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Journalists uncover potential voter coercion among Moscow subway workers

Sergey Bobylev / TASS / Scanpix / LETA

The leaders of the Moscow Metro’s trade union are allegedly forcing subway workers to vote in Russia’s constitutional plebiscite, reports the BBC Russian Service. 

This was revealed by BBC correspondent Pyotr Kozlov, who was accidentally added to an internal group chat for the Moscow subway’s trade union, after he was given an MTS brand SIM card at work in 2018. The corresponding phone number previously belonged to the head of the primary trade union organization for Moscow’s Sviblovo metro depot.

Kozlov was added to the group chat — called “Depot” — on the messaging app WhatsApp in August 2019. The chat included approximately 50 people, including the leaders of the metro’s primary trade union organizations. On June 23, the administrator of the chat asked everyone in the group to report on where they were planning to vote. Another member of the group wrote “Report 25.06!” — urging workers to write back on the first day of voting, June 25. On that day, members of the group began sending messages to confirm that they had cast their ballots: several people sent screenshots of the website for online voting, others simply wrote “I voted.”

The BBC identified the administrator of the group chat was Yulia Mokrina, head of the organizational department of the subway workers’ trade union. Mokrina explained that she asked the workers who among them had voted and how they had cast their ballot, because “the [ballot] boxes were brought to the metro.” She also claimed that the messages sent on June 25 were “a static report about trade union work.”

BBC journalists identified the member of the group who asked workers to report back on June 25 as Konstantin Kolotilin, the head of the trade union organization for the Moscow subway’s construction directorate. He told the BBC that he joined the “Depot” chat by mistake. “I got in accidentally and wrote accidentally. I missed, I wrote to the wrong group,” he said.

Both Vadim Prokhorov, a lawyer and former member of Russia’s Central Election Commission, and Andrey Buzin, a council member for the voter protection movement “Golos” and former member of the Central Election Commission’s Expert Council, told the BBC that the incident resembles voter coercion. Employers in Russia can face administrative or criminal liability for forcing their workers to vote.

Pyotr Kozlov’s phone number was removed from the group chat in the midst of the BBC’s investigation.

Summary by Alexander Baklanov

Translation by Eilish Hart

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