The popularity of President Vladimir Putin and his allies is set to be tested by Russians voting in local elections after a crackdown on opposition protests in Moscow, AFP reported on Sunday, September 8th.
Elections for municipal councils and regional governors have taken place across the country, but most attention was focused on Moscow, where tens of thousands took to the streets this summer after potential opposition candidates were barred from the vote.
In the week before the election, five were sentenced to jail time ranging from two to four years, as police detained hundreds of the protesters. While most were quickly released, some faced serious charges.
Meanwhile, reports have indicated that both Maria Alyokhina of the political punk music group Pussy Riot and Ilya Azar, a journalist and city councillor, were detained by the police among others on the election day.
Russia's main opposition leader, Alexei Navalny, indicated that they have been fighting to destroy Russia's monopoly of power, adding that his allies were excluded from the election over alleged irregularities and that the opposition has called for voters to punish the Kremlin and the ruling United Russia party at the ballot box.
Analysts say the vote is a test run ahead of parliamentary elections due in 2021, both of the opposition's ability to mobilise support and the authorities' willingness to tolerate dissent.
Since its formation in 2001, United Russia's popularity has drastically diminished in recent years due to Western sanctions.
On Sunday, September 8th, a Russian state communications watchdog reported that Google, Facebook and YouTube had distributed political adverts on election day and were therefore guilty of "interfering in Russia's sovereign affairs" and "hindering democratic elections".