June 17, 2024 Special Dispatch No. 11401

Russian Opposition Politician Elvira Vikhareva: The 'March Of The Foreign Agents'

June 17, 2024
Russia | Special Dispatch No. 11401

On May 15, 2024, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed into law a bill that bans "foreign agents" from being "candidates, candidates' agents, or observers during elections of all levels." When the State Duma voted into law this regulation on May 6, many experts asked themselves why this legislation had been introduced in such a hurry.

Renowned Russian economist and MEMRI Russian Media Studies Project Special Advisor, Dr. Vladislav Inozemtsev, gave the following explanation: "Presumably, it was done because in early March a group of people, including myself, who are designated 'foreign agents,' announced their intention to run for the Moscow City Duma in the upcoming elections scheduled for September. The group, set up and led by liberal activist Elvira Vikhareva, who had unsuccessfully run for the State Duma in 2021, rapidly expanded, and soon reached 45 people who were able to apply for the candidate status in each constituency in the capital city, the Moscow City Duma consists of 45 deputies.

"Of course, the chances for being registered remained low since most of the 'provocateurs' are residing abroad with little intention to return to Russia for submitting their applications to the Moscow Electoral Commission, which can be made only in person. Yet, the initiative received a lot of attention in liberal media and on social networks, causing a predictable reaction. In fact, less than two months passed between when the idea to run for the Moscow City Duma was first announced and when Putin signed into law a bill banning 'foreign agents' from being electoral candidates. It is worth noting that the law does not only ban 'foreign agents' from running for elected offices, but rules that all the already elected individuals with this status have 180 days either to challenge their legal status in court or to resign from positions they hold."[1]

On May 6, 2024, Russian opposition politician Elvira Vikhareva[2] published an article, titled "How Foreign Agents Scared Putin's Regime," which was published by The Moscow Times and was recently translated by MEMRI.[3]

Earlier, on March 31, 2023, Vikhareva published an article titled "On How To Play A 'March Of The Foreign Agents' On The Nerves Of Sobyanin And Kiriyenko." Sergey Sobyanin is the mayor of Moscow, and Sergey Kiriyenko is the first deputy chief of staff of the Presidential Administration of Russia.

Elvira Vikhareva

Following is a translation of the article:[4]

"Have You Ever Pulled Putin's Mustache?"

"Word has it that the Moscow City Duma[5] has prepared a bill prohibiting foreign agents[6] from being elected to regional parliaments – let's see whether it was for real or in jest. We are foreign agents, and we are running for elections in the Moscow City Duma.

"Have you ever pulled Putin's mustache? That's right, you haven't, because he doesn't have one. But we are still going to try it. It would be much easier with Dmitry Peskov, but we do not set overly easy tasks for ourselves.[7]

"Naturally, we bear no illusions in this regard. 'The bloody regime,' once a joke, has long since become the reality. A complete list of the signs of 'Ur-Fascism'[8] formulated by Umberto Eco, can be observed right from one's window – but there are still unexplored areas of darkness. We are explorers.

"We are foreign agents.

"You may already know that we are running for the Moscow City Duma... We are running ahead of everyone, while keeping a sovereign pace, wearing a white crown... No, this is from a different opera.[9]

"Why are we running [for Moscow Duma] if there are no elections as such, and instead of them there is total electronic voting? Well, this issue needs to be clarified."

"The Foreign Agent Status Is Direct And Obvious Discrimination"

"First. You've heard that the foreign agent status is not at all the same as the enemy of the people[10] status, it's just a cute little prank by the state, a fun Friday surprise, right? I've heard that too, both before and after this 'surprise' befell me. That's what makes me want to see if it's true. I wasn't truly deprived of my basic right to be elected, right? I mean, I still can, can't I? We'll soon find out.

"In other words, we want to demonstrate that foreign agent status is a direct and obvious discrimination, which could affect everyone [if not today, then] tomorrow. Since we are being called enemies of the people in the State Duma, they should stop pretending in other places. Honesty is the best policy, as Dmitry Peskov could have put it, if he were not [constantly] lying.

"Second. It would not be worth starting this whole story for the sake of proving such a generally obvious thing. There are other aspects to this as well.

"For instance, when was the last time you walked past Tverskaya, 13 [where the Moscow City Hall is located]? What about Kitay-gorod [district]?[11] I understand, emigration... it must have been long ago. But let's imagine that you walked there [recently], and then [passing by the administrative buildings] you would have heard a strange clatter. It was there, inside [these buildings] that officials are running around and bustling about. It's a strange feeling for them. They are puzzled. They are nervous and don't understand what to do. Where to run? Who should be jailed? What to do and who is to blame?

"And while there is a 'MasterCard' for [election campaign] nominations (we're foreign agents after all), listening to this clatter is priceless.[12]

"Let me reiterate: considering the skill of [the Election Commission's] handwriting experts multiplied by the talents of their programmers, we bear no illusions about our chances. Nadezhdin was the last to die.[13] But it is definitely possible to play a 'March of Foreign Agents' on the nerves of Sobyanin and Kiriyenko. What kind of 'March'? By the way, I need to compose one: We'll make [our own] election campaign, not only with blackjack and the Moscow City Election Commission, but also with an orchestra.[14]

"Third. The Tribune. Someone must have seen the foreign agents' congress in Berlin. I wasn't there. As in the Soviet anecdote, Rabinovich sang to me, but that was enough.[15] After all, foreign agents are not some sort of united community. These are people united by a common misfortune (I'm not joking here). You know, it's like [Russian 19th-century writer] Chernyshevsky's case: They took him to the scaffold, broke his sword over his head to the drumbeat. That meant 'civil execution.' They say that someone threw him a bouquet of flowers, but in our country, flowers are only thrown on graves."

"We Need To Influence The Situation In Russia"

"But I digress. The foreign agents' congress, yes. I didn't like the retelling of it. Donations to the Armed Forces of Ukraine, splashes of champagne... With all that we've somehow lost a sense that we are Russians first and foremost. And we need to influence the situation in Russia. If, of course, we agree that [the situation] needs to be influenced at all, many believe that we should just leave, forget, and sprinkle salt on the departure zone in Sheremetyevo airport, as a goodbye. Those who do not think so are the ones who announce their election campaigns... and not only them.

"They [speak about] all that chthonic horror that used to live on TV and in [Russian TV host Vladimir] Solovyov, and now has burst out. So, we will speak about it. At the same time, we'll see how many 'alive' media outlets have remained in Russia.

"Many people can rewrite releases and talk about a 'full-scale invasion' from abroad. But I ask you to try to take a closer look at the 'native ashes [i.e., ancestral home, dwelling, land, Motherland]' – and not only that of 'Crocus.'"[16]


[1] See MEMRI Daily Brief No. 601, New Russian Law On 'Foreign Agents' Annihilates Any Semblance Of Democracy, By Dr. Vladislav L. Inozemtsev, May 20, 2024.

[2] It is worth noting that, in 2023, Vikhareva reported that she had been poisoned with heavy metal salts.

[4], March 31, 2024.

[5] The Moscow City Duma is the local parliament of the capital of Russia and federal city, Moscow.

[6] According to the Russian bill "On Non-Profit Organizations," "foreign agent" is a status assigned to persons by the Ministry of Justice, which receive aid from abroad, or are "under foreign influence." See MEMRI Daily Brief No. 601, New Russian Law On 'Foreign Agents' Annihilates Any Semblance Of Democracy, By Dr. Vladislav L. Inozemtsev, May 20, 2024.

[7] "To pull death's mustache" or "to pull the tiger's whiskers" is an expression meaning brazen and defiant high-risk behavior. Russian President Vladimir Putin does not have a moustache, in turn, the Press Secretary for the Russian president, Dmitry Peskov is somewhat famous for his moustache.


[9] The author refers to Aleksandr Blok's long poem "The Twelve." "Blok described Christ in white garments wearing a crown of thorns with white roses. This symbolizes the salvation of the Russian people, transfiguration of a country, and the resurrection of a stronger Mother Russia."

[10] Vikhareva refers to the common for Soviet rhetoric phrase "the enemy of people."

[11] Historical district of Moscow, administrative, cultural and business center.

[12] Vikhareva refers to the "MasterCard" tagline: "There are some things money can't buy; for everything else, there's Mastercard."

[13] Vikhareva plays on words mixing an optimistic Russian expression "Hope is the last thing to die," where the word nadezhda ("hope") is consonant with the name of candidate Boris Nadezhdin at the 2024 presidential elections in Russia. Nadezhdin was then banned from Russian presidential election., February 22, 2024.

[14] To refer to the Moscow election commission, Vikhareva here modifies a quote from "Futurama" TV series character Bender. The original quote is: "I'm gonna go build my own theme park. With blackjack and hookers!"

[15] The popular anecdote goes as follows, "Everyone praises Caruso. 'Caruso! Caruso!' they say. But I listened, and it's nothing special" "But where have you heard Caruso?!""my friend Rabinovich sang to me."

[16] The author refers to the terror attack in "Crocus City Hall" center.

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