20 years under Putin: a timeline

The atmosphere surrounding Russia’s regional elections scheduled for September 8 is rather contradictory. On one hand, the Kremlin has made it clear that the nonsystemic opposition will be allowed to participate in the elections—Alexei Navalny was registered as a candidate for Moscow mayor. On the other hand, Mikhail Prokhorov’s Civic Platform Party has been removed from the ballot almost everywhere. Political analyst Tatiana Stanovaya discusses the reasons why the Kremlin is afraid of this party.



Mikhail Prokhorov has scared the Kremlin three times in these last three years. The first time was in the summer of 2011, when he actively began developing the Right Cause party. The Kremlin at the time hoped to “come to an arrangement” with the center-right forces and secure a “constructive” (loyal) caucus in the State Duma. However, this plan did not go through: Prokhorov began building the party without a backward glance at the presidential administration, surrounded himself with cultural heavyweights (suffice to mention Russian and Soviet pop music legend Alla Pugacheva), refused to seek the Kremlin’s sanction for the party’s election list, and insisted that the founder of the Yekaterinburg “City without Drugs” movement, Yevgeny Roisman, be included on the party list. As a result, a quick takeover was organized within the party, and Prokhorov found himself in the nonsystemic political field.

The Kremlin had learned a lesson: “taming” an accomplished multibillionaire businessman and using him as an instrument for establishing contact between the regime and the middle class turned out to be difficult. In effect, the Kremlin tried to “hire” an oligarch to do political work and sacked him as soon as it became clear that the “employee” did not comply with the job description. The problem is that one can get sacked from a job, but not from politics. Political activity clearly appealed to Prokhorov.

By 2013, the government considered Mikhail Prokhorov both a threat and a resource that could be used in the interests of the Kremlin.

The Kremlin became scared for the second time in late 2011 and early 2012, when Prokhorov appeared at mass protest rallies. The participation of such people as Prokhorov and former Deputy Prime Minister Alexei Kudrin, along with several other systemic figures, in the mass rallies could be seen as nothing less than a legitimation of the protests. Until December 2011, the protests had had a peripheral character. When, on December 24, 2011, Prokhorov came to one of the largest opposition rallies, the government could no longer ignore the signal that uncontrolled processes were underway in the country. The legitimation of the protests posed the risk that a real alternative to Putin and the ruling party might appear. The government, however, was not used to political competition. As a result, Prokhorov was again required to submit to an “arrangement.” He was allowed to run as a candidate for the presidency as long as he politically supported Putin.

The third serious “warning bell” sounded on the day of the 2012 presidential election, when Prokhorov received 20 percent of the vote in Moscow, which immediately put him in the A league of federal politicians.

By 2013, the government considered Mikhail Prokhorov both a threat and a resource that could be used in the interests of the Kremlin. When the decision was made to hold early elections for Moscow mayor, the regime’s first priority was to neutralize Prokhorov. Sources in the Kremlin said at the time that the presidential administration was very worried about the prospect of Prokhorov running in the Moscow mayoral race.

That is why it came as no surprise that neither Prokhorov nor his Civic Platform Party would in any way participate in the Moscow mayoral elections. The formal reason was that the businessman did not have enough time to get rid of his foreign assets, since, under new electoral laws, no candidate may have any. However, lawyers and sources in the media have previously stated that there were ways to comply with the law without withdrawing from the election. Prokhorov himself declared that he was determined to fight for the Moscow City Duma in 2014.

In his statement after bowing out of the mayoral race, Prokhorov sounded disappointed: “They were really afraid of me. The so-called ‘Sobyanin castling,’ the law on foreign assets of candidates—the regime made both of these moves with a single purpose of not allowing me to run in the election. In my view, the government’s actions put a big full stop to speculations and arguments about my being a ‘Kremlin project.’ . . . One can calmly recognize that at this stage, the regime outplayed me. However, as [Vladimir] Vysotsky sang, the evening is still young. The real fight is only beginning.”

Any aspirant to “partnership” with the Kremlin has to understand that any bargains with the regime only work in a one-way direction. The Kremlin never guarantees either its support or security. Once the regime feels threatened, it reacts aggressively. It is no wonder that Civic Platform’s candidates found it virtually impossible to get registered for the September regional elections. Some even lost their freedom over such an effort.

On the night of July 3, operatives of the Russian Investigative Committee arrested Yaroslavl Mayor Yevgeny Urlashov. They then proceeded to search both his apartment and his office. This happened so unexpectedly that many thought at first that an assault had taken place or that Urlashov was being intimidated. However, it became clear that this move against the mayor had been carefully planned. He had been followed, his meetings had been videotaped, and his phone had been bugged. As a result, criminal charges were filed against him under Article 30, Part 3, and Article 290, Part 6, of the Russian Criminal Code (attempted bribery for a large amount of money by a group of people previously acting in concert). On July 7, Yevgeny Urlashov was chosen to lead the Civic Platform’s list in the election for the Yaroslavl regional legislature.


The elected mayor of Yaroslavl, Yevgeny Urlashov, has been under arrest since July 3.


According to investigators, during the period from December 2012 to July 2, 2013, the mayor of Yaroslavl and his subordinates extorted from the director of a commercial company a bribe worth 14 million rubles ($425,000), a sum transferred to the company supposedly for work it completed. In an interview with the Dozhd TV channel, Urlashov explained that he was accused of extortion by a man “whose road-cleaning and repair work I refused to accept”. “He is a member of the United Russia party, he mentioned a number of names—many people from the mayor’s office who are allegedly involved in this operation,” Urlashov added. “I was warned that I would be removed one way or another.” At the same time, it is noteworthy that top United Russia members Sergei Neverov and Andrei Isayev declared that it was unacceptable to arrest the mayor without sufficient proof. The ruling party was clearly trying to distance itself from the incident.

Urlashov is a key member of the opposition. In the spring of 2012, he won the mayoral election against a United Russia candidate. Attempts were made to “lure” him into the ruling party. According to Urlashov, Neverov himself tried to coax him into the fold. Urlashov, however, refused. Since his election, the mayor has been in a constant political confrontation with the governor of the Yaroslavl region, Sergei Yastrebov. He also actively cooperated with Alexei Navalny, took part in protest rallies “against crooks and thieves,” and demonstrated serious political ambitions. He is fairly popular in the Yaroslavl region. In 2016, Urlashov intended to run for governor.

Urlashov’s case might serve as a serious motive for the mobilization of the nonsystemic opposition. For the government, it is a matter of principle to guarantee United Russia’s victory in the regional elections. However, if administrative resources have traditionally been the more customary way of achieving this task, today the regime relies more and more often on the use of force, which demonstrates its insecurity about its influence and its ability to keep the situation under control. The growing role of the Investigative Committee in the regime’s fight against the opposition is also worth mentioning.

The regional electoral commission refused to register the list of candidates from the Civic Platform Party for the election to the Yaroslavl legislature on the grounds that the party had not opened a campaign bank account on time. The head of the Yaroslavl branch of Civic Platform, Konstantin Malyshev, insists that the party did not open the account on time because of the sudden disappearance of its fiscal agent, Natalya Semyonova. As it later became known, on the last day when the account could be opened, Semyonova was called in for questioning by the Yaroslavl regional office of the Interior Ministry. The Civic Platform leadership is convinced that regional authorities did everything they could to eliminate the party from the campaign. As a source close to United Russia leaders told Vedomosti, the Yaroslavl region is the only region where the ruling party might not come first in the elections.

Gubernatorial elections, for now, have been proceeding without criminal prosecution, thanks to the so-called municipal filter, which gives the authorities ample opportunity to remove “undesirable” candidates from the electoral race. The electoral commission of the Vladimir region disqualified 12 municipal deputies’ signatures on behalf of Civic Platform gubernatorial candidate Alexander Filippov. Eleven of these people had also given their signatures for another candidate, and one deputy submitted an incorrect date of birth. Filippov had gathered a total of 142 local deputies’ signatures (136 were required). “Rather than letting voters decide who the next governor will be, they divided the signatures of the municipal deputies between all the ‘spoiler’ candidates,” Filippov told Kommersant. He also issued a statement in which he said that the Vladimir region would be the only region where the incumbent governor would be opposed only by “spoiler” candidates. Incidentally, Anton Belyakov, a member of A Just Russia party, who was considered the main opponent of Acting Governor Svetlana Orlova, became her nominee for senator.

As a source close to United Russia leaders told Vedomosti, the Yaroslavl region is the only region where the ruling party might not come first in the elections.

The Ryazan electoral commission earlier refused to register the candidacy of Civic Platform’s local branch leader, Semyon Sazonov, for the legislature under the pretext that his first name was not spelled correctly. The electoral commission of the Zabaikal region refused to register Civic Platform member Alexei Koshelev as a candidate for governor after disqualifying 39 signatures of municipal deputies in support of his candidacy. Thirteen of these 39 signatures belonged to people who were neither deputies nor heads of municipal entities, and the rest were identical to those gathered earlier by another candidate for governor, Vasilina Kuliyeva, a member of the nationalist LDPR party. Civic Platform intends to challenge the electoral commission’s decision and demand that a criminal case be opened against Kuliyeva for forging the signatures.

However hard the Kremlin tries to show that any candidate can participate in the elections provided he or she does not violate the law, it is clear that, in practice, this is just a posture aimed at legitimizing the electoral process. People’s confidence in elections is decreasing, the electoral process in Russia is losing its value, political alternatives are practically nonexistent, and lists of participants are strictly controlled. The government resorts to tricks by allowing one opposition candidate to run in the elections, while at the same time removing another one who poses a bigger threat to the regime. It all looks like a game of hide-and-seek with history. Historical processes are, however, interesting, because one can never hide for too long. In the end, the administrative resources will lose their strength, because the regime will no longer have people’s confidence.