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Long-time IT consultant for Alexey Navalny's Anti-Corruption Foundation quits, accusing management of corruption

A long-time IT consultant for the Anti-Corruption Foundation has accused the organization of lying to constituents and mismanaging its volunteer labor force. In a blog post on September 10, Vladislav Zdolnikov announced that he is ending his collaboration with Alexey Navalny’s group, in response to what he says was its public dishonesty surrounding recent elections.

Zdolnikov listed four grievances against the Anti-Corruption Foundation (known in Russian by the initialism FBK): (1) apparent cronyism in the organization’s endorsement in the Moscow City Duma’s 30th precinct, (2) its refusal to take credit for a website that tested the “Smart Vote” system, (3) claims that Russian online political censorship deliberately targets Navalny’s Internet resources, and (4) mismanagement of IT support volunteers.

Specifically, Zdolnikov claims that Navalny’s team ignored credible sociological evidence that Roman Yuneman most deserved the endorsement of FBK’s “Smart Vote” initiative, and instead supported Communist Party candidate Vladislav Zhukovsky for nepotistic reasons. In a Facebook response, FBK project manager Leonid Volkov argued that Smart Vote simply relied on bad numbers when endorsing Zhukovsky, but Zdolnikov points out that Alexey Navalny says the decision to endorse a communist in this precinct was made “last fall,” well before the availability of polling data that was supposed to inform Smart Vote.

Second, Zdolnikov complains that FBK launched the website, which contained a pilot version of the Smart Vote system, but the organization’s press secretary, Kira Yarmysh, inexplicably denied any association with the site. Leonid Volkov now acknowledges that FBK created, but he claims that Navalny’s team never denied this. It remains unclear why Yarmysh initially denied FBK’s involvement.

Third, Zdolnikov says Navalny has lied blatantly to his large YouTube audience that MaximaTelecom deliberately blocks FBK online resources for political reasons. According to Zdolnikov, Navalny’s websites are inaccessible to roughly 30 percent of Russian Internet users because his team insists on enabling CloudFlare DDoS protection constantly, despite the fact that the service’s IP addresses are blacklisted by Russia’s federal censor. Smaller Internet providers, like MaximaTelecom (which is owned by Maxim Liksutov, whom FBK has investigated for corruption), don’t have the “special relationship” with Roskomnadzor that allows them to provide access to unbanned websites on blacklisted domains. In other words, Zdolnikov says FBK could simply deactivate CloudFlare protections when it’s not under DDoS attack, or find another service, and its “political censorship” problem would disappear. 

When Zdolnikov confronted Alexey Navalny about the apparent misunderstanding, he says Navalny evaded the issue and supposedly suggested that Zdolnikov was merely “in love” with FBK attorney Lyubov Sobol. Leonid Volkov says there’s room for disagreement about MaximaTelecom, and he insists that FBK is pushing back against illegal censorship.

Finally, Zdolnikov recounts his disappointing collaboration with FBK on a Telegram bot designed to complement the Smart Vote system. In his response on Facebook, Volkov apologized for the organizational chaos at FBK, arguing that it was due to a lack of resources. Zdolnikov insists, however, that past management at the Anti-Corruption Foundation did more with less, and he says the problem is weak management, not over-reliance on unpaid and volunteer labor.

Update: Vladislav Zdolnikov later deleted both his Medium blog posts, explaining on Twitter that he'd said what he wanted, and only hoped to improve, not damage, the Anti-Corruption Foundation.

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