Ever since leading Russian whistleblower Aleksei Navalny dubbed United Russia “the party of swindlers and thieves,” opposition activists and ordinary Russians frustrated with the ruling party have taken the appellation to heart. With parliamentary elections three weeks away and next year’s presidential election results already predetermined, the growing public anger at Russia’s politics-as-usual is palpable. According to fraud monitoring experts, the number of pre-electoral campaign violations has increased dramatically compared to previous years, with part of this increase attributed to “heightened dissatisfaction among voters with efforts to predetermine the election outcome.”
Predicable as it may be, then, it was nevertheless surreal to hear the news on Sunday that the Kremlin-loyal opposition party A Just Russia had been charged with violating public transportation laws for a bus advertisement that officials say contained “agitation against United Russia.” Under Russian law, it is illegal to spread negative propaganda against a political party or candidate, and it was on this basis that the charges were filed. But while A Just Russia had recently taken up the slogan “For Russia Without Swindlers and Thieves” and included it in the offending ad, there was no explicit mention of United Russia itself. The Russian authorities, it seems, have begun to take the connection between United Russia and “swindlers and thieves” for granted.
A Just Russia candidate Alena Popova posted a scan of the official charges online. The red check indicates the article the ad supposedly violates, reading “advertisement information (interior, exterior) without client’s agreement;” the handwriting reads “agitation against United Russia.”