will "most likely be the last poll at which it will be possible to form a list of independent candidates" that can be supported by the tens of millions of voters "who want freedom in the country."

"I am ready to call myself a Yabloko supporter. Many of its members are my friends. Yabloko is, at the moment, the only party that openly rejects [Russian President Vladimir] Putin's authoritarian regime and is eligible to propose candidates without collecting signatures both for me and for other candidates who have fallen into the millstones of political repression," Pivovarov wrote.

Russia will vote on September 19 to choose members of the lower house of parliament, the State Duma, and 39 regional parliaments, as well as nine regional governors.

In the run-up to the elections, the Kremlin has cracked down -- sometimes brutally -- on opposition political figures and independent media.

Earlier this month, Putin endorsed a law that bars leaders and founders of organizations declared extremist or terrorist by Russian courts from running for elective posts for a period of five years. Other members or employees of such organizations will face a three-year ban.

Pivovarov was detained after being removed from a Warsaw-bound plane just before takeoff from St. Petersburg in late May.

He is facing charges of "participating in the activities of an undesirable group.” He denies any wrongdoing.

"The Kremlin is desperately afraid that independent democratic politicians will take part in the elections to the State Duma," Pivovarov wrote.

"Since the current situation goes beyond personal relationships, I publish my appeal in the form of an open letter and ask you to answer it publicly and openly."

Yabloko officials did not immediately respond to the letter.

On June 2, a court in the southern city of Krasnodar ruled that Pivovarov should be held for two months after authorities accused him of publishing a post on social media supporting a local candidate last year on behalf of an “undesirable” organization.

Open Russia was financed by Russian tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who moved to London after spending 10 years in prison in Russia on charges widely seen as political revenge for challenging Putin's rule.

The organization associated with Pivovarov was based in Russia and no longer legally connected with the London-based group with the same name that ended operations in 2017.

Leaders of the Russian-based Open Russia dissolved the group in late May after it was designated an "undesirable" organization in order to protect its supporters from further "harassment" by the Russian authorities.

The "undesirable organization" law, adopted in May 2015, was part of a series of regulations pushed by the Kremlin that squeezed many nonprofit and nongovernmental organizations that received funding from foreign sources -- mainly from Europe and the United States.

Last week, Yabloko's regional council recommended Yavlinsky; a lawmaker from the northwestern region of Pskov, Lev Shlosberg; human rights defender Marina Litvinovich; and the former leader of jailed opposition politician Aleksei Navalny's term in Moscow, Oleg Stepanov, as the party's candidates to run for the State Duma.

With the country mired in economic woes that have seen a decline in real incomes and rising inflation, Putin's ruling United Russia party has been polling at historic lows. According to the Levada Center polling outfit, just 27 percent of Russians support the party, down from 31 percent last August.