While opposition to Putin is frequently associated with Russian liberals, it should be recalled that Putin also faces opposition from the left, including from those nostalgic for the Soviet Union. On June 4, 2020, the Communist Party of the Russian Federation advised its members to vote against the constitutional amendments including the one that would allow Vladimir Putin to continue in office beyond 2024. It is not certain what percentage of party members will adhere to this recommendation and government pollsters report that only a minority of party members, who intend to vote, will reject the amendments.
Sergei Udaltsov, leader of the Vanguard of Red Youth (AKM) is a leading activist of the left, who did jail time for his role in the demonstrations opposing Putin's return to the presidency in 2012. He has also staged hunger strikes during his various imprisonments. While opposing the "neo-liberalism" of Putin's economic policies and advocating greater social justice, Udaltsov nevertheless welcomed Putin's annexation of Crimea and his support of the separatist regimes in Ukraine, which he viewed as first steps towards reconstituting the USSR.
Despite his obvious differences with other opposition streams, Udaltsov wrote an opinion piece in the liberal Echo of Moscow titled "Constitution Con Job Will Collapse Putin’s Legitimacy", in which he urged the opposition to get its act together prior to the July 1, 2020, popular referendum on the constitutional amendments. The internal debate over whether to boycott the referendum or participate and vote against the amendments was sapping the opposition's energies. Instead of denouncing representatives of the opposing view as "Kremlin agents", the opposition should concentrate on monitoring the vote and exposing the expected electoral fraud. In this way it could undermine the legitimacy that Putin sought to achieve in this referendum.
Udaltsov's article follows below:
Sergei Udaltsov (Source: Kommersant.ru)
"The fictitious vote on July 1 and the strengthening of police pressure will swell the ranks of opposition supporters.
"The corona-crisis acutely posed the question on the destructive effect of neoliberal policy, which is pursued by the authorities in the spheres of healthcare, social welfare, education and so on. Moreover, this question has been raised around the world, and not just in Russia. However, the Kremlin (with tenacity worthy of a better application) is again ignoring yet another wave of [public] requests for a left turn in the politics. Instead, the authorities are purposely moving towards the 'fascization' of the political regime. In Kazakhstan the response to the crisis was the initiative to introduce progressive taxation on high incomes. But in our country, against the background of the crisis and the population's growing discontent, a new wave of targeted repressions swept against dissidents.
"In Moscow, for several weeks now (after the removal of the harshest coronavirus restrictions) authorities are openly mocking concerned citizens by arresting and fining participants in single person demonstration. Authorities also seize journalists, despite the scandalized public outcry. Since June 9, self-isolation regime is canceled in the capital, and it is permissible to earn money as hairdressers and beauty salons, but if a person stands by himself with a banner in the city center, then police officers will swarm to him and he will face prosecution. What is this if not outright social intimidation?
"The situation is even worse in other regions. In Yakutia, the authorities dispatched Alexander Gabyshev, a “shaman,” (who became famous throughout the country for his harsh criticism of Kremlin policies and his crusade to Moscow to “expel Putin,”) for compulsory medical treatment. Now this extravagant, but absolutely peaceful person will be treated by a system of punitive psychiatry. In North Ossetia there are people under arrest and criminal prosecution, who participated in April demonstrations, doubting the reliability of official coronavirus information. In Krasnodar, Marina Melikhova, a member of the “Citizens of the USSR" movement was placed in a pre-trial detention center, and in Moscow Vladimir Vorontsov, a famous blogger and “police ombudsman” was arrested. Recently, a criminal case was opened against Nikolai Platoshkin, who is accused of allegedly attracting citizens to participate in mass riots, although there were no mass events in Russia for several months.
"What we are essentially witnessing is an attempt by the authorities to intimidate all opposition groups and, against this background, conduct a fraudulent vote on constitutional amendments. The coronavirus seems to be defeated, the football championship will resume soon, but mass events, including the aforementioned solo demonstrations, are still banned. At the same time, in all state media mass agitation began asking [people to vote on the] July 1 voting day. It is obvious, that the Kremlin fears a low turnout, therefore, in a number of regions, among other things, lotteries and various contests will be held near polling stations, as well as additional voting on local issues.
"Considering these circumstances, the Left Front deemed it necessary to actively boycott 'Putin’s scam', abstain from the voting and monitor the turnout. In our opinion, such a protest tactic is the most painful for the authorities.
"However, we see that in the opposition camp the discussion continues on what is best to do on July 1: to boycott the vote or check the 'against' box. Of course, as I have said before, it would be optimal to work out a unified tactic, which would have maximum effect. But since it is now obvious, three weeks to the vote, that there already won't be complete unity on this issue (which should not be made into a tragedy), we need to register several consolidating facts.
"Firstly, both tactics serve as opposition and protest, and therefore attacking one another and denouncing supporters of the different approach as Kremlin agents does not follow in any case. Secondly, both tactics work against the authorities (which is the more effective – [is a topic for] endless debate): a boycott reduces turnout for a fictitious plebiscite, and voting 'against' reduces the result in favor of Putin’s amendments. Thirdly, supporters of both tactics, at one level or another, intend to conduct surveillance over voter turnout and the voting process, which will allow (considering all the flagrant violations of the voting) to identify at least the most brazen falsifications.
"If the Kremlin needs maximum legitimacy in the upcoming vote, then all opponents of the usurpation of power in the guise of constitutional amendments should reduce this legitimacy to the minimum. The fewer the number of people who will come to the polling stations the less the citizens who will still arrive and vote “for” the amendments. The more mistakes the authorities make, the more difficult it will be for Putin to refer to this vote as a confirmation of his popular support. It will also be easier for the opposition to challenge these amendments in the future.
"And, of course, we all perfectly understand that with an absolutely non-transparent voting with the help of the authorities' administrative resources, the authorities will somehow be able to pull off the result they need. The only question is whether this fraud will arouse mass protest among the people or not. Therefore, it is very important for the opposition to organize joint voting and protest rallies before the voting day, to reject the voting results, to fight against repressions and in support of all political prisoners and to demand a change in the country's development course. And the more powerful these statements will be, the better will be the results of supporters of changes at the autumn regional elections, which will already take place in three months.