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How one of Navalny’s former staffers teamed up with a notorious strategist to steal his political party

Source: Meduza

On February 22, the former deputy head of Alexey Navalny’s presidential campaign office in Moscow announced on Facebook that he’s filed paperwork at the Justice Ministry to register a new political party called the “Progress Party” — the same name as Navalny’s unregistered political party. But there’s a hitch: that former Navalny campaign worker, Vitaly Serukanov, doesn’t have anything to do with Navalny’s political party. Serukanov’s party is being created on the foundation of an existing party called “Civic Position.” Navalny says Serukanov is working with the political strategist Andrey Bogdanov to try to steal the Progress Party. Meduza has confirmed that Bogdanov has ties to “Civic Position.”

Et tu, Brute?

Vitaly Serukanov served as the deputy head of Alexey Navalny’s campaign headquarters in Moscow, until he had a falling out with the leadership. The 32-year-old lawyer says he worked with Navalny for five years. In 2016, he acted as one of the lawyers for Navalny’s flagship nonprofit organization, the Anti-Corruption Foundation, leading the human rights movement “Progressive Law.” That spring, he and several other staff members at Navalny’s foundation ran for seats on the local city council in Barvikha (home to some of the Russian elite’s most luxurious real estate), before withdrawing from the race in protest against election violations.

A campaign banner displayed in Barvikha on the eve of the local municipal elections, in which Vitaly Serukanov participated
Vitaly Serukanov

In 2017, Serukanov became the deputy head of Navalny’s campaign headquarters in Moscow. Then, in late December, he denounced the campaign in a Facebook post, arguing that Navalny and his campaign chief, Leonid Volkov, had no plan for the future. Serukanov claimed that their efforts to verify Navalny’s candidacy endorsements collected around the country “had completely failed,” and he described the action group assembled to nominate Navalny formally as “a circus and a travesty.” “Volkov hasn’t come up with anything new, except using a sea of detentions, arrests, and negative resonance to avoid answering questions about why the campaign failed, especially in terms of tactics,” Serukanov wrote, adding that “it’s clear to everyone that this campaign only has a month left, and then it will transform into a voters’ boycott campaign.” (This, incidentally, is exactly what ended up happening.)

“It’s noteworthy that everything the the Moscow headquarters achieved in eight months was ultimately dumped carelessly in the trash,” Serukanov said, criticizing Navalny’s personnel shakeup in late 2017. Serukanov later appeared in a video that was shared on pro-Kremlin blogger Ilya Remeslo’s channel, where he slammed Volkov for hiring Sergey Boiko, a friend from Novosibirsk, to head the Moscow campaign headquarters. Several pro-government news outlets grabbed the footage and reported Navalny’s supposed nepotism.

After Serukanov’s noisy exit, Alexey Navalny noted that his sudden disappointment in the campaign was “very well timed,” implying that his former colleague was part of a staged provocation against him. Navalny also pointed out that it was Serukanov who recruited Alexander Turovsky, the volunteer who was beaten by police during a raid on the Moscow headquarters in July 2017, and who later accused Navalny of ignoring his injury. Navalny denied the accusations, comparing Turovsky to another former volunteer whom the authorities supposedly planted in his campaign to cause trouble.

On February 22, Serukanov announced on his Facebook page that he has submitted registration paperwork to the Justice Ministry for a political party with the same name as Navalny’s unregistered group: the Progress Party. “Delegates from 44 different regions across Russia attended the congress. A lot of long, hard work was accomplished. Everything has been checked and verified to ensure compliance with the law,” he wrote, adding that he believes the party has “great prospects.”

Vitaly Serukanov at the Progress Party’s Moscow congress, nominating himself for a seat on the party’s council

Alexey Navalny says Serukanov is an imposter, pointing out that his Progress Party plans to hold another constitutive congress on March 3 in its latest attempt to re-register with the Justice Ministry. “Everything’s already prepared — from the press wall to the badges,” Navalny wrote on Facebook.

The Justice Ministry officially registered Navalny’s Progress Party in February 2014 and then revoked that status in April 2015, claiming that the party violated rules for registering regional branches (officials said there were too few, and many of those established were allegedly registered illegally). Navalny and the members of his party, on the other hand, say the Justice Ministry illegitimately blocked the registration of these regional branches.

Navalny also says the logos Serukanov’s new party uses are identical to those created for his original Progress Party.

Navalny vs. Bogdanov, round two

This isn’t the first “theft” of Navalny’s political party. His Progress Party used to be called the “People’s Alliance” — until Andrey Bogdanov slapped the name on one of his spoiler groups in December 2013. A month before that, Navalny was elected to serve as the chairman of the People’s Alliance. He says he didn’t seek a role in the party sooner because he didn’t want his problems with the Kremlin to become an obstacle for the party’s registration.

Just after Navalny’s election, the Justice Ministry registered the People’s Alliance party — except it wasn’t Navalny’s group, but the rebranded creation of Dmitry Bogdanov, the political strategist who effectively “rents” parties registered by the Justice Ministry. Not long after Bogdanov stole its name, Navalny’s People’s Alliance renamed itself the Progress Party.

Navalny says Bogdanov is also involved in Serukanov’s attempt to steal the Progress Party’s brand, pointing out that the political strategist shared a photograph of the spoiler group’s constitutive congress on his Telegram channel. Bogdanov did not answer calls from Meduza.

Serukanov’s Progress Party was formed out of an already registered political party called “Civic Position,” which was called the “Social Network Party” until 2012. These parties were headed by a man named Dmitry Chirov, who works at the clothes manufacturer “Bela.” The chairman of Civic Position’s national council was Vladimir Vekselman, an accountant, advertiser, and amateur actor who describes himself as “a full-time and freelance Jew of Russian cinema.” His filmography includes a small role in a segment about the crime boss Vyacheslav Ivankov on a popular tabloid news program, and a part as a rapist in a segment for a talk show, as well as numerous appearances as an extra on different TV series.

In 2012 and 2013, Civic Position competed in elections in a few regions throughout Russia, including local parliamentary races in Chechnya, Yakutia, and Vladimir. In the Vladimir region, the party submitted paperwork to election officials claiming that none of its 17 candidates owned any property or earned any income in 2012. Election officials rejected the documents. The party’s best showing in these races was the underwhelming 0.26 percent of the vote it won in Krasnodar’s fall 2012 legislative assembly election.

As Navalny claims, Civic Position is indeed connected to Andrey Bogdanov. On the party’s official Facebook page, you can find a letter from the Supreme Court addressed to the party at 18 Poltavskaya Street in Moscow, which is also the address of Bogdanov’s office building.

After Vekselman, Civic Position’s next chairman was Andrey Poda, the owner of the “Madeleine” tourist agency. In 2015, he founded an organization called “Investment Russia” in Mordovia. That group’s current head, Stanislav Aranovich, now heads the Mordovian branch of Andrey Bogdanov’s “Social Technologies” development center. In 2007, he and Bogdanov created an association of sports fans called the “Red and White Guards,” which is also registered at 18 Poltavskaya Street. In the late 2000s, moreover, the Red and White Guards filed a patent application for the trademarks “Freemason” and “Grand Lodge” (Bogdanov is a practicing Freemason and currently heads Moscow’s grand lodge).

Bogdanov has also said himself that the party is his. In 2015, he told the newspaper Vedomosti that Civic Position was one of his groups, also saying he would sell it for at least $250,000.

He slew his best lover for the good of Rome

Speaking to Meduza, Serukanov denied the allegations that he’s part of a plot against the original Progress Party, saying that Alexey Navalny hasn’t done anything with it since at least 2015. “The [party’s] Central Council is just a collection of his closest associates, and there’s absolutely no work being done,” Serukanov says. “That’s why everything that’s happening is a perfectly normal process.” As a long-time Progress Party member, Serukanov says a new start is needed before the group can “carry out real activity that will be competitive in electoral politics.” He says he chose to work with Civic Position because starting a party from scratch is “unrealistic.” Serukanov says he doesn’t know if Bogdanov has ties to Civic Position, but he claims that his negotiations were with “entirely different people.” He refuses to name these individuals, however, before Civic Position is re-registered as the Progress Party.

Serukanov says he and his supporters will create “a completely new political party,” but he stumbles when asked to identify some of these people. Right now, he serves as the group’s deputy chairman, and the other presidium members who attended the constitutive congress were “technical people from Civic Position.” Serukanov also says the party currently has no funding.

Does Serukanov consider his actions to be a betrayal? No. “The betrayal was by Alexey Navalny when he spent 10 months fooling people, and ignored the party for four years, while people waited behind, developing projects,” Serukanov says. “When he called me a Kremlin agent in December, I offered to discuss it with him publicly. But he chose a different tactic, running around behind the scenes, saying how bad I am.”

Story by Taisiya Bekbulatova, Ivan Golnuov, and Alexander Gorbachev, translation by Kevin Rothrock

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