The Kremlin is putting “unprecedented” pressure on opposition activists as President Vladimir Putin prepares for his toughest electoral test amid Russia’s longest recession in two decades, according to his former prime minister. “The authorities understand that 2016 will be decisive because the economic and political situation is acute,” Mikhail Kasyanov, who was premier from 2000 to 2004 and is now one of Putin’s harshest critics, said in an interview in Moscow. “They are tightening the screws, and if they don’t allow the opposition to engage in politics and compete in elections, all this will soon lead to a revolution.” Kasyanov said pro-Kremlin activists are hounding him and supporters of his opposition Parnas coalition across the country ahead of parliamentary elections in September. He’s also facing death threats, including an Instagram video posted last month by the Kremlin-backed leader of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, that showed him in the crosshairs of a scope sight. Kadyrov later added a picture of himself with a sniper rifle.
Russians will go to the polls as they endure a second year of recession after the collapse in oil prices, with incomes falling the most since Putin came to power 16 years ago. Parnas needs to win more than 5 percent of the vote to qualify for a share of 225 seats in the State Duma awarded under party lists. Kasyanov said administrative pressures at a local level make it an uphill fight to try to win any of the 225 individual constituencies that will make up the other half of seats in the parliament.
“The pressure, both physical and psychological, is growing every day,” as the authorities work to ensure the pro-Putin United Russia party retains its majority in the Duma, Kasyanov said. “The campaign of hatred against us is everywhere.”