'Unprecedented' vote-rigging in Russian elections, Putin's opponents say

Opposition leaders accuse Russian President Vladimir Putin and his regime of massive electoral fraud in this month's elections, in order to maintain United Russia's grip on power.

Arutz Sheva Staff ,

Anti-Putin protest
Anti-Putin protest

Leonid Volkov is the “number two” in the unofficial hierarchy of the Russian opposition and chief of staff for imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny in the 2018 presidential election. Now living in exile in the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius, Volkov has accused Russian President Vladimir Putin and his administration of rigging this month’s parliamentary elections to the Russian Duma, echoing the opinions of others who have pointed to irregularities and other indications of foul play.

“These weren’t real elections,” Volkov told Israel Hayom. “They were simply an electoral ‘exercise,’ during which the regime used all kinds of invalid means to ensure its victory. They even faked the minutes of the meetings of the electoral councils. They introduced faked voting slips for their own party after the voting booths were closed, forced public sector workers and soldiers to man the polling stations during voting, and skewed the results of the internet voting that was first introduced in Moscow.”

Volkov, along with fellow opposition member Ivan Zhdanov, have no immediate plans to return from exile to Russia – they know that if they do return, they run the risk of being arrested and sent to serve lengthy prison sentences. However, Volkov remains politically active from abroad, disseminating campaign literature and YouTube videos that accuse the current regime, including Putin himself, of corrupt practices. As the elections approached, most of Volkov’s efforts went into challenging the well-oiled machinery of the ruling party, United Russia.

All of this, despite the knowledge that Navalny’s party, the Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK), would not be permitted to run in the elections. Activists from the FBK instead devoted their efforts into seeing that as many people as possible voted for any party other than United Russia.

“We have no expectations that the regime will permit open elections,” Volkov says. “They won’t count the ballots correctly, and they certainly won’t admit defeat.”

All the same, Putin and his inner circle are taking the opposition seriously, as recent events have shown. Even after banning Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation from running in this month’s elections, Putin continues to pursue his opponents and on Tuesday of this week, investigators launched a new criminal probe against the FBK, accusing it of “creating an extremist network and directing it … in order to discredit state authorities and their policies” and “shape public opinion about the need for a violent change.”

If found guilty, Navalny, already serving a prison term, could be sentenced to an additional ten years behind bars. Volkov and Zhdanov, both in exile, could receive similar sentences.

Meanwhile, United Russia “won” the Russian elections with 54.2% of the vote, taking 343 seats out of the 450 in the State Duma. Putin himself also “won” the most recent presidential election in 2018, with over 76% of the vote, and is due to complete this, his fourth term in office, in 2024.