- A Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman on Tuesday said the US was meddling in Russia’s coming presidential election by condemning the decision to bar the opposition candidate Alexei Navalny from running.
- “This State Department statement, which I’m sure will be repeated, is a direct interference in our electoral process and internal affairs,” the spokeswoman wrote.
- Russia’s Election Commission barred Navalny from running last week, citing a previous embezzlement conviction. The European Court of Human Rights has called that conviction “arbitrary” and “unreasonable.”
The Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova on Tuesday accused the US of “direct interference in our electoral process and internal affairs” following the State Department’s criticism of Russia’s decision to bar the opposition leader Alexey Navalny from running in the coming presidential election against Vladimir Putin.
“This State Department statement, which I’m sure will be repeated, is a direct interference in our electoral process and internal affairs,” Zakharova wrote Tuesday on Facebook.
In a statement shared with Business Insider on Tuesday night, a State Department representative expressed concern over the Russian government’s “ongoing crackdown against independent voices, from journalists to civil society activists and opposition politicians.”
“These actions indicate the Russian government has failed to protect space in Russia for the exercise of human rights and fundamental freedoms,” the statement said. “More broadly, we urge the government of Russia to hold genuine elections that are transparent, fair, and free and that guarantee the free expression of the will of the people, consistent with its international human rights obligations.”
Zakharova pushed back. “And these people expressed outrage over alleged Russian ‘interference’ in their electoral process for an entire year?!” she said.
“The funniest thing is that these are the same people who just tagged RT and Sputnik as foreign agents, who are harassing Russian media around the world and who are investing huge amounts of money into ‘countering Russian propaganda,’ which is how they label anyone who they disagree with,” she wrote.
A declassified US intelligence assessment of the 2016 election determined that Russian government actors, ordered by Putin, used “cyber tools and media campaigns to influence US public opinion” and “undermine public faith in the US democratic process.”
Russian government-linked actors, it said, “began openly supporting President-elect Trump’s candidacy in media aimed at English-speaking audiences” in March 2016. Those media outlets included Sputnik and RT, which the report characterised as “the Kremlin’s principal international propaganda outlet.”
Sputnik and RT’s US affiliate registered as foreign agents with the Justice Department in November.
Navalny to announce ‘a voters’ strike’
Navalny, a lawyer and activist, replaced Boris Nemtsov as leader of Russia’s democratic opposition following Nemtsov’s 2015 assassination in the shadow of the Kremlin.
One day after Navalny registered as a candidate for Russia’s next presidential election, which will be held in March, Russia’s Central Election Commission barred him from running, citing a previous embezzlement conviction, according to the state-run media outlet RIA-Novosti.
Navalny has known since February – when he was handed a suspended five-year jail term for embezzlement in a case that his supporters have characterised as politically motivated – that he would not be allowed on the ballot. The European Court of Human Rights determined in October that the conviction was “arbitrary and manifestly unreasonable.”
Ella Pamfilova, the head of the CEC, told Russia’s TV Rain in June that Navalny “understands himself that he has no chance of being registered for the election due to his previous conviction.”
She accused him later of “fundraising illegally and brainwashing young people.”
Putin, who has refused to utter Navalny’s name, said during his marathon end-of-year press conference earlier this month that the opposition was hoping for a “coup” but would not succeed.
“Do you want us to have coup attempts here?” Putin said. “We’ve already been through all that. You want to go back to that? I am sure that the overwhelming majority of Russian citizens do not want this and will not stand for it.”
Navalny’s lawyer told CNN on Monday that he would appeal the decision. But Navalny has said he and his movement will organise a boycott of the vote if he is not allowed to run.
“We are announcing a voters’ strike,” Navalny said in a video posted to his blog this week. “The procedure in which we are invited to participate is not an election. It involves only Putin and those candidates whom he personally chose, who do not pose a slightest threat to him.”
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