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‘Health problems aren’t the only reason’ The Kremlin's top elections organizer, a pioneer of voting fraud, is being forced out by security officials
Alexander Kharichev, a longtime associate of Kremlin domestic policy czar Sergey Kiriyenko, has an extensive resume. He oversaw Russia’s 2018 presidential elections, the 2020 vote to amend the Russian Constitution, and the 2021 State Duma elections, not to mention dozens of lower-level elections. And to ensure the Kremlin got the results it needed, Kharichev introduced new tools such as “corporate mobilization” (which supplemented older strategies like ballot stuffing). But according to multiple sources who spoke to Meduza, during Russia’s chaotic sham “referendums” in Ukraine’s occupied territories, high-ranking security officials looked more closely than before at the amount of money that was being spent under Kharichev’s leadership — and didn’t like what they saw. As a result, Kharichev’s days are reportedly numbered — and his likely successor is under the influence of some “exotic” thinkers.
The member of the Putin administration's political bloc responsible for “curating” all elections in Russia may soon be replaced, three sources close to the Kremlin told Meduza.
Currently, Russia’s elections are managed by Alexander Kharichev, the head of the Presidential Directorate for Supporting Activities of the State Council and a close friend of Kremlin domestic policy czar Sergey Kiriyenko. According to Meduza’s sources, Kharichev will soon leave his post.
Two sources told Meduza that the elections curator will resign due to “health conditions” that “need to be treated after several years of stressful work.” A third source said that health problems aren’t the only reason Kharichev is stepping down.
According to that source, Kharichev’s resignation comes at the insistence of high-ranking security officials who have “complaints” about the way Moscow’s “referendums on joining Russia” on occupied Ukrainian territory were organized. The sham “referendums,” which Kharichev’s department was partially responsible for, were postponed multiple times due to Russian military failures. They were ultimately held in late September, but in early November, Russian troops were forced to retreat from annexed Kherson.
“When [Kharichev and other presidential administration members] were working on domestic elections, security officials didn’t intervene much. [But] in the referendums, everyone was thrown in together: presidential administration officials, political strategists, ‘office workers’ [FSB agents], and the military. The security officials were a little [caught off guard] by how money is spent on campaigns. Complaints and demands to deal with it ensued,” said the source, who later clarified that the security officials were “struck by the scale of the expenses” in particular. It’s unclear how much money the Kremlin spent on the “referendums” in Ukraine.
Who is Alexander Kharichev?
Alexander Kharichev is a longtime associate of Sergey Kiriyenko. In the early 2000s, he worked in the Volga Federal District presidential envoy’s office when it was headed by Kiriyenko. After that, Kharichev moved to the presidential administration, where he became deputy head of the Domestic Policy Department.
Kharichev stayed in the Putin administration until 2009, when he left to work at the oligarch-owned Renova Group conglomerate. After four years there, he joined back up with Kiriyenko, getting hired at Russia’s state nuclear energy corporation, Rosatom, which Kiriyenko was heading at the time. According to Meduza’s sources, Kharichev’s job at the company was to oversee electoral companies for candidates loyal to Rosatom in cities where the company had a presence.
In 2016, Kiriyenko began working at the Kremlin; Kharichev followed soon after. In recent years, Kharichev and his subordinates have overseen the electoral campaigns of government-approved candidates at every level. For example, Kharichev oversaw the 2018 presidential elections, the 2020 constitutional referendum (which “reset” Putin’s presidential term clock to zero), and the 2021 State Duma elections.
Kharichev has also personally handled “problematic” gubernatorial campaigns. For example, in 2019, when a Communist Party candidate won a majority of votes in the Primorsky Krai gubernatorial election, prompting authorities to cancel the results, Kharichev oversaw the “redo.” And that same year, he worked on the St. Petersburg gubernatorial campaign of Alexey Beglov, a historically unpopular candidate who nevertheless won office.
It was under Kharichev’s leadership that the Kremlin began using “corporate mobilization” as well as direct falsification to ensure it got its desired results.
During the 2018 presidential elections, each of the major business enterprises linked to the Putin administration was assigned a political strategist (or a group of them), who then interacted with the corporation’s leadership directly. “Promotional materials from the electoral commission were put up around the office, and the leadership was supposed to monitor, to tell [employees] how important it is to vote. Text messages went out on election day. On election day, company representatives called employees and reminded them that it was voting day,” a political strategist who worked in one of the companies told Meduza.
Additionally, the Kremlin began relying more on typical outdoor election advertising — as well as giving government-controlled media the expected election results ahead of time, which often made it appear that pro-Kremlin candidates had “overperformed” when the official results came out.
Who will replace him?
Meduza’s sources named Boris Rapoport, Kharichev’s current deputy, and Andrey Polosin, the head of regional relations at Rosatom, as Kharichev's possible successors. Kharichev used to have the same position at Rosatom that Polosin occupies now; back then, Polosin was his deputy.
According to Meduza’s sources, the most likely scenario appears to be that Polosin will replace Kharichev. “Kiriyenko knows [Polosin] well from his work at Rosatom. Polosin has been getting more involved in presidential administration projects lately. For example, he’s one of the main organizers of the new university course ‘Foundations of Russian Statehood.’ At a conference on that topic, Polosin served as the main moderator and a public speaker. He’s starting to speak at presidential administration events about elections as well,” said one source close to the Kremlin.
Meduza’s sources believe that if Polosin is appointed to the presidential administration, Russia's elections are liable to become a bit more chaotic: Polosin, unlike Kharichev, listens to “people with exotic views,” such as science fiction writer Sergey Pereslegin.
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Pereslegin subscribes to a school of thought called “methodology” — and his views are truly unusual. For example, he believes that the consequences of the climate crisis will be beneficial, not harmful, to humanity, and he actively promotes conspiracy theories about Greta Thunberg, the Rothschild family, and the “new world order.”
If appointed, Andrey Polosin will become the direct organizer of Putin’s 2024 presidential campaign. As Meduza has reported before, the Putin administration has already held meetings to discuss the “contours” of the campaign. Sources close to the Kremlin told Meduza that the only thing certain at this point is that Putin’s campaign will involve much of the same “anti-Western” rhetoric that has become a staple of his public speeches in recent years. The details of his message, however, will depend on the situation on the front.
Putin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov did not respond to Meduza’s questions.
Translation by Sam Breazeale
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