By Duwayne Escobedo
Four young men who are members of opposition political parties in the Moscow area said Russia and President Donald Trump did join forces in the 2016 elections in the United States.
Former FBI director Robert Mueller began leading a Special Counsel investigation into Russian operatives cooperating with Trump associates since May 2017.
Ruzil Mingalimor, an Open Russia Movement elected official and manager of an independent media outlet, said Russian President Vladimir Putin should be punished by American authorities.
“We do believe there was interference in American politics,” Mingalimor said through a translator at a Gulf Coast Citizen Diplomacy Council meeting Thursday attended by about two dozen people.
Alexander Chernyorsky, a 32-year-old member of the Solidarity Movement, agreed with Mingalimor.
“This time America must take real steps not just token sanctions,” Chernyorsky said. “They must affect the (Russian) people guilty of these actions.”
The Russians spoke in Pensacola as part of the U.S. Department of State International Visitor Leadership Program that has invited private and public leaders from around the world to America since 1940. Used as a way to increase communications and understanding, more than 500 ILVP alumni now head or used to head various governments, such as Prime Minister Indira Gandhi of India.
Russians involved in their country’s political system said Thursday that the Communist Party continues to block opposition parties from participation in national, state and city elections.
Chernyorsky, a political consultant, said his candidates were barred from advertising at apartment complexes. So, he would send out bicyclists in the middle of the night to put up flyers without permission. The state would then send its people out to rip them down.
“It became like a game,” he said.
Oleg Khomutinnikor, said he plans to run for governor an an Open Russia Movement candidate in his jurisdiction, one of about 85 in Russia. However, to get on the ballot he must get the signatures of 20 council members all part of the ruling Communist party.
“There are no real elections,” Khomutinnikor said. “It’s all negotiations with the Kremlin.”
Despite the obstacles thrown at them, Alexey Kalitvinov pointed out that the Open Russia Movement began during the 2016 elections and in roughly two years has built a network across Russia with citizens running in each of the jurisdictions. In 2017, he said, about 12 candidates earned election during Moscow’s local elections. The Kremlin took notice and fined and indicted its opposition members, including for the first time jailing one woman.
“Early on the government didn’t notice our movement,” Kalitvinov said. “Now, we are observing more pressure on the movement. It has been a success story.”