Russia This Week is a weekly review by the MEMRI Russian Media Studies Project, covering the latest Russia-related news and analysis from media in Russia, the Caucasus, Central Asia, and Eastern Europe.
Cartoon Of The Week
"We should choose today, what will be Russia's future tomorrow" - Russian bear carrying sword with caption "my choice" guards "Elections 2016" ballot box against foreigners (Vk.com/13studiya, September 17, 2016)
Quote Of The Week:
Commenting on United Russia's victory in the 2016 Duma elections, Russian President Vladimir Putin said: "[Life] is hard and not easy, and people are still voting for United Russia."
(Ria.ru, September 19, 2016)
In The News:
The results of the September 18 Duma elections were no surprise. The ruling party, United Russia (UR), led the polls, followed by the Russian Communist Party (CPRF), the right wing Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR), and Fair Russia. UR received a constitutional majority, winning 343 mandates (140 seats in the federal district and another 203 in single-member constituencies) in the 450-member Duma (76.22% of seats), the CPRF won 42 mandates (9.34%), the LDPR 39 mandates (8.67%) and Just Russia 23 mandates (5.11%). Rodina, Civic Platform (Grazhdanskaya Platforma), and independent candidate Vladislav Reznik gained one seat each.
(For more, see MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 6618, September 18 Duma Elections - The Results, September 19, 2016; Special Dispatch No. 6615, Russia Goes To Vote - September 18 Duma Elections Update, September 18, 2016; Special Dispatch No. 6614, September 18 Duma Elections Update - A Step Towards The 2018 Presidential Elections, September 16, 2016; Special Dispatch No.6612, September 18 Duma Elections - Russian Analyst: Without Real Competition, Politicians Are Under Little Pressure To Lift The Economy Out Of The Crisis, September 15, 2016; and Special Dispatch No. 6609, September 18 Duma Elections; Russian Daily Kommersant: All The Candidates Of The 2016 Elections Are Trying To Get Noticed By Vladimir Putin, September 14, 2016)
Putin: "The Election Result Was Also An Expression Of The People's Reaction To Attempts To Exert Foreign Pressure On Russia"
During a meeting with Government members on September 19, Putin stated: "United Russia, the ruling party and Russia's leading political force, obtained a good result. Of course, we can ask ourselves, how is this possible given the big economic and social sector difficulties we have been facing and the drop in people's real incomes? I think there are several factors here that merit our attention.
"First, at a time of difficulties and many uncertainties and risks, people certainly choose stability and trust the country's leading political force and the government, which relies on United Russia's support in the parliament. They are confident that we will act professionally in the interests of our country's people.
"The election result was also an expression of the people's reaction to attempts to exert foreign pressure on Russia, and to the threats, sanctions, and attempts to destabilize the situation in Russia from within.
"What conclusions should we draw from this parliamentary election? First, in domestic policy, we must listen to all political parties and hear their message, including the parties that did not make it into the parliament. We must and will develop our country's multi-party system and support civil society, including patriotically-inclined non-governmental organizations... In foreign policy, we must follow a balanced policy of cooperation with all partners, without a shadow of aggression, but with unquestioned respect for our national interests and ensuring our country's defense capability.
"Let me say again that this election result is good, but it is without question an advance on the part of our people, and we now must live up to their expectations. I hope very much that the government and the new parliament will act in consolidated fashion, combine their efforts and work towards the goals I just mentioned, above all in the interests of Russia's people."
(Kremlin.ru, September 19)
(Kremlin.ru, September 19, 2016)
Yabloko's Reactions To Election Result: The Low Turnout Is A "Shame For This System"
The big loser of the election was the democratic opposition. Yabloko (The Russian United Democratic Party), which won 6.58% in 2011, received only 1.9% of the vote, whereas Parnas (The People's Freedom Party) received less than one percent. Commenting on the results of the elections, Yabloko's leader Grigory Yavlinsky said that the most important thing in this electoral campaign was to declare that "war with Ukraine is an unacceptable policy, the situation with Crimea cannot remain as it is now, and Russia's political and economic system has exhausted itself, and no longer has any resources." He then added that the party was aware that "it would be naïve to expect that with such a stance we would be invited to the State Duma." Yavlinsky said: "If such a party with such a stance could be part of the State Duma, it would have been a different country. Therefore, the most valuable for us was the fact that we, in our own country and in the most difficult moment, managed to say what we considered was most important, and we were heard."
Commenting on the low turnout (47.9%), Yavlinsky said that it is "a shame for this system", and proved once again that "the system was at a dead end." He also accused authorities of having employed a special technology to suppress the turnout, "because living standards have been falling, the economy was in freefall, and [the ruling party] United Russia could not even promise anything." Yavlinsky then stated: "[The Duma] will maintain the policies towards isolation from common sense, the policies towards isolation from the future, the policies suppressing the most active part of the population."
(Yabloko.ru, September 19)
The cartoon plays on the word "Yabloko," which in Russian means "apple" (Novayagazeta.ru, May 21, 2016)
Khodorkovsky.com: "There Are Various Ways Of Ensuring You Get The 'Right' [Electoral] Result"
The Open Russia movement, sponsored by Mikhail Khodorkovsky, was also unsuccessful in the elections. Open Russia supported 18 candidates in various districts, 5 of whom belonged to Parnas. Open Russia candidate Maria Baronova, which was described by the international media as the face of Russia's opposition (Time.com, September 16), lost to United Russia candidate Nikolai Gonchar in Moscow's central district. Khodorkovsky's website published an analysis of the vote, accusing the authorities of violating the electoral system: "Well, there are various ways of ensuring you get the 'right' result: stuffing the ballot boxes (You Tube has any number of videos showing this taking place) or bussing in voters from other constituencies (where they have already voted) and giving them 'extra' voting papers. Bussing people in is called a 'carousel' in Russian - what goes around, comes around... In one Petersburg constituency, a local journalist managed to get the necessary mark put in his passport, indicating that he was a 'carousel' voter. Even though his passport showed he was registered to vote in another constituency, he was given four extra voting papers, for which he signed the name he was told to use. He then revealed who he was and what he had done: the police were sent for and he, rather than the person who had given him the extra papers, was carted off to the police station. Similar goings-on were recorded in other parts of St Petersburg (and throughout Russia...)."
(Khodorkovsky.com, September 19, 2016)
Independent Opposition Website Meduza.io Reports On Electoral Violations
According to Sergey Shpilkin, a long-time elections watcher and physicist who runs statistical research on the open source electoral patterns, up to 45% of votes in favor of United Russia are falsified. He also stated that real turnout was 35%.
(Meduza.io, September 19)
(Podmoskovnik.livejournal.com, September 19, 2016)
The Case Of Mordovia And Tatarstan
According to official statistics, UR gained 90% of votes for the local parliament representation (the elections were also conducted for local parliaments, with the same federal party participation) in the Republic of Mordovia. In Tatarstan, a secular Muslim republic in central Russia, UR gained 85.3% of the vote in the Duma elections, while none of other parties surpassed threshold of 5%.
(Kommersant.ru, September 19)
Tensions Between Russia and Ukraine Over The Voting
During her weekly press briefing, Russian Foreign Ministry's spokesperson Maria Zacharova said that "the ballot stations on Ukrainian territory will be opened in the Russian embassy and in our Consulate-Generals," despite the restrictions posed by the Ukrainian government. Earlier, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko instructed the country's Foreign Ministry to inform the Russian government that it was impossible to hold Russian elections on Ukrainian territory.
The Russian Foreign Ministry promptly responded, saying that the Ukrainian move was a "clear violation of the customary norms of civilized behavior." The press release stated: "Having notified the Kiev authorities, in keeping with the customary international norms of behavior and the principle of reciprocity, of the voting process to take place at the Russian embassy in Kiev and consular departments in Lvov, Odessa and Kharkov on September 18, the Russian authorities requested that Kiev ensure their safety. In keeping with its international commitments, including the Vienna conventions, Kiev must ensure the safety of Russia's diplomatic and consular offices in Ukraine every day, and not just on election days. However, numerous provocations against Russian offices have been staged recently, many of them under the passive eye of Ukraine's law enforcement agencies.
"We would like to remind Ukrainian officials that they received their current functions following the early presidential election in 2014 and the parliamentary election in 2015, which were also held on the territory of Russia, which reliably ensured safety at all sites specified by Ukraine, regardless of any tensions in our bilateral relations.
Kiev's decision of September 10 aims to deprive Russian citizens who permanently or temporarily reside in Ukraine of their inalienable right to freedom of expression. Kiev has again made a deliberate choice in favor of the further aggravation of tensions in its relations with Russia... Kiev's attempts to present ultimatums to Russia and to tie up the opening of polling stations in Ukraine to elections in Crimea are ridiculous. Crimea is an inalienable part of Russia, and any decision to hold elections there is the exclusive right of the Russian Federation."
(Mid.ru, September 12; Rt.com, September 15)
On September 18, the residents of Crimea voted in the Duma elections for the first time since its annexation to Russia in 2014. The U.S. criticized the voting in Crimea and stressed that it would not recognize its legitimacy. State Department Spokesperson John Kirby said: "The United States does not recognize the legitimacy, and will not recognize the outcome, of the Russian Duma elections planned for Russian-occupied Crimea on September 18th. Our position on Crimea is clear: the peninsula remains an integral part of Ukraine. Crimea-related sanctions against Russia will remain until Russia returns control of Crimea to Ukraine."
(State.gov, September 16)
Ukrainian right-wing activists from Svoboda and the Right Sector protested the elections in Kiev and Odessa,. In Kiev, activists blocked the entrance to the embassy. Svoboda Party MP Igor Miroshnichenko tried to break the embassy fence.
(Rt.com, September 18; Kyivpost.com, September 18)
Ukrainian right-wing activists prevent Russian citizen from entering the Russian embassy in Kiev to vote in the elections on Sept. 18. (Kyivpost.com, September 18)
Kadyrov Wins 98% Of The Votes
On September 18, elections were also held in several regions to elect governors and regional heads. In Chechniya, Ramzan Kadyrov, as a United Russia party nominee for the republican presidency, received 98% of the vote. He has held the position as Head of the Chechen Republic since 2007.
(Rt.com, September 19)
Strange But True
To celebrate Chechen Women's Day on September 18, the day of the elections, Chechen leader Kadyrov appeared in a suit of armor, complete with helmet and spear, at the Safiya Palace in Grozny.
(Rt.com, September 19)
Kadyrov wearing a suit of armor at the celebrations for the Chechen Women's Day (Rt.com, September 18, 2016)