#ElectionWatch: Police Raids Ahead of Opposition Protests in Russia

An open-source snapshot of efforts ahead of nationwide protest against Russian presidential elections

(Source: Twitter / @teamnavalny_kzn)

On December 27, Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny called for a boycott of the elections and organized nationwide protests on January 28. This came after the Russian Central Election Committee (CEC) ruled that Navalny is not eligible to run for president in elections to be held on March 18.

According to an independent survey by Levada-Center, 61 percent of the respondents would vote for current president of Russia Vladimir Putin in the upcoming elections. However, the citizen’s interest to vote at all was rather low. On December 13, Levada-Center reported that only 28 percent of the respondents are sure to vote and 30 percent will most likely vote — meaning less than 58 percent of Russians likely to vote in elections. This would be significantly less than the 65.34 percent of citizens who participated in the previous election.

The anti-election protests were planned to take place in at least 115 Russian cities and at least three cities abroad — Berlin, New York, and Prague.

The official hashtags announced by Navalny’s team included #Забастовка (translated from Russian: “#strike”), #ЭтоНеВыборы (translated from Russian: “#TheseAren’tElections”), and #28января (translated from Russian: “#January28”).

Police raids in regional offices

The hashtags were used to report on police raids that included detention of protest activists and confiscation of flyers that called for the protest. All the sources reporting about the police raids in media were Navalny’s supporters. No public police reports about the raids was available at the time of this report.

On January 23, a Twitter account associated with Navalny’s team posted a video that listed police raids in Vladivostok, Yaroslavl, Pskov, Moscow, St. Petersburg, Penza, Kazan, Tyumen, Samara, Kaliningrad, and Ekatirinburg.

Mediazona, a Russian opposition media outlet co-funded in 2014 by Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, a member of the punk band turned political protest group Pussy Riot, published a list of police raids and detentions apparently aimed at preventing the protest. The article elaborated on at least 18 incidents, which occurred between January 23 and January 25. Additionally, the post mentioned places like Sochi, Voronezh, Kurgan, Krasnodar, Vladimirsk, Stary Omsk, Korolev, Bryansk, Perm, Belgorod, Kirov, Veliky Novgorod.

(Source: Mediazona)

Navalny’s team and Mediazona listed at least 23 cities where Navalny’s offices were visited by Russian policemen. In addition to those listed by Navalny’s team and Mediazona, @DFRLab identified at least eight more police raids on Navalny offices.

On January 19, Navalny’s office in Novokuznetsk published on their YouTube channel a video of a police raid that took place on January 18.

On January 20, Navalny’s office in Omsk tweeted about the detention of their activists.

On January 22, Radio Liberty reported that police arrested a coordinator of Navalny’s office in Rostov-na-Donu.

On January 23, Navalny’s office in Vologda reported on VKontakte (VK) about a police raid and the confiscation of flyers. One of the office activists, Evgeny Domozhirov, livestreamed the police raid on YouTube and actively tweeted about it.

On January 23, Navalny’s office in Ryazan tweeted about a possible police raid on their office too.

On January 24, the regional manager of the Navalny campaign in the central and northwestern districts, Ekaterina Moshonkina, tweeted about a police raid in Tula.

On January 24, Navalny’s team in Stary Oskol also reported on their VK account about a police raid, and an activist of Navalny’s office in Chelyabinsk tweeted about a police raid on January 25.

Overall, at least 31 of Navalny’s regional offices were subject to police raids in advance of the January 28 protests.

“Strike!” vs. “Everyone vote!”

On January 18, the Russian Central Election Committee (CEC) started promoting the presidential elections by putting posters and banners all over the country, as is standard practice. Social media accounts of Navalny’s regional offices shared multiple photos of the banners being mocked and overwritten with the word “strike” among others.

(Source: Twitter)

Doodles on the banners used the keyword and hashtag #Забастовка (#Strike)–which is an official hashtag of the anti-election protest–give this the appearance of a guerrilla marketing campaign by Navalny’s volunteers, aimed at urging people not to vote.

Highlighting what appears to show an effort to increase potential turnout, social media users reported a number of different ways in which the Election Commission and other groups were spreading the word about voting, beyond traditional posters and banners.

For instance, on January 24, the election commission in Stavropol announced an essay contest named “President — a complicated profession”. According to the announcement, both schoolchildren and students of colleges and universities can submit an essay and compete for a prize worth one thousand rubles (17.9 USD) for the first place, 900 rubles (16.11 USD) for the second and 800 rubles (14.32 USD) for the third place.

Meanwhile, shops in Sakhalinsk printed slogans on their receipts, urging shoppers to vote. According to one social media user, who posted a grocery receipt on a Russian forum, the shop that promoted elections was named Matroshka.

Text translated from Russian: “Everyone to the elections on March 18, 2018! Thank you for the purchase!” (Source: Sakh.com)
Text translated from Russian: “VAT is included in the price. Thank you for the purchase! On March 18, 2018 are elections of the president of RF. Everyone to the elections!” (Source: Sakh.com)

Also on January 22, a Twitter user @ChechkovaDasha posted an image of a survey with leading questions about President Putin.

https://twitter.com/ChechkovaDasha/status/955387315085545473

Conclusion

At least 31 Navalny offices in Russia were visited by the local police in order to confiscate flyers and posters for the anti-election protest on Sunday, January 28. @DFRLab identified arrests of Navalny’s supporters in St. Petersburg, Rostov-na-Donu, Veliky Novgorod, and Vologda.

Both sides appear to be focusing on election turnout albeit different types of turnout. The opposition is campaigning for a boycott, and the authorities and other groups calling for active participation.

@DFRLab will follow developments of the countrywide protests against the Russian presidential elections on Sunday, January 28.


Nika Aleksejeva is a Digital Forensic Research Associate at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab (@DFRLab).

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