Russian Police Accused of Vandalizing Fence With Pro-Putin Graffiti

Russian President Vladimir Putin visits his election campaign office in Moscow on January 10. Alexey Druzhinin/AFP/Getty Images

In Russia, a man in police uniform has been filmed apparently writing President Vladimir Putin's name on a fence, before police denied he was producing graffiti, and the fence mysteriously disappeared.

The video has been widely shared on Russian social media, a few weeks before the country goes to the polls for an election in which Putin is almost certain to win.

The short clip, posted online on Sunday, shows a man who appears to be a police officer trudging through the snow by a fence in front of a residential building in the Komi region. The footage does not clearly show what the uniformed man is doing so close to the fence, but as he walks away and heads toward a service vehicle parked on the side of the street, the fence clearly reads "Putin."

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Tatyana Ivanova, the activist who filmed the clip and posted it on Russian social media site VK and on Youtube, has accused police in the city of Syktyvkar of vandalizing property to fabricate public support for Putin. While the incumbent's win is practically ensured, after years of sidelining genuine critics, Putin's biggest challenge is getting the public excited about the vote and winning with a huge turnout.

The fence sparked a flurry of criticism, including from prominent Putin critic Alexei Navalny, who shared the clip on Twitter. One of Navalny's volunteers photographed the fence himself on Monday, before posting an image that showed the much-discussed fence had been removed, seemingly overnight, on Tuesday. Local news site ProGorod confirmed the reports, posting its own photos of the scene shortly afterward.

Local law enforcement has denied sending one of their own officers to graffiti the fence and issued a statement on local news outlet 7X7 that the police officer in the footage was only inspecting the vandalized fencing. Komi authorities claimed that a suspect had been arrested for allegedly writing Putin's name on the fence and several other public surfaces. The identity of the suspect has not been revealed.

Ivanova has already accused Komi police of bias in another clip on YouTube, which purported to document a series of patrol cars guarding campaign posters for Putin around Syktyvkar from vandalism. By contrast, some Moscow residents have spray-painted Navalny's name on mounds of snow in a bid to get authorities to clear the record-breaking pileup.