There's plenty of election-meddling blame to go around.
After a year of listening to Americans debate Russian interference in the 2016 election, Russia is now accusing the U.S. of election-meddling, citing a State Department statement expressing “concern” over repression of journalists and opposition leaders in the run-up to the Russian presidential election in March.
“This statement by the State Department, which I’m sure won’t be the last of its kind, represents direct interference in our electoral process,” Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Maria Zakharova wrote in a post on Facebook on Wednesday. “And these people have been expressing outrage over alleged Russian ‘interference’ in their electoral process for an entire year?”
The State Department had joined the European Union in criticizing a decision by Russian electoral officials Monday to ban opposition leader Alexei Navalny from running in the March election. Russia’s Central Electoral Commission officially banned Navalny from running, in a decision that surprised no one. The commission ruled that a past corruption conviction, which Navalny claims was trumped up to silence him, meant he was disqualified.
Of course, Russian officials have been harassing Navalny and his supporters for far longer than that, according to Human Rights Watch.
“Police across Russia have raided Navalny’s campaign offices, arbitrarily detained campaign volunteers, and carried out other actions that unjustifiably interfere with campaigning,” the rights group wrote in September. “In addition, radical nationalists and pro-Putin groups have physically attacked and threatened campaigners.”
This isn’t the first time Russia has accused the U.S. of trying to mess with the upcoming election, which observers say Vladimir Putin is sure to win, for his fourth term.
After the IOC announced it was barring Russia from participating in the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea, for allegedly running a massive state-run doping scheme, Putin himself linked the move to a U.S. plot to undermine his re-election.
“What worries me is that the Olympic Games are due to start in February, and when is our presidential election? In March,” Putin said in December. “There are very strong suspicions that all that is done because someone needs to create an atmosphere of discontent among sports fans and athletes over the state’s alleged involvement in violations and responsibility for it.”
Meanwhile, on Wednesday, Navalny released a video calling for protests in multiple cities across Russia on January 28 in support of his new strategy to boycott the election — a campaign the Kremlin has said might be illegal.