Hand It Over

moscow highway serviceMoscow’s streets are, apparently, reserved for planet-killing traffic jams and idiotic displays of state power, like this parade of trucks by the Moscow Highway Service. Yesterday, another of the city’s municipal agencies, which are run as profit-making “state enterprises,” Moscow City Transport, won a 1.2 million-ruble lawsuit against opposition leaders and independent city council candidates for the losses it incurred, allegedly, during the July 27 protest rally in support of independent candidates barred from running in the September 8 elections. A raft of other frivolous lawsuits against the opposition is coming down the pike by way of punishing them for their persistence and their tactical victory this past Sunday. Photo courtesy of the Moscow Highway Service

Hand It Over: Court Awards Moscow City Transport 1.2 Million Rubles in Suit Against Opposition Politicians
Maria Litvinova
Kommersant
September 11, 2019

Alexei Navalny, Lyubov Sobol, Ivan Zhdanov, Yulia Galyamina, Ilya Yashin, Alexander Solovyov, Oleg Stepanov, and Vladimir Milov must jointly pay Moscow City Transport (Mosgortrans) 1.2 million rubles [approx. $18,000] for the losses it incurred due to traffic stoppages during the “unauthorized” protest rally on July 27 in Moscow. Such was the ruling made on Tuesday by the Koptevo District Court on the lawsuit brought by Moscow City Transport. The defendants were unsuccessful in their attempt to demand financial documents showing the losses. They argued that public transport was poorly organized and also pointed out the large-scaled public events held by the mayor’s office in the downtown area.

Moscow City Transport filed a suit against Alexei Navalny, Lyubov Sobol, Ivan Zhdanov, Yulia Galyamina, Ilya Yashin, Alexander Solovyov, Oleg Stepanov, Georgy Alburov, and Vladimir Milov, who were involved, allegedly, in organizing the July 27 protest rally dedicated to the course of the Moscow City Duma election campaign [sic]. The plaintiff claimed that public transport ground to a halt on several streets due to the blocking of roads by people who took part in the “unauthorized” event and the company incurred losses. Moscow City Transport sought 1.2 million rubles in damages from the members of the opposition.

The hearing at the Koptevo District Court was attended by legal counsel for the defendants, including Alexander Pomazuyev (Sobol and Stepanov), Oksana Oparenko and Sergei Badamshin (Solovyov), Vadim Prokhorov (Yashin), and Andrei Tamurka (Galyamina), as well as Vladimir Milov, who was barred from running in the elections, and his lawyer Valentina Frolova. Navalny and Zhdanov neither attended the hearing nor sent their lawyers. Moscow City Transport’s lawyers refused to give their names to reporters.

Judge Vera Petrova opened the hearing by rejecting a number of motions made by the defendants. In particular, the opposition politicians had asked for a financial report from Moscow City Transport for July 2019 showing the losses, as well as the logbooks of its bus drivers. According to Pomazuyev, it was impossible to substantiate Moscow City Transport’s calculations and corroborate the alleged losses.

The defendants had also moved to have officers of the Russian National Guard and the Interior Ministry, who, they claimed, had blocked roads, named as co-defendants, but the court turned them down.

The defense argued that when it refused to examine key documents the court had taken the plaintiff’s side. Its subsequent motion, asking for the judge to recuse herself, was also denied.

During the trial, one of the plaintiff’s lawyers admitted there had been traffic congestion in different parts of Moscow on July 27 but was unable to explain why the protest rally was the reason for the lawsuit.

Moscow City Transport had identified the persons liable for its losses on the grounds that they had already been convicted on administrative charges for their involvement in the “unauthorized” rally and they had published posts on social media encouraged people to turn out for the event.

The defendants and their lawyers wondered why they had been singled out given the fact that numerous people had either been detained at the protest rally or posted about it on social media.

“There were endless numbers of people on the internet who encouraged people to come out for the event,” a lawyer for the plaintiff conceded, “but we chose to sue these people.”

The lawyers for the defense rejected the claim their clients had encouraged people to block streets. They presented the court with a list of the streets traveled by the buses that, allegedly, got stuck in traffic due to the protest rally in downtown Moscow. For example, Bus No. 137 travels from Belovezhskaya Street to Kyiv Station without going through downtown.

Milov told the court that the documents presented by the plaintiff pointed to “traffic congestion,” not the “blocking of roads.”

“Because of traffic jams, it took me two and a half hours to get here today. Moscow City Transport should sue the Moscow mayor’s office for its poor job of regulating traffic,” he said.

“Moscow City Transport handles the sale of transport tickets in ticket offices around the city,” he said. “Passengers put down their money and decide for themselves when to use the tickets they buy. So, you do not incur losses when buses are stuck in traffic but make money hand over fist.”

The defense argued that the Moscow mayor’s office regularly blocked roads in order to hold city-sponsored events, but Moscow City Transport had never once sued the mayor’s office for losses.

Moscow City Transport’s lawyers countered that the mayor’s office always compensated them for losses.

“If you had compensated us, we would have no claim against you,” one of them said.

Frolova reminded the court of the “burden of responsibility” borne by the public authorities.

“How are the rights of people who enjoy dumplings and pancakes [a reference to the festivals regularly organized downtown by the mayor’s office—Kommersant] any different from the rights of people who are voicing their civic stance?” she asked.

The defendants insisted on the political nature of the court case, arguing it had to do with the elections to the Moscow City Duma.

“The elections are over, people voiced their opinion, let’s get back to the law,” Badamshin said to the judge.

“The court has ruled in favor of the plaintiff,” said Judge Vera Petrova, putting an end to the arguments.

The court rejected the suit in relation to one of the co-defendants, Georgy Alburov. The money will be recovered from all the other co-defendants jointly and severally.

Several other private firms, state-owned companies, and state agencies plan to seek compensation from the opposition, in particular, the Moscow Highway Service, the Moscow subway, the taxi service, the staffing company Ancor, the car rental company Fly Auto and, as transpired yesterday, the Moscow Prosecutor’s Office.

Translated by the Russian Reader

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Is Smart Voting So Smart?

votesmart

Experts Disagree on Effectiveness of Smart Voting: Some Candidates Recommended by Navalny Could Win, But the Strategy Has Split the Opposition
Yelena Mukhametshina and Svetlana Bocharova
Vedomosti
September 4, 2019

On Tuesday, politician Alexei Navalny published on his website a list of candidates running in the elections to the Moscow City Duma, scheduled for this Sunday, September 8, whom he has recommended for “smart” voters. They are invited to visit the website and enter their home address to see the name of the recommended candidate in their voting district.

The list covers all forty-five voting districts in Moscow and includes thirty-three Communist Party candidates, five candidates from A Just Russia, all three Yabloko Party candidates who have been allowed to stand in the elections, and one independent candidate.

In particular, in District 5, where ex-MP Dmitry Gudkov was not allowed to stand, Navalny has recommended voting for Anastasia Udaltsova (Communist Party). In District 37, where the Yabloko candidate, Elena Rusakova, was disqualified, he urged voters to cast their ballots for Nikolai Gubenko (Communist Party), the Moscow City Duma’s incumbent deputy chair. In District 43, where Lyubov Sobol, a lawyer at Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, was not allowed to run, he advised people to vote for Yabloko candidate Sergei Mitrokhin. Finally, in District 45, where Ilya Yashin, head of the Krasnoselsky Municipal District Council was disqualified, Navalny has recommended supporting Magomet Yandiyev from A Just Russia.

The smart voting strategy argues that opposition-minded Muscovites should vote in a consolidated manner for the recommended candidates in order to prevent as many covert and overt United Russia party candidates and other pro-regime candidates from being seated in the City Duma as possible. The idea is to seat forty-five different MPs in the City Duma.

As Navalny explained, “Five or six will be okay, one to three will be just great, and the rest won’t be from United Russia, at least.”

All of United Russia’s candidates and candidates supported by the mayor’s office are running as independents in the current elections. As our sources close to the mayor’s office and the party explained to us earlier, this was due to United Russia’s low popularity ratings in the capital.

On Tuesday, TV Rain quoted Valery Rashkin, leader of the Moscow branch of the Communist Party, as saying they intended to welcome Navalny’s call to vote for Communists in most of Moscow’s voting districts. When he was asked how the party’s national leadership would react, Rashkin said the Moscow branch was independent.

Political scientist Yevgeny Minchenko pointed out there were candidates in Navalny’s list who already had a good chance of winning. It was doubtful, he argued, whether Navalny’s recommendations would have a direct, large-scale impact on their vote tallies.

“The number of activists who are willing to respond to Navalny’s recommendations is not great,” Minchenko said.

In addition, there was the question of how to measure the effectiveness of the recommendations since it would be impossible to establish reliably why people voted the way they did, argued Mincheko.

The situation was a delicate one for the Communists, he noted.

“They have been trying to tune Navalny out any way they can,” he said.

Since the Communists were stronger electorally than Navalny, it was more advantageous to him to enlist them as his ad hoc allies.

Minchenko did not expect the regime to crack down on the candidates recommended by Navalny.

Judging by the attention rank-and-file voters have been paying to the current showdown, according to Levada Center polls, smart voting could prove to be the kingmaker in most voting districts, political scientist Abbas Gallyamov argued.

“People are wound up, not so much because of the refusal to register opposition candidates, but because of the aggressive actions of the security forces. The percentage of voters who show up to the polls as a way of voicing their protest will be quite high,” he said.

Many of the candidates supported by Navalny were not at loggerheads with the regime, but neither were they “regime people,” Gallyamov added.

“As soon as they feel they have the backing of real voters, especially protest voters, they will quickly become self-sufficient and the authorities will have to negotiate with each of them,” he said.

Smart voting had split the opposition, separating its more radical members from the moderates, noted political scientist Alexei Makarkin.

“The more radical politicians have the same principle: the worse things are, the better. If a Stalinist ends up in the Moscow City Duma, that would be okay, too. In reality, however, such people are usually quickly co-opted by the regime,” he said.

Besides, Makarkin said, Dmitry Gudkov and Mikhail Khodorkovsky had published their own lists of recommended candidates.

“Smart voting has not helped consolidate the opposition. It has generated more conflict among people whose relations were already far from sunny,” he said.

In addition, there were problems with specific candidates recommended by Navalny. For example, his list included Leonid Zyuganov, grandson of regime loyalist and Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov, said Makarkin.

Navalny’s recommendations would not do the Communist Party any harm, nor did Makarkin anticipate crackdowns against the party members on his list.

Image courtesy of Back in River City. Translated by the Russian Reader

Russian Opposition Hit with New Wave of Searches and Arrests

Russian Opposition Hit with New Wave of Searches and Arrests
Yelena Mukhametshina
Vedomosti
July 25, 2019

On Wednesday evening, Moscow’s Simonovsky District Court jailed politician Alexei Navalny for thirty days for calling on Muscovites to go to the mayor’s office this weekend to protest irregularities in the upcoming elections to the Moscow City Duma. Law enforcement agencies simultaneously launched a dragnet against the Russian opposition. Investigators searched the homes of ex-MP Dmitry Gudkov, his colleague Alexander Solovyov, Ivan Zhdanov, director of Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK), and municipal council member Nikolai Balandin.

The search in Gudkov’s home lasted around two hours. Investigators confiscated the politician’s computers, smartphone, and all portable electronic storage devices. Gudkov’s press secretary Alexei Obukhov said the search warrant mentioned the confiscation of all computer discs [sic] in connection with the protest rallies and pickets outside the Moscow City Elections Commission on July 14, 15, and 18. Identified as a witness in a criminal investigation, Gudkov was given a summons to an interrogation at the Main Investigative Department of the Investigative Committee’s Moscow office on Thursday morning. Navalny’s colleague Leonid Volkov reported that, after his home was searched, Zhdanov was taken immediately to the Main Investigative Department.

gudkovPolice searching Dmitry Gudkov’s apartment. Courtesy of Dmitry Gudkov’s Telegram channel and Vedomosti

FBK lawyer Lyubov Sobol, municipal district council member Yulia Galyamina, and ex-MP Gennady Gudkov have also been summoned to interrogations on Thursday morning.

“Would that they went after criminals this way. They are just scumbags!” Gudkov, Sr., wrote in an emotional post on his Twitter page after receiving a phone call from an Investigative Committee investigator.

On Wednesday afternoon, the Main Investigative Committee reported it had launched a criminal investigation into the protest rally that was held outside the Moscow City Elections Commission on July 14 by opposition candidates to the Moscow City Duma under Article 141 of the Russian Criminal Code, which criminalizes the “obstruction of voting rights or the work of electoral commissions.” In July 2019,  the Main Investigative Office writes, members of a particular movement organized illegal and unauthorized rallies and pickets outside the Moscow City Elections Commission in order to exert pressure on members of the election commissions and obstruct their work. People who attended the rallies threatened election commissions members with violence, the Main Investigative Offices reports. It did not specify which part of Article 141, in its view, had been violated. It could choose to indict people under Article 141.2, which carries a maximum punishment of five years in prison.

The protests out the Moscow City Elections Commission were sparked when district election commissions found flaws, allegedly, in the signature sheets of people intending to run as independent candidates in the September 8 elections to the Moscow City Duma. The flawed signature sheets, allegedly, disqualified them as candidates, and the local election commissions refused to register them. Among the disqualified candidates were municipal district council members Ilya Yashin, Konstantin Yankauksas, Anastasia Bryukhanova, Galyamina, and Dmitry Gudkov; Navalny’s colleagues Sobol and Zhdanov; and Yabloko Party members Elena Rusakova, Kirill Goncharov, and Sergei Mitrokhin.

All last week, the opposition kept up its protests, which had not been vetted by the mayor’s office, on Trubnaya Square. On Saturday, an estimated 22,500 people attended an authorized protest rally on Sakharov Avenue. During the rally, Navalny told the crowd that if all the independent candidates were not registered in the coming week, people should go to the mayor’s office on July 27.

On Wednesday afternoon, opposition politicians told Vedomosti they were prepared to rally outside the mayor’s office on Saturday.

“The criminal investigation is obviously an attempt to intimidate us. We want to run in the elections, but they refuse to put us on the ballot. Now they say they have launched a criminal investigation. We will keep defending our rights,” said Yashin.

Galyamina also believes the authorities are trying to intimidate the opposition.

“On July 14, [Moscow City Elections Commission chair Valentin] Gorbunov was at his dacha, and the commission was closed for business. It is unclear whose work we could have obstructed,” she said.

Gorbunov told Vedomosti that he was not at the commission’s offices on July 14, but that during election campaigns the commission’s working groups and members work weekends as well.

“Time is short and we have to wind things up,” he said.

Gorbunov learned about the criminal investigation from the press. He had no idea who had filed the complaint.

“I believe people need to act within the law. [Central Elections Commission chair Ella] Pamfilova said that rallies were not a form of political campaigning, that people had to work within the bounds of the law. I can only say that the rally outside the Moscow City Elections Commission was not authorized, but it is up to law enforcement agencies to comment on criminal liability for what happened,” he said.

However, on July 14, Gorbunov had told Vedomosti the commission was closed on Sundays.

“They [the opposition] might as well have gone to some factory that was closed on Sunday,” he said then.

The criminal investigation is probably meant by the security forces as a way to intimidate protesters, argues a person close to the mayor’s office. This source said it was clear police would detain people who attempted to attend an unauthorized rally on July 27.

According to court statistics, people have been charged and convicted of violating Article 141 extremely rarely. In the last ten years, the most “fruitful” years were 2009 and 2011, when fifteen and eleven people, respectively, were charged and convicted of violating the article.

In 2009, six people were indicted under Article 141 due to numerous abuses in the mayoral election in Derbent. In 2011, Andrei Ruchkin, head of the Engels District in Saratov Region, was charged under Article 141.3 for meddling with the work of the local election commission. In 2018, members of the Yabloko Party in Pskov were charged under Article 141 for encouraging voters to spoil their ballots in the gubernatorial election, but the charges were dropped for lack of evidence.

Criminal Code Article 141 is peculiar it is mainly employees of the executive branch who obstruct the exercise of voting rights and the work of election commissions, but they are almost never charged with violating the law, explains Andrei Buzin, co-chair of Golos, a Russian NGO that defends voting rights and monitors elections.

“It was not considered kosher to file criminal charges, and so several years ago a similar article was inserted into the Administrative Violations Code. Several election observers were charged under this law,” he said.

Buzin argues that the situation has been turned upside down.

“The protesters were defending voting rights, so it would truer to say that it has been the election commissions that have been obstructing citizens,” he said.

“There is almost no case law for Article 141. It is hard to say who could be charged with violating the law. We have had no experience with it,” said Pavel Chikov, head of the Agora International Human Rights Group. “There was an incident in the Moscow Region. Candidates were assaulted, but we were not able to get criminal charges filed.”

Now the article was being used to punish political “crimes,” he argued.

“It is a variation of the Bolotnaya Square case of 2012, only somewhat lighter. The defendants in that case were charged with rioting,” he said.

Chikov added that we should probably expect more arrests in the wake of the searches.

Translated by the Russian Reader