Russian President Vladimir Putin.
A Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman with a sense of humor accused the U.S. of “direct interference in our electoral process and internal affairs” after the State Department chided the Kremlin for barring a political opponent of Vladimir Putin’s from challenging him in next year’s presidential election. After 14 years in office, Putin will run for another six-year term next March. He’s almost certain to win.
Yet the Kremlin is still keeping Alexey Navalny, a charismatic opposition activist, from running. The State Department criticized Navalny’s ban, purportedly handed down because of a previous embezzlement conviction. That conviction, which the European Court of Human Rights has called “arbitrary and manifestly unreasonable,” is thought to be bogus.
In a statement first reported by Business Insider, the State Department called Navalny’s exclusion from the election part of an “ongoing crackdown against independent voices, from journalists to civil society activists and opposition politicians.”
“These actions indicate the Russian government has failed to protect space in Russia for the exercise of human rights and fundamental freedoms,” the statement said. “More broadly, we urge the government of Russia to hold genuine elections that are transparent, fair, and free and that guarantee the free expression of the will of the people, consistent with its international human rights obligations.”
In its own statement, the European Union’s foreign service said forcing out Navalny “casts a serious doubt on political pluralism in Russia and the prospect of democratic elections next year.”
But it was the statement from the U.S. that Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova seized on.
“And these people expressed outrage over alleged Russian ‘interference’ in their electoral process for an entire year?!” she wrote on Facebook. “The funniest thing is that these are the same people who just tagged RT and Sputnik as foreign agents, who are harassing Russian media around the world and who are investing huge amounts of money into ‘countering Russian propaganda,’ which is how they label anyone who they disagree with.”