The Most Shocking Moments From Russia’s ‘Sluggish’ Election Campaign

Russian Parliament
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov delivers a speech during a session of the State Duma, the lower house of parliament, Moscow, October 14, 2015. Sergei Karpukhin/Reuters

Russia will elect a new parliament Sunday, after an election campaign declared the “most sluggish” for a decade, according to the main, independent monitor of national votes.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s United Russia is expected to win, without a major contender even close. Meanwhile, the handful of liberals competing for seats face a stiff challenge to enter parliament at all.

Despite the potentially predictable outcome, at least 14 parties, not counting independent candidates, are running and the vigor of the campaigning has produced some shocking moments.

Here are some of the most dramatic.

Nude Photos of the Opposition

Maria Baronova is running for a seat in one of Moscow’s constituencies as an independent candidate; she made headlines last month after her application to participate in the election was approved.

Baronova, a former anti-government protester, is backed by one of Putin’s fiercest dissident rivals, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, whose organisation has frequently complained of harassment by authorities.

What is more, Baronova is standing as an independent candidate against a United Russia opponent, meaning that without the backing of a registered party she needs to collect thousands of signatures from voters to prove she has enough relevance to even be registered on the ballot.

Not only did she face the hurdle of collecting 15,000 signatures of support from a district with a population of 100,000 on a deadline, but she also needed the backing of the electoral commission.

In the past, independent opposition activists have complained that even after collecting enough signatures, pro-government commissioners conveniently declare signatures false or forms ineligible.

Baronova was approved. But before she had time to celebrate she was the subject of a nude photo leak, as pro-Kremlin tabloid sites published selfies of her and another female colleague topless. She refused to comment during the campaign, but suggested she may do so after polling day.

White Doves For Donald Trump

Since the start of the Ukraine crisis, Maria Katasonova has become one of the loudest voices of Russia’s ultra-nationalists on social media.

The 21-year-old’s disparaging statements about Ukraine’s government and self-publicized visits to rebel-occupied Donetsk have supported and outdone the harshest rhetoric coming from the Kremlin. She is currently running for office as a member of the nationalist Rodina party, and has been cited as a leading member of the National Liberation Movement—a far-right group that repeatedly speaks out against Russian liberals and sometimes holds violent protests.

Not only has her campaign featured strong support for U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump, she has held one-woman protests against Trump’s rival, Hillary Clinton. She penned an op-ed expressing seven reasons she hopes Trump will win the presidency and released seven white doves in front of the U.S. embassy in Moscow.

Honking at the Televised Debates

Televised debates are not the focal point of the Russian election broadcasts that they are elsewhere and, although state broadcasters set up a series of debates this year, United Russia and the Communist Party did not send representatives to most of them.

The debates were a chance for the main two forces critical of Putin, the Parnas party and the Yabloko movement, to receive mainstream exposure. Parnas, whose former leader Boris Nemtsov was shot dead near the Kremlin in 2015, endured possibly the toughest time.

Their representative, Vyacheslav Maltsev, spent much of his allotted time asking members of pro-Kremlin parties to stop talking over him and arguing with the mediator, who instructed him to discuss the economic policy “not only whether you don’t like Putin.”

After a few heated arguments last month, Maltsev came prepared to his final debate, when he was faced with Igor Korotchenko, leader of the Rodina party. He accused Parnas of wanting to see bombings in Moscow such as those during the 1990s. In response, Maltsev yelled at him not to shout in his ear, then, realizing Krotchenko was far from finished, he took out a car horn from his breast pocket and started honking it in his face.

The Word of Putin

Maltsev’s party leader, Mikhail Kasyanov, also took part in a couple of debates, representing Parnas. He too clashed with nationalist groups that were not United Russia, although one of the clearest times Kasyanov clashed with the establishment was when he quoted Putin.

“Thirty percent of villages across Russia do not have roads, they do not have solid road surface,” he said on state television. “And remember when Putin was asked by a village resident during his Direct Line show ‘How can we drive our cars when we do not have roads?’ And Putin answered him with the question ‘Why do you need a car if you have no roads? Why don’t you just walk?’ That is the solution the government has to our infrastructural problems.”

Before moving on to his next point, the debate mediator cut him off, saying “I do not remember such a question during the Direct Line.” “I remember it,” Kasyanov replied. “It was the penultimate one.”

After the programme cut to an ad break, the debate mediator announced that state TV fact checkers had run through the Direct Line programme, held by Putin in April and found no such statement by Putin. An amused Kasyanov looked on at the mediator, who advised him not to twist the truth.

Of course, Russian internet users were quick to search through the Direct Line programme themselves, finding the question Kasyanov was referring to. In it, a man from Russia’s far eastern Khabarovsk region who introduces himself as a “car lover” who pays thousand of rubles on taxes for roads, asks Putin why there are no roads nearby.

“And if there are no roads, why do you need a car?” a laughing Putin responds to the sound of applause from the audience. “What kind of direct provocation is this,” the Russian president adds, while the man explains he did not mean to be provocative but wanted to raise the issue because many residents were ill and required good links with cities for medical reasons.

Editor's Pick