The new nationwide assault on Alexey Navalny's presidential campaign Russian police and pro-Kremlin activists unleash another round of persecution and attacks
On July 5, police in Novosibirsk announced that they had reason to believe a bomb had been planted in Alexey Navalny’s local campaign headquarters. Officers promptly smashed in the door to the building and detained three people inside, including two campaign volunteers. Earlier that day, police spent the morning trying to use another excuse to enter the building, where Navalny’s staff was storing thousands of campaign newspapers for distribution throughout Siberia and eastern Russia. The police ultimately confiscated some of these materials, but the campaign managed to sneak most of them out a back window. The day before, on July 4, Navalny’s local campaign headquarters in Krasnodar was ransacked. In other cities across the country, the state authorities have refused to allow members of Navalny’s team to conduct any public campaigning. Meduza summarizes this latest nationwide crackdown on Alexey Navalny's presidential campaign.
Members of Alexey Navalny’s national headquarters say the latest “intensification” of pressure against regional campaign offices started at least three weeks ago. “Not a day goes by without one of our people [in different cities] getting beaten up or attacked, or something of ours being broken,” Leonid Volkov, Navalny’s campaign manager, told Meduza.
For example, on June 26, unknown persons vandalized the car of Navalny’s campaign coordinator in Rostov, slashing his tires. That same day in Barnaul, someone tried to set fire to Navalny’s local headquarters. Volkov ties the rising violence to a recent announcement by Central Election Commission head Ella Pamfilova, who declared that Navalny would only appear on the presidential ballot next March “by some miracle.” “Her comments that Navalny has no chance to register for the election have been used to trigger a new centralized campaign,” says Volkov.
Early on July 5, police arrived at Navalny’s local headquarters in Novosibirsk, looking for “illegal campaign materials.” Volkov says they tried to pick the office’s locks. “They didn’t expect anyone to be there, but we knew it was coming, and we left some people behind on watch. [The police] explained that they were responding to illegal campaign work. They said they'd call an investigative team and threatened arrests, but after 12 hours of waiting, no investigators ever showed up, and they never produced a warrant to enter the premises,” Volkov said.
By the afternoon, the police had a new story: the building that housed Navalny’s headquarters had received a bomb threat. Officers now broke down the door to the office, detaining three people inside, including two campaign volunteers. Afterwards, activists say the police started bringing into the office a series of black plastic bags filled with something they couldn’t see. A few hours later, the local news outlet Taiga.info reported that police had informed Sergey Boiko, Navalny’s Novosibirsk campaign coordinator, that they were now searching the office for illegal materials. The officers never presented a warrant.
Navalny’s volunteers managed to save almost all 250,000 copies of their campaign newspaper, passing them out through a back window to other volunteers, who then drove them away to other locations. “[The police] ended up getting about 7,000 copies. They stopped one volunteer for turning without signaling, and wrote him up. Then they opened his trunk and just stole the newspapers,” Volkov said. The packs of newspapers were disguised as old campaign materials for United Russia, the country’s ruling political party. Unfortunately for Navalny’s activists, this stunt by the printing press didn’t pay off, and the police realized what the newspapers really were.
Anton Surnin, the head press officer for Russia’s Interior Ministry in Novosibirsk, told Meduza that he wasn’t “prepared to comment” on the actions of the police. Officers remained in Navalny’s office until the late evening.
In Krasnodar, people calling themselves “Putin’s Troops” attacked Navalny’s local campaign headquarters for the ninth time in the past several weeks. On July 4, roughly 20 people descended on the office, flipping furniture, tearing up banners and other campaign materials (destroying paraphernalia worth tens of thousands of rubles, the campaign says), and posting portraits of Vladimir Putin. Some of the vandals shouted, “There will be no separatists or extremists in the Kuban!” and chanted “Our Putin! Our Putin!”
In other cities across the country, officials have tried to charge Navalny’s campaign workers with “illegal campaigning.” Almost without exception, local authorities nationwide have refused to issue public demonstration permits to activists in Navalny’s campaign, and police have also cracked down on efforts to distribute campaign literature and inform the public about Navalny’s presidential bid. Volkov says this is illegal, arguing that violations of Russian Administrative Code 5.10 (campaigning before the start of an official campaign period) are only possible once the elections in question have been formally called. Central Election Commission chief Ella Pamfilova recently stated that Russia has not yet officially scheduled its next presidential contest, meaning that campaign regulations haven’t yet taken effect, Volkov says.
Since June 12, Alexey Navalny has been spending his days in a special detention center, after being convicted of organizing an illegal public protest and resisting the police. On June 29, officers from the Federal Penitentiary Service visited him personally in his jail cell, in order to warn him (not for the first time) that his two suspended sentences for felony convictions (for supposedly embezzling a lumber company in Kirov and a Russian subsidiary of the cosmetics company Yves Rocher) could be converted to hard time in prison. Navalny has regularly received these threats while serving short jail sentences for misdemeanor crimes, though Volkov told Meduza that the campaign doesn’t take these warnings lightly.
Navalny will go free on Friday, July 7. His staff tell reporters that they’ll be working all weekend, distributing leaflets and campaign newspapers all day on July 8 and 9, nationwide, wherever Navalny already has a campaign office.
Photo on front page: Alexey Navalny's Krasnodar campaign headquarters / Twitter