‘For Fair Elections’ As the Communists plan protests, sources say the party leadership is bargaining with the Kremlin behind the scenes
The day after the elections to Russia’s State Duma, the Communist Party (KPRF) rallied around 200 protesters in downtown Moscow. The Communists refused to recognize the online voting results in the capital, accusing the authorities of falsifying the electronic ballot count. The KPRF is set to hold another rally on Saturday, September 25, under the slogan “For Fair Elections.” However, Meduza’s sources say the party’s top brass isn’t planning to challenge the election results as a whole. Instead, party leader Gennady Zyuganov is allegedly trying to bargain with the Kremlin, in a supposed bid to secure influential positions within the State Duma for Communist Party members.
On Friday, September 24, Russia’s federal censor threatened to block the Communist Party’s website for displaying a banner announcing a protest rally scheduled for the next day. In turn, the Moscow Mayor’s Office refused to approve the rally, citing pandemic restrictions, and the police and the Attorney General’s Office warned against taking part in the unsanctioned protest.
Meanwhile, Moscow police arrested Sergey Udaltsov, the coordinator of the Left Front movement, for posting calls to attend the protest on social media. According to media reports, police officers were stationed outside of the Communist Party’s Moscow headquarters and the Moscow City Duma building; several KPRF deputies were inside at the time.
Earlier, police officers started showing up at the homes of people who attended the Communist Party rally in downtown Moscow on September 20, the day after the elections. In particular, State Duma candidates Mikhail Lobanov, Sergey Kurgansky, and Sergey Obukhov all received police visits. On September 23, Sergey Vlasov, a Moscow municipal deputy from the KPRF, was arrested and taken to a police station, where he was handed misdemeanor charges for participating in the unsanctioned rally.
A source close to Putin’s executive office told Meduza that it’s being made clear to the Communists that calling for street protests crosses a line and shouldn’t be done. “You can make statements, talk about some non-recognition [of the election results, or] a judicial appeal. But don’t fight in the streets,” he said
Meduza’s source also emphasized the fact that the Communist Party’s leadership is speaking out about the rally, but rather cautiously. “KPRF [leader] Gennady Zyuganov is negotiating with [Putin’s Chief of Staff] Anton Vaino about how the Communist Party can ride out this situation,” the source explained.
According to the source, Putin’s administration believes that the Communists received a “respectable result” from the party lists and scooped up several “uncoordinated” single-mandate constituencies. For example, Communist Party candidates Leonid Kalashnikov and Oleg Smolin, who both won in single-mandate constituencies, either ran against very weak United Russia candidates or didn’t face a competitor from the ruling party at all.
“[KPRF leader in Komi] Oleg Mikhailov got through, Zyuganov added [former Irkutsk Regional Governor] Sergey Levchenko and [former senator from Irkutsk and founder of the Buryat riot police] Vyacheslav Markhaev to the party list without any agreement [with the Kremlin]. These are real opposition politicians, now they’re in the Duma,” the source said, arguing that the Communists got what they wanted and “even more.”
In turn, a Meduza source close to United Russia’s leadership claimed that after the elections, Gennady Zyuganov met with not only Anton Vaino, but also his first deputy Sergey Kiriyenko, who is in charge of domestic policy, as well as Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin. “His main demand was the annulment of the results of electronic voting in Moscow. However, he was given the understanding that no one will do this,” the source said.
KPRF spokesman Alexander Yushchenko told Meduza that Zyuganov has “always” called for canceling electronic voting. “As for the meetings with those whom you’ve listed, I can neither confirm nor deny. Because even if these meetings took place, they’re not public,” he added.
A Meduza source in the Communist Party said that Zyuganov himself “understands” that the Kremlin and the Moscow Mayor’s Office won’t back down from their position. As such, he’s trying to negotiate high-status posts within the State Duma for Communist Party lawmakers: “For example, two vice-speakers and not one, as was [the case] in the last convocation. More committees where Communists are in leadership positions.”
During a KPRF caucus meeting on September 23, Zyuganov spoke rather cautiously and even tried to calm his fellow Communists down.
“Our party brought together a huge stratum of talented people. But [you must] show maximum restraint during this austere time. Show endurance and resilience [...] There are two towers in the Kremlin. One tower is the state-patriotic one, it has always had and continues to have a dialogue with us. And the second tower is liberal-cosmopolitan. This is, in essence, a fifth column, ready to tear Russia apart at any moment. Our task is to rally all our best forces around us, so that our country will come out of a severe systemic crisis peacefully and with dignity,” he told his fellow party members.
In turn, the Communist Party’s first deputy chairman Yuri Afonin said that the scandals surrounding electronic voting “shook the system.” “Now, we’re filing a lawsuit and, together with the public, we will prove the depravity of electronic voting,” he promised.
The KPRF leadership isn’t refusing to recognize the election results as a whole, they’re only challenging the results of online voting — and they’re already discussing their future work in the State Duma, a source in the party told Meduza. Indeed, KPRF central committee secretary Dmitry Novikov already told Kommersant about several parliamentary committees the Communists would like to lead.
Asked about the KPRF’s official position on recognizing the election results, the party’s spokesman said he couldn’t say. “This is a political statement that will be made by the party leadership. Of course I can’t [answer this question]. Such statements are made following the results. The results were only [announced] today. This is a question for the chairman,” Alexander Yushchenko replied, reiterating that the Communist Party doesn’t recognize the online voting results.
According to a Meduza source from a regional Communist Party branch, some branches in the regions are also planning street protests in a bid to make the KPRF leadership take a stronger position “if only in words, so there’s no compromise.” “If we’re silent, the feds will be even more silent,” the source added.
“The rally ‘For Fair Elections’ was declared at the federal level,” the KPRF’s spokesman told Meduza. “As for regional [protest rallies], some regions announced a meeting with voters. Each region has its own way.”
Translation by Eilish Hart