“In our country there is no parliamentary life the way it is understood in the civilized world,” he said. “And I say that with the utmost assurance.”
A visit to Zheleznodorozhny (it means “railroad”), a city of 132,000 people just east of Moscow, offers a journey through the psyche of the Vladimir Putin-era voter. These voters are expected to allow the United Russia party that supports Putin to stay in control of the state Duma, even while deeply dissatisfied with its leadership.
“We don’t look at elections as an important political event,” Krasilnikov said. “They don’t have any effect.”
Georgy Udaltsov said he’ll vote, although he considers it useless: “We believe it will be falsified.”
He stood outside his drugstore on Proletariat Street earlier this week, enumerating complaints against the local government, which he said is propped up by the authorities in Moscow. The children’s hospital is a disgrace. Kindergartens are neglected. The maternity hospital was torn down to make way for new apartments, which are sprouting up like so many mushrooms in a damp forest. And criminals run the city, selling land on the cheap to the well-connected, who build still more expensive apartments.
“Don’t mention the mayor’s name,” he advised. “He’ll sue you.”
A gray-haired woman navigating the mud and ice-glazed puddles on the sidewalk overheard and stopped to agree and add shameful details. “But why are foreigners interested?” she asked. “Because Russians are too afraid to care,” Udaltsov retorted. She hurried off when questioned about how she’ll vote. “I work for the government,” she said. “That’s how I’ll vote.”
Radislav Fateyev, the 40-year-old chairman of a Russian heritage society, said the mayor has already announced the results: United Russia must get 67 percent of the votes. People are afraid they’ll be fired, he said, so they’ll vote for the party.
“Now what?” he exclaimed, raising his arm. “We can only hope in God.”
In September, Queen Margrethe II of Denmark came to town to visit a Danish firm that runs an insulation factory. Udaltsov and others — most of whom were too frightened to attach their names to the project — had already organized a civic action group called Our City Zheleznodorozhny to fight against corruption and crime.
They had made little progress. Appeals to the president, prime minister, interior minister and chief of the federal investigative committee had gone unanswered. Other complaints were routed back to the local authorities. Udaltsov had been badly beaten three times, ambushed in the evening when he approached his apartment, where the assailants awaited him. Their only way out, they decided, was to try to get a letter to the queen.