Rus­sian op­po­si­tion wins re­gional seats

The Washington Post - - THE WORLD - BY ROBYN DIXON robyn.dixon@wash­post.com

MOSCOW — Rus­sian op­po­si­tion leader Alexei Navalny vis­ited two Siberian cities just be­fore he was poi­soned with a Novi­chok-type chem­i­cal nerve agent — and can­di­dates from his team won in both re­gional elec­tions, ac­cord­ing to pre­lim­i­nary re­sults Mon­day.

The Char­ité clinic in Ber­lin an­nounced Mon­day that Navalny’s con­di­tion is im­prov­ing and said he was able to leave his bed for short pe­ri­ods. The clinic said he has been com­pletely weaned off ven­ti­la­tion.

The pre­lim­i­nary elec­tion re­sults demon­strated Navalny’s ca­pac­ity to dam­age mem­bers of Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin’s United Rus­sia party with scathing cor­rup­tion ex­posés on his pop­u­lar Youtube chan­nel. It was also ev­i­dence of his grow­ing ca­pac­ity to draw vot­ers through­out Rus­sia, not just in Moscow and St. Peters­burg, where op­po­si­tion sup­port is high­est.

De­spite re­ported elec­tion ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties and a lack of ac­cess to Rus­sia’s pow­er­ful state me­dia, Navalny chipped away at United Rus­sia’s dom­i­nance Sun­day, when gu­ber­na­to­rial elec­tions were held in some re­gions and re­gional par­lia­men­tary or city coun­cil elec­tions in oth­ers.

United Rus­sia lost its ma­jor­ity in city coun­cils in Tomsk and Novosibirs­k — the two cities Navalny vis­ited be­fore be­ing poi­soned. Navalny’s team re­cently re­leased videos recorded in the two cities on his pop­u­lar Youtube chan­nel al­leg­ing cor­rup­tion by lo­cal of­fi­cials. The rul­ing party also lost its ma­jor­ity in the Tam­bov city coun­cil.

Putin’s party nev­er­the­less claimed vic­tory on grounds that its gu­ber­na­to­rial can­di­dates in 18 re­gions were re­elected. Party Gen­eral Sec­re­tary An­drei Tur­chak said Rus­sians largely ig­nored Navalny’s “Smart Vot­ing” ini­tia­tive — an app that directed vot­ers to sup­port the can­di­dates most likely to de­feat United Rus­sia — and “voted with their hearts.”

An in­de­pen­dent non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion that mon­i­tors elec­tions, Go­los, re­ceived 1,076 re­ports of ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties and vi­o­la­tions. Ella Pam­filova, head of Rus­sia’s Cen­tral Elec­tion Com­mis­sion, said there were min­i­mal vi­o­la­tions.

In his last video be­fore fall­ing ill after be­ing poi­soned, ti­tled “Tomsk is held cap­tive by a mafia of deputies,” Navalny sat in an or­di­nary Rus­sian kitchen leaf­ing through city util­ity bills. He al­leged that “a vil­lain­ous club” of city coun­cil mem­bers or their rel­a­tives and friends had pri­va­tized elec­tric­ity, water and a mu­nic­i­pal hous­ing man­age­ment com­pany, reap­ing big prof­its. The video gained nearly 3.8 mil­lion views.

“A lo­cal mafia has taken over the city so that all Tomsk res­i­dents are forced to pay trib­ute to it many times ev­ery day,” Navalny said in the video.

Two of the coun­cil mem­bers fea­tured in the film, Kirill Novozhilov and Sergei Panasyuk, were thrown out by vot­ers Sun­day, de­feated by the leader of Navalny’s lo­cal head­quar­ters, Kse­nia Fadeyeva, and an­other team mem­ber, An­drei Fateyev.

Navalny had been plan­ning a se­ries of videos on cor­rup­tion all over the coun­try be­fore he was poi­soned. Parts of the Tomsk and Novosibirs­k videos had to be voiced by mem­bers of his team.

He fell ill Aug. 20 on a flight from Tomsk to Moscow after the trip to sup­port lo­cal can­di­dates and make the two anti-cor­rup­tion videos.

His plane was di­verted to Omsk, but for two days Rus­sian doc­tors blocked him from de­part­ing Rus­sia for treat­ment in Ger­many. Omsk doc­tors de­nied that any trace of poisoning was found, an­nounc­ing that he was suf­fer­ing from a meta­bolic dis­or­der.

Rus­sian diplo­mats have sug­gested that the find­ings that Navalny was poi­soned by a Novi­chok-type nerve agent were fab­ri­cated and have ac­cused Ger­many of dirty po­lit­i­cal games.

How­ever, the Ger­man gov­ern­ment an­nounced Mon­day that two in­de­pen­dent lab­o­ra­to­ries in France and Swe­den con­firmed that Navalny was poi­soned by a Novi­chok-type nerve agent. Rus­sian au­thor­i­ties have de­clined to open an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Navalny’s poisoning.

French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron spoke to Putin by phone Mon­day about the Navalny poisoning, call­ing for a “cred­i­ble and trans­par­ent in­ves­ti­ga­tion” of “this at­tempted as­sas­si­na­tion,” Macron’s of­fice said in a state­ment.

Novi­chok was used to poi­son for­mer Rus­sian dou­ble agent Sergei Skri­pal and his daugh­ter Yu­lia in Sal­is­bury, Eng­land, in 2018. They sur­vived, and Britain charged two Rus­sian mil­i­tary in­tel­li­gence agents in the case.

Navalny was brought out of a med­i­cally in­duced coma last week, but doc­tors have said the long-term im­pact of the poisoning is un­clear.

Navalny’s col­league Lyubov Sobol re­jected the Elec­tion Com­mis­sion’s claim that Sun­day’s re­gional elec­tions were clean. “Ab­so­lute lie, the elec­tions were dirty,” she wrote on Twit­ter. But she added that de­spite fraud, “we still man­aged to win.”

Open Me­dia, a re­port­ing web­site as­so­ci­ated with ex­iled Rus­sian busi­ness­man Mikhail Khodor­kovsky, said United Rus­sia’s sup­port fell in nine of the 11 elec­tions for re­gional leg­is­la­tures.

Four mem­bers of Navalny’s team won seats on the Novosibirs­k city coun­cil, in­clud­ing Sergei Boiko, leader of his lo­cal head­quar­ters.

Go­los, the in­de­pen­dent elec­tion mon­i­tor, said 13 elec­tion ob­servers in the city of Vladimir, 112 miles east of Moscow, were thrown into a po­lice cell for 18 hours, then driven out of the city and warned not to come back or they would face vi­o­lence.

Vot­ing was held over three days, leav­ing bal­lot boxes vul­ner­a­ble to overnight tam­per­ing.

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