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Russia 2018: Kremlin Countdown


A tip sheet on Russia's March 18 presidential election delivering RFE/RL and Current Time TV news, videos, and analysis along with links to what our Russia team is watching. Compiled by RFE/RL correspondents and editors.

Moscow reportedly plans to spend 50 million rubles ($883,500) to direct voters toward polling places and festoon and otherwise decorate the voting stations, says Vedomosti. (In Russian)

Putin Critic Fined, But Pledges More Protest Art

Our Russian Service interviewed an activist and Putin critic who plans to continue his protest actions despite a 10,000-ruble fine from a Moscow court on February 19 for a piece of performance art that he called "Doodle." Viktor Pashin was detained by police at Lubyanka Square, the headquarters of the former KGB and its successor, the Federal Security Service (FSB), on February 18 while marching around in a zorb emblazoned with "Putin" on it and balloons that said "enough" and "rot" floating above him. He said it was a criticism of the "cheating" and oligarchic elite that victimize average citizens.

He also vows to act within the law and says, "I hope I won't be detained."

Here's RFE's clip of the protest:

Russian Claims U.S. Planning To Meddle

Izvestia says Andrei Manoilo, a member of the academic board of the Russian Security Council, a presidential advisory body, asserted in a recent report that the United States is trying to interfere in the Russian election. Manoilo reportedly argues -- without providing evidence, judging by the interview -- that Washington views March 18 as a "historic opportunity" for such an intervention. Moscow should begin preparations to resist those efforts, he adds.

Manoilo says "an information war" is one of Washington's main tools to try and foil Moscow's return to international relevance.

Manoilo goes on to allege that Washington has "stepped up its intervention in the Russian Federation's internal affairs since President Vladimir Putin came to power."

The Price Of Freedom

Leonid Volkov, a top Navalny associate, summed up in one tweet the national costs to noncandidate Navalny's team for its "fight for fair elections" in Russia:

"Updated data (yesterday's were incomplete): The fight for fair elections has cost us

2433 days under arrest

13.4 million rubles in fines

3343 hours of mandatory labor"

Volkov then notes that another Navalny aide, Roman Rubanov, was about to be sentenced (he was given a 10-day sentence).

Estonian Intelligence Calls Russian Election 'Piece Of Theater'

Five decades of Soviet occupation and a sizable population of ethnic Russians provides Estonia with plenty of insight about its neighbor to the east. So an Estonian intelligence report that doesn't pull any punches about the upcoming Russian presidential election is worth a read.

The Estonian Foreign Intelligence Service's third public report says:

The world is witnessing a carefully choreographed piece of theater that attempts to leave the impression of free elections. But behind the scenes, a cynical plan is being executed to ensure Putin and his inner circle retain their grip on power for yet another term.

It goes on to describe Ksenia Sobchak, the TV personality and presidential challenger who has arguably generated the most buzz to date, as a fake candidate:

Sobchak's criticisms of the government are entirely safe as far as the Kremlin is concerned and her political agenda is perfect material for the appearance of an open public debate.

Anticorruption crusader and barred candidate Aleksei Navalny, on the other hand, is praised for harnessing growing Russian discontent:

This provides a grateful audience for an opposition leader who speaks openly about problems and creates opportunities to protest against them.

Sobchak Names (Some) Donors

Candidate Ksenia Sobchak has identified sponsors of her campaign -- or some of them, anyways, according to reports by Vedomosti, Dozhd TV, and Meduza.

Sobchak reportedly told a press conference on February 20 that the names represent those contributors who agreed that their names be disclosed and those who had not requested "any lobbying conditions" from her.

Among the financial supporters of her campaign, Sobchak mentioned Ukraine-born Russian businessman Vladimir Palikhata; St. Petersburg businessman and financial supporter of Novaya Gazeta newspaper Aleksandr Roslyakov; Yota Devices smartphone maker founder Sergei Adonyev; developer and fitness-club owner Vadim Raskovalov; a former deputy chief of the federal tax service, Anatoly Tsybulevsky; and the president of the ACMG publishing house, Aleksandr Fedotov.

Sobchak said in late January that she had managed to raise 140 million rubles ($2.5 million) toward her campaign, including 19 million rubles ($337,000) of her own cash.

Her critics have accused her of helping the Kremlin portray what barred opposition politician Aleksei Navalny has called Putin's "reappointment" as a competitive election.

Gays For Putin

An independent group called Gays For Putin has applied for permission to hold a demonstration in St. Petersburg in support of Vladimir Putin's candidacy in the March 18 election.

They would like to hold the event on May 3.

"Quite often activists are reproached for being isolated from the people," the organizers were quoted by Rosbalt as saying.

They added:

There are millions of gays in Russia and hardly any of them turn out for protests. That means that generally gays in Russia support President Putin's policies regarding the LGBT community. We decided to express this demand of the gay community by openly supporting the candidacy of Vladimir Putin for president. He signs the laws that are aimed at strengthening the moral-spiritual foundation of Russian society. He awards orders and medals to deserving gays. Many gays in this country say: "Putin is our president. Gays are for Putin!"

St. Petersburg, Putin's hometown, was the birthplace of the local law that became the model for a national law prohibiting the propagandizing of "nontraditional sexual relations" to minors. Many activists view the law as homophobic.

Petersburg is also the home of Duma deputy Vitaly Milonov, the author of the original gay-propaganda law. He recently raised eyebrows when he told a radio station that "as an old demon hunter" he can smell gays. "They have a gray smell, naturally," he said.

Rally organizers expect 600 participants.

Back To The Future

The Independent's Moscow correspondent, Alec Luhn, has found an amusing meme going around Russian social media. Believe it or not, it turns out that opposition politician Aleksei Navalny bears a striking resemblance to a young Boris Yeltsin, Russia's first president who in 1999 hand-picked Vladimir Putin as his successor.

The Russian caption reads: "Sverdlovsk 1956: Boris Yeltsin, foreseeing he'd make a fatal mistake in naming his successor, sends his young self into the future to fix it."

What Would Elon Do?

The heavily managed Russian presidential election continues to generate gallows humor on social media.

This tweet notes that Russia has budgeted 17.7 billion rubles ($323 million) to hold the election and adds: "For that money, Elon Musk could send 1,552 Russian bureaucrats to Mars."

Officials in Tatarstan continue to argue over how much effort republican authorities should expend tracking down and punishing Pravda newspaper for an issue that the Central Election Commission ruled was improperly stumping for Communist Party candidate Pavel Grudinin, our colleagues report.

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