With parliamentary elections in Russia around the corner, canvassers in the southern city of Krasnodar are asking passersby to write letters to their candidate, who has no way to meet them.
That’s because Kremlin critic Andrei Pivovarov is behind bars just down the road.
Arrested at the end of May, Pivovarov’s supporters say he was caught in a dragnet that has seen Russia’s opposition dismantled ahead of State Duma elections this weekend.
With household names like Alexei Navalny in prison, his allies in exile and lesser known activists barred from running or jailed like Pivovarov, the Kremlin is set to maintain its stranglehold on the legislature.
In a handwritten letter to AFP from Detention Center No. 1—surrounded by barbed wire topped concrete walls – Pivovarov conceded his election chances were minimal.
He said his campaign—managed by mail via one of his lawyers and run by several dozen volunteers from Krasnodar, Moscow and his hometown of Saint Petersburg—was a platform for his message.
“I want people who learn about my campaign to understand that the moment has arrived when those who speak the truth are tossed in prison just for their words,” Pivovarov wrote.
The 39-year-old announced last year he planned to run in Moscow.
But when Navalny returned to Russia from Germany in January after recovering from a poisoning he blamed on the Kremlin, the authorities launched a crackdown.
Pivovarov was a target. He had worked with organisations founded by the exiled Kremlin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky including the pro-democracy group Open Russia outlawed in 2017.
Yanked off a Warsaw-bound plane in Saint Petersburg in May, Pivovarov was whisked 2,000 kilometers south to Krasnodar and charged with involvement with an “undesirable” organization.
He is facing six years in prison in a case resting on a Facebook post penned from Krasnodar in 2019, voicing support for a Khodorkovsky-aligned activist running in local elections.
In his letter, which he signed “candidate in handcuffs,” Pivovarov said the authorities wanted to “shut my mouth”.
“That’s why the case was launched in Krasnodar, far from Moscow and Saint Petersburg,” he wrote from prison.
Pivovarov is the only opposition candidate still running among at least seven who planned to ballot but were arrested.
The liberal Yabloko party included Pivovarov on their Krasnodar list in a “humanitarian” gesture, it said.
But analyst Alexander Kynev says he has “no chance” of being elected.
Yabloko, Kynev noted, has never won more than two percent of the vote in Krasnodar – a city of some one million people and a stronghold of President Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party.
United Russia seemed so sure of victory its local office told AFP it wasn’t running any campaign events in Krasnodar less than two weeks before the vote.