Lithuania: 12-18 September 2016

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A pro-Moscow website in Lithuania quotes Vladimir Putin’s claim that the success of his United Russia party in the Duma parliamentary elections on 18 September was a reaction by Russian voters to Western pressure.

Event: On 19 September, the Lithuanian-language, pro-Kremlin website reported that in Russia’s parliamentary elections the day before, the ruling United Russia party received 54 percent of the votes, capturing 343 out of 450 seats in the Duma. Opposition parties Yabloko and Parnas failed to garner a single seat. The voting results of Russian citizens in Lithuania corresponded to overall trends in Russia itself, with 55 percent of them choosing United Russia; another 14.7 percent voted for the Russian Communist Party and 8.4 percent for the Liberal Democratic party. This suggests that Russians living in Lithuania follow pro-Kremlin media, which may have influenced their opinions.

The false facts or narrative: reprinted a 19 September story about the elections by RT which quotes Russian President Vladimir Putin as saying that United Russia won “as a reaction to Western pressure, the threats, the sanctions and the attempts to destabilize the situation in Russia.” The chairman of the Duma’s Foreign Affairs Committee, Aleksey Pushkov, repeated the allegation, saying that President Obama aimed “sanctions against Russia to cast a blow against Russia’s economy and to weaken the support of President Putin. U.S. pressure, he added, had the opposite effect and instead mobilized society in favor of President Putin and his political party.

Reality on the ground: Russia’s state machinery favored the ruling party during the campaign and on voting day, according to independent monitors. The media reported instances of ballot-stuffing and multiple voting, including one in which a bus full of workers was seen at seven Moscow polling stations. Some state employees also reported pressure to vote for United Russia. Overall turnout, meanwhile, was only 48 percent—down from 60 percent in the last Duma elections five years ago. The voter turnout in Moscow (20 per cent) and St. Petersburg (16.1 per cent) was the lowest ever.

Techniques: Half-truths; no analysis.

Lithuanian society.

Impact and analysis: The results cement Putin’s grip on power and allow United Russia to change the constitution at will. However, overwhelmingly presented the Kremlin line that the voting was fair. The website did not publish overseas media allegations of voting irregularities or government measures to restrict the political activity of opposition groups. Voting results by ethnic Russians inside Lithuania suggest that Kremlin media is effective there.