Navalny’s team scores in regional elections — while in Berlin he gets out of bed

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Maxim Shemetov Reuters

A man with a boy exit a voting booth at a polling station in Tomsk, Russia, Sept. 13, 2020.

MOSCOW — Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny visited two Siberian cities, Novosibirsk and Tomsk, just before he was poisoned with a Novichok-type chemical nerve agent — and candidates from his team won in both regional elections, according to preliminary results Monday.

The Charité clinic in Berlin announced Monday that Navalny’s condition is improving and said he was able to leave his bed for short periods. The clinic said he has been completely weaned off ventilation.

The preliminary election results demonstrated Navalny’s capacity to damage members of President Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party with scathing corruption exposés on his popular YouTube channel. It was also evidence of his growing capacity to draw voters in Russia’s regions, not just in Moscow and St. Petersburg where opposition support is highest.

Despite having no access to Russia’s powerful state media and despite reports of election irregularities, Navalny chipped away at United Russia’s dominance in regional elections Sunday, when gubernatorial elections were held in some regions and regional parliamentary or city council elections in others.

United Russia lost its majority in city councils in both Tomsk and Novosibirsk — the two cities Navalny visited before being poisoned. Navalny’s team recently released videos recorded in the two cities on his popular YouTube channel alleging corruption by local officials. The ruling party also lost its majority in the Tambov city council.

Putin’s party nevertheless claimed victory on grounds that its gubernatorial candidates in 18 regions were reelected. Party General Secretary Andrei Turchak said Russians largely ignored Navalny’s “Smart Voting” initiative — an app that directed voters to support the candidates most likely to defeat United Russia — and “voted with their hearts.”

An independent nonprofit organization that monitors elections, Golos, received 1,076 reports of irregularities and violations. Ella Pamfilova, head of Russia’s Central Election Commission, said there were minimal violations.

In his last video before falling ill with poisoning, titled “Tomsk is held captive by a mafia of deputies,” Navalny sat in an ordinary Russian kitchen leafing through city utility bills. He alleged that “a villainous club” of city council members or their relatives and friends had privatized electricity, water and a municipal housing management company, reaping big profits. The video gained nearly 3.8 million views.

“A local mafia has taken over the city so that all Tomsk residents are forced to pay tribute to it many times every day,” Navalny said in the video.

Two of the council members featured in the film, Kirill Novozhilov and Sergei Panasyuk, were thrown out by voters Sunday, defeated by the leader of Navalny’s local headquarters, Ksenia Fadeyeva, and another team member, Andrei Fateyev.

Maxim Shemetov


Municipal candidates and Alexei Navalny allies in Tomsk, Ksenia Fadeyeva and Andrei Fateyev, attend a meeting in a local campaign office in Tomsk, Russia, Sept. 12, 2020.

Navalny had been planning a series of videos on corruption all over the country before he was poisoned. Parts of the Tomsk and Novosibirsk videos had to be voiced by members of his team.

He fell ill Aug. 20 on a flight from Tomsk to Moscow after the trip to support local candidates in Sunday’s regional elections, and to make the two anti-corruption videos.

His plane was diverted to Omsk, but for two days Russian doctors blocked him from departing Russia for treatment in Germany. Omsk doctors denied that any trace of poisoning was found, announcing that he was suffering from a metabolic disorder.

Russian diplomats have suggested that the findings that Navalny was poisoned by a Novichok-type nerve agent were orchestrated and have accused Germany of dirty political games.

However, the German government announced Monday that two independent laboratories in France and Sweden confirmed that Navalny was poisoned by a Novichok-type nerve agent. Russian authorities have declined to open an investigation into Navalny’s poisoning.

French President Emmanuel Macron spoke to Putin by phone Monday about the Navalny poisoning, urging a “credible and transparent investigation” and stepping up European pressure over the case.

“The president expressed his deep concern over the criminal act perpetrated against Alexei Navalny and the imperative that all light be shed, without delay, on the circumstances and responsibilities of this attempted assassination,” said a statement from the French presidency Monday.

Novichok was used to poison former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury, England, in 2018. Britain later charged two Russian military intelligence agents in the case. They returned to Russia immediately after the attack.

The German magazine Der Spiegel reported Friday that the agent used to poison Navalny was “harder” than previous versions of the nerve agent. It cited the head of Germany’s Federal Intelligence Service, Bruno Kahl, speaking in a secret meeting the previous week.

Navalny was brought out of his medically induced coma last week, but doctors have said the long-term impact of the poisoning is unclear.

Navalny’s colleague, Lyubov Sobol, rejected the Election Commission’s claim that the regional elections were clean. “Absolute lie, the elections were dirty,” she wrote on Twitter. But she added that even with falsifications and ballot stuffing, “we still managed to win.”

Open Media, a reporting website associated with exiled Russian businessman Mikhail Khodorkovsky, said United Russia’s support fell in nine of the 11 elections for regional legislatures.

Four members of Navalny’s team won seats on the Novosibirsk city council, including Sergei Boiko, leader of his local headquarters. Daniil Markelov, another of Navalny’s candidates in Novosibirsk, was barred from contesting the election.

Golos, the independent election monitor, said 13 election observers in the city of Vladimir, 112 miles east of Moscow, were thrown into a police cell for 18 hours without food, water or the possibility to communicate, then were driven 62 miles from the city and warned not to come back or they would face violence.

Voting was held over three days, leaving ballot boxes vulnerable to overnight tampering, in a repeat of one of the main flaws seen during a recent vote on constitutional changes that opened a path for Putin to remain in power until 2036.

Alexander Nemenov

AFP/Getty Images

Members of a local electoral commission empty a ballot box at a polling station in Siberian city of Novosibirsk, on Sept. 13, 2020.

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, World reports

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