A Kremlin critic campaigns from prison as a “candidate in handcuffs.”
With Russia’s legislative elections approaching, canvassers in Krasnodar, in the south, are encouraging passers-by to write letters to their candidate, who has no way of meeting them.
That’s because Kremlin opponent Andrei Pivovarov is imprisoned just a few blocks away.
Pivovarov was arrested at the end of May, and his supporters claim he was caught up in a dragnet that has decimated Russia’s opposition ahead of this weekend’s State Duma elections.
The Kremlin is expected to preserve its stronghold on the legislature, with famous names like Alexei Navalny in prison, his friends in exile, and lesser-known activists prevented from running or arrested like Pivovarov.
Pivovarov admitted his election chances were slim in a handwritten letter to AFP from Detention Centre No. 1 — which is ringed by barbed wire-topped concrete walls.
He claimed that his campaign, which was organized by several dozen volunteers from Krasnodar, Moscow, and his hometown of Saint Petersburg and was controlled by mail via one of his lawyers, provided a platform for his message.
Pivovarov added, “I want people who learn about my campaign to understand that the day has come when those who tell the truth will be imprisoned simply for their words.”
Last year, the 39-year-old revealed his intention to run in Moscow.
The authorities initiated a campaign when Navalny returned to Russia from Germany in January after recovering from a poisoning he blames on the Kremlin.
Pivovarov has been identified as a possible target. He had previously worked for organizations founded by exiled Kremlin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky, such as the pro-democracy group Open Russia, which was outlawed in 2017.
In May, Pivovarov was snatched from a Warsaw-bound plane in Saint Petersburg and rushed 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) south to Krasnodar, where he was charged with involvement with a “undesirable” organization.
In a case based on a Facebook post he wrote from Krasnodar in 2019, declaring support for a Khodorkovsky-aligned activist standing in municipal elections, he faces six years in prison.
The authorities sought to “stop my mouth,” Pivovarov wrote in his letter, which he signed “candidate in handcuffs.”
He wrote from prison, “That’s why the lawsuit was begun in Krasnodar, far away from Moscow and Saint Petersburg.”
Among at least seven opposition candidates who expected to vote but were imprisoned, Pivovarov is the only one still running.
Pivovarov was included on the liberal Yabloko party’s Krasnodar ticket as a “humanitarian” gesture, according to the party.
Analyst Alexander Kynev, on the other hand, believes he has “no chance” of being elected.
Yabloko has never received more than 2% of the vote in Krasnodar, according to Kynev. Brief News from Washington Newsday.