Two high-ranking U.S. congressmen have condemned Russia's "failure to hold free" local elections this weekend in Moscow and St. Petersburg and "its crackdown on protesters," according to a joint statement on September 5.
Their appeal came with Russian prosecutions continuing against protesters angry over the barring of many opposition and independent candidates and as Russian law enforcement raided the offices of one of the Kremlin's most prominent critics, Aleksei Navalny.
U.S. Congressmen Eliot Engel (Democrat-New York), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and lead Republican Michael McCaul (Texas) said weeks of Russian street rallies for free elections, "coupled with the Kremlin's response, are further proof that the people of Russia are tired of [Russian President] Vladimir Putin's tyrannical ways."
They called on Russia to "cease all acts of violence against peaceful demonstrators."
The U.S. statement follows weeks of protests that started in July in Moscow and other cities over disqualifications ahead of the September 8 Moscow and St. Petersburg city council races and a Leningrad region gubernatorial vote.
Security forces on September 5 stormed the offices of Kremlin critic Aleksei Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, his live television studio, and his Moscow political headquarters, he and his allies wrote on social media.
Three people were reportedly taken to a police station and later released without giving statements.
National Guardsmen “broke” into Navalny’s political party headquarters as a lecture was being delivered there on how to observe elections, Navalny associate Leonid Volkov said.
Officers arrived at the TV studio an hour before Navalny was scheduled to go on the air to talk about "smart voting."
Many of the independent and opposition candidates barred from running in the Moscow vote are Navalny allies.
Thousands of people have been detained during the summer protests, which have drawn some of the biggest crowds since the breakup of the Soviet Union, with many demonstrators receiving prison sentences.
The scenes of police pummeling and dragging away peaceful protesters -- many at unsanctioned demonstrations but sometimes at permitted events -- have attracted condemnation from rights activists and foreign governments.
Almost every opposition politician battling to get on the ballot in Moscow has been jailed for at least a short period, while others have received lengthier sentences of up to four years for alleged violence against police.
Not more than 300 people on September 5 attended an unauthorized demonstration in St. Petersburg for similar reasons, according to Fontanka, an online news site that covers the city.
One protester, Yevgeny Musin, was detained with 4,000 leaflets urging voters not to vote for the acting governor, Aleksandr Beglov, a Putin ally.
Twenty-eight people initially declared their candidacies for the St. Petersburg governorship. Only three were admitted.