Fact-checking the Moscow mayor’s first extensive comments about opposition ‘rioting’ on July 27
On July 30, three days after thousands of his constituents confronted police in an unauthorized downtown demonstration, Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin finally spoke out in detail about the protest against local election officials’ refusal to register independent candidates in September’s City Duma race. Appearing on the city’s television network, the mayor directly addressed the upcoming elections and the police response to last Saturday’s protest. Sobyanin made multiple remarks that are either flatly untrue or highly questionable.
“Storming” City Hall
Sobyanin: Аt the permitted rally on July 20, which by the way took place without any problems, we heard an ultimatum and a call to storm City Hall on July 27.
The problem with this statement: Sergey Sobyanin isn’t telling the truth. Nobody advocated storming anything or any violent actions at Moscow’s July 20 rally. The mayor apparently has in mind a statement by Anti-Corruption Foundation founder Alexey Navalny, who said at the demonstration: “Either you register everyone by Saturday, or next Saturday we’re assembling outside City Hall and we’re not leaving!” A joint statement issued by Moscow’s independent candidates, which suggested holding the July 27 rally as an ordinary meeting with voters, also said nothing about “storming City Hall.”
The police response
Sobyanin: [The protesters] simply forced the police to use force, which was completely appropriate in this situation. I would like to say thank you to the police officers and members of the National Guard. They did their duty.
The problem with this statement: Police officers and National Guardsmen used force against demonstrators on July 27 even when no one provoked them. There are multiple examples where law enforcement used violence not against protesters clashing with police, but against passive individuals who offered no resistance, including journalists reporting from the scene. In the most egregious case, officials arrested designer Konstantin Konovalov two hours before the protest officially started, when he says he was out for a jog. The police were so rough that they actually broke his leg, when they pinned him down at the curb of the street. In a photograph shared on Twitter, you can see officers standing on his ankles:
Sobyanin: Many of those involved in the rioting actually had no connection to Moscow at all, let alone the Moscow City Duma elections.
The problem with this statement: This is propaganda, pure and simple. Meduza published an entire feature story explaining what’s wrong with this baloney.
Complaints to Moscow’s Election Commission
Sobyanin: Complaints filed with the Election Commission [against its refusal to register independent candidates] only appeared after the unauthorized rallies started.
The problem with this statement: Sobyanin is technically right: the first protest (a march from Pushkin Square passed City Hall to Moscow’s Election Commission) took place on July 14, before district election commissions held the meetings where they formally started refusing to register independent candidates. But it was already obvious by July 13 that the Election Commission would reject these politicians on false grounds, and candidates immediately started publishing evidence that officials were invalidating legitimate endorsements. In the end, the official complaints that matter so much to Mayor Sobyanin had no impact on the decisions rendered by district election commissions or the City Election Commission.
Sobyanin: [The opposition says] those who yell louder are the ones with the power? This isn’t Zimbabwe, people.
The problem with this statement: The mayor is apparently suggesting that Zimbabwe is a backward country ruled by “those who yell loudest.” But here’s how President Putin described the situation in Zimbabwe, when he met with its president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, in January 2019: “This is your first visit to our country. Zimbabwe is Russia’s vital partner in Africa. We’re very happy to see you. You just recently won a landslide victory in elections, and it goes without saying that your people expect effective work.” In this context, Sobyanin’s comments are both offensive and inconsistent with the aims of Russia’s international relations.
Translation by Kevin Rothrock