Taking On Putin Panorama


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Taking On Putin

Vladimir Putin is about to face the voters, with his victory seen as a foregone conclusion. John Sweeney looks at allegations that the Kremlin has subverted democracy in Russia.


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The Kremlin is accused

of poisoning its

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enemies in Britain.

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But what happens to Vladimir Putin's

opponents back home?

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As Russia prepares for

a presidential election, I meet the

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people standing up to

the Kremlin.

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Is Russia a police state?

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Absolutely.

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100%.

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Close the doors.

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Close the door.

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Close the door.

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I find out what it's

like to become a target myself.

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There's no question whatsoever that

we're being followed.

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And we show how the Russian state

attacks its opponents

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and bullies its critics.

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I'm in a police station.

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It's how it goes in a democracy

like the one that Russia's got.

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I've been coming

to Russia for years.

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But this visit feels different.

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The authorities, we believe,

will be watching us.

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This Sunday, there's

a presidential election.

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Everyone knows who is going to win.

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Vladimir Putin has been

in power here for the

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last 18 years.

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In a few days' time,

he's expected to win six

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more years in power.

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No one really doubts

the outcome of the election.

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The question is - how can that be?

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Vladimir Putin is popular.

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But this is a country

where challenging

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power can get you killed.

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Three years ago, one

of President Putin's

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main rivals was gunned down

close to the Kremlin.

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It was a Saturday

and we just sort of

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exchanged a few messages.

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The last message I think

was at 11.13pm and it said

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see you tomorrow and at

11.31pm he was killed.

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Boris Nemtsov had been

planning to challenge

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Vladimir Putin in this year's

presidential election.

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The Kremlin denies any

involvement in the murder.

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Boris Nemtsov was

killed because he was

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the strongest the most

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effective, the most

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prominent, the most

formidable opponent of

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Vladimir Putin's regime.

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He would not be intimidated,

he would not make any deals with

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the regime, he would not

leave the country, he

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would not be silenced.

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This was the only way

he could be silenced.

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I have come to Moscow

to find out what

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life's really like for

the opposition here.

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Volkswagen Golf 2 behind us.

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And that means I might

become a target too.

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T914.

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They're really close behind us.

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We are going a complicated way but

Volkswagen follows us. Everywhere

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that we go. It seems someone wants

to know what we're up to.

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to know what we're up to.

It is now

reversing.

It is the same one, I

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remember. Close the door. Close the

door. The blue Volkswagen has

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followed us to the office of Human

Rights Watch. They document what

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happens to the opposition here.

Very

experience raids and invasive

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instructions. Campaigners get beaten

up. They get burgled and physically

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abused. The complaining of this is

get vandalised and private homes get

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vandalised and so on and so forth.

One man has lived with this reality

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for years.

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Alexei Navalny dares to expose

corruption amongst Vladimir Putin's

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inner circle.

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There are other candidates standing

in Sunday's election.

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in Sunday's election. But Alexei

Navalny has been banned because of a

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conviction for theft. The European

Court of Human Rights found the

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original trial was unfair. The

Kremlin says Navalny organises

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illegal rallies. This is what

happens when he holds one.

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He was later accused of assaulting a

police officer jeering this arrest.

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-- during this arrest.

He is the

most prominent, possibly the most

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charismatic opposition figure in the

country today and the Government is

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preventing him from running in the

election.

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election.

914. When we leave Human

Rights Watch, we are still being

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followed by the blue Volkswagen.

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followed by the blue Volkswagen. OK,

I'm paranoid. It's now three o'clock

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and everywhere we've been, we've

been followed by a car with a

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registration number starting TE 914.

-- T914. People who take on the

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system here are routinely spied on.

Life in Vladimir Putin's Russia can

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be far more dangerous. If you work

for the team Navalny being arrested

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goes with the job. Some activists

have suffered far worse.

I felt a

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strong blow to the head. At first I

thought something had fallen off the

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roof, I thought something was

collapsing. I turned round and see a

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man hitting me once again with what

turned out to be a metal pipe.

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Nikolai was accused of setting up

the attack on himself. He says his

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office was later raided by the

police.

It was so absurd, I got

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assaulted and was hit over the head

with a pipe. At the Moscow

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headquarters are compensated all

leaflets, all stickers and all

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merchandise with the word, Navalny.

Inside Navalny HQ, the man many say

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Plaid emit Putin fears emost has

agreed to meet me. -- Vladimir

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Putin. How you? Very well. Why are

you not running in this election?

I

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am not allowed to run. Putin banned

me from participating. He is afraid

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of me and my colleagues. We have,

just as volunteers, more than

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200,000 people. Of course he is

afraid of such a power.

Alexei

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Navalny has been repeatedly arrested

and detained.

It's kind of very

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routine situation for me. Every

single time when I am going on the

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outdoor rally they arrested me. They

took away our leaflets and our

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laptops, computers. They can take

everything.

It is completely

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illegal.

Is Russia a police state?

Absolutely. 100%.

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Absolutely. 100%.

The Kremlin would

not speak to us but it is not hard

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to find politicians here who will

give the Kremlin line.

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give the Kremlin line.

Navalny has

been attacked several times. Last

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year he spent 60 days in prison or

in jail. Russia is a police state,

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isn't it? Russia is less of a police

state than any Western country I

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know of. We have quite a liberal

legislation on protests and people

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need to not violate them. The police

deal with protests in a way which is

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according to their law.

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according to their law.

But here it

is easy to get on the wrong side of

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the security services. There is the

FSB, the new name for the KGB,

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Russia's krych police. And there is

a Police Department that is accused

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of targeting political activists. It

is called centre E.

Officially it is

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a counter extremism police force.

Absolutely. In Russia it is

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understood in a strange way. The

idea that any kind of thing that

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could be considered a threat to

political stability, that would be

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considered extremism.

What have we

got? There is a car on our tail,

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again. We are being followed, we

think. The car registration numbers

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we can pick out 369. This time we

are being tracked by a dark coloured

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Renault.

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Renault. Who do you think is

following us?

It might be centre E,

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it might be someone else. Usually it

means a message. A lot is about a

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message with the Russians.

For

people like andray, this has become

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part of life. Have you been

threatened physically?

Yes. What

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happened? Last summer I got some

e-mails with physical threats. Like

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a death threat?

Yes. They said

probably it is time to do something

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about it?

Meaning physically.

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In Putin's Russia, the line between

the security services and violent

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folks is sometimes blurred. Last

April, Alexei Navalny was almost

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blinded in one eye. -- thugs. The

police denied that centre E is being

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accused of supporting the group

blamed for the attack. They are

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called SERB and they are pro-Putin.

I want to meet them.

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I want to meet them. Hello. What I

do not know is we are being secretly

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filmed. This footage later turns up

on Russian TV.

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SERB deny the green dye attack on

Navalny but they take me to the

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place where opposition leader Boris

Nemtsov was gunned down. An

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opposition activist garners the

memorial because it has been

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vandalised in the past.

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Some people say that SERB, this

group, is controlled by centre E. Is

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that true?

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Check out these SERB activist who is

filming us. Here he is at the green

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dye attack on Navalny last April and

this is him showing what appears to

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be his police ID at another SERB

protest. He is a former police

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Major. It suggests SERB may be well

connected.

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SERB has now taken me to a memorial

near Boris

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near Boris Nemtsov's old home. They

take it apart.

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was Ben

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Aren't you desecrating a shrine?

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They dump the wreath in a toilet.

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It's clearly vandalism by SERB

and it's all caught on film.

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But the next day, we get

picked up by the police.

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It feels like we're being set up.

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We're being escorted - there's

a police officer in our van -

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to a local police station.

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The police want to question

us about the vandalism

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of the Nemtsov memorial.

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I'm in a police station

and my colleague Seamus

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and our translator have been taken

down to answer police questions.

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They've left me on my own.

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It's a slightly surreal moment.

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Here I am.

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I'm sure everything is fine

but I don't quite know.

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It's how it goes in a democracy

like the one that Russia's got.

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While we're in the nick,

pro-Kremlin media say I may be

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charged with vandalism.

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Here we go.

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After three hours,

we're finally released.

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Are we ready?

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Are we going?

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Yeah.

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Off you go.

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But when we get outside,

a TV crew is waiting to doorstep us.

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OK, so there's a story on Ren TV

that I was sort of somehow been

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charged with vandalism.

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It's a total fabrication.

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We've spent the last three

hours in here and then

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you come out straightaway,

as if you knew exactly

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what was happening.

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Are you some part

of the police state?

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Are you some part

of the police state?

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Can you answer the question?

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Er, hi.

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Are you some part of a police state?

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You're not?

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Ask a question.

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Russian.

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Only Russian.

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OK, so.

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So, very good.

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OK, so, these colleagues

here from Russian TV have come

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here to doorstep us and they've done

it so incompetently that

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they're now walking away.

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It's really quite

pathetic, but off you go.

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We've just been given

a small taste of what it's

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like for the opposition.

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They're regularly

targeted by Russian TV.

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Don't call them TV,

they are not journalists.

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It's a part of the government, part

of the state, like spies, agent etc.

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They have some peoples with cameras

who are working as a journalist.

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If you really take

on the Kremlin here,

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you've got to fight a dark triangle

- the security services, violent

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thugs and the pro-Kremlin media.

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They'll be on your case.

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And it's this dark triangle that

makes politics here so chilling.

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Is Russia a democracy?

0:19:200:19:22

Oh, of course it is.

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Russia is a democracy.

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It has elected parliament,

elected president.

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And I would say it has more freedom

of expression than any country

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I would know of at this point.

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If you watch Russian television

of course you'll have a several

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miles longer spectrum of opinion

than on BBC, for example.

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So Russia is more free than Britain?

0:19:480:19:53

I'm not in a business

of comparing democracies.

0:19:530:19:55

But as far as freedom

of expression is concerned,

0:19:550:19:59

I think Russia is more forward

than the UK.

0:19:590:20:07

But speaking out against

Vladimir Putin can be dangerous.

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I've come to St Petersburg.

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Some of the worst cases of political

violence in the past few months have

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taken place in the frozen city.

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Vladimir Ivanyutenko

is a road cleaner here.

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He's famous for his protests

against Vladimir Putin.

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But last December, the man

behind the mask was nearly

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killed on his way to work.

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TRANSLATION: I saw a flash.

It was a taser.

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The second man jumped

at me and stabbed me

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with a knife, right here.

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It seems he wanted to

stab me in the heart.

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I saw that my blood was pumping

out from this wound.

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This is stab wound number one.

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And stab wound number

two is right here.

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Vladimir believes the state

was behind the attack.

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Why did this happen?

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TRANSLATION: I can only explain it

by my opposition activities.

0:21:460:21:49

I consistently oppose

Putin's regime.

0:21:490:21:52

I think it's kleptocratic.

0:21:520:21:54

He is not a legitimate president.

0:21:570:21:59

We've been trying to keep a low

profile in St Petersburg.

0:22:050:22:11

But we're being followed - again.

0:22:120:22:15

John, remember this number - 062.

0:22:160:22:19

So we've stopped for a coffee.

0:22:210:22:25

062 followed us from

there, and there it is.

0:22:250:22:29

It's just gone that way

because we've turned a sneaky left,

0:22:290:22:32

but we'll see it again no doubt.

0:22:320:22:35

Sure enough - 062 turns up again.

0:22:390:22:42

So, as predicted, 062 caught up

with us very, very quickly.

0:22:460:22:51

There's no question whatsoever that

we're being followed -

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as we were in Moscow,

as we are now being

0:22:530:22:55

followed in St Petersburg.

0:22:550:22:58

Somebody very powerful in Russia

wants to know what we're up to.

0:22:580:23:01

The Kremlin's friends in the media

have tracked us down too.

0:23:080:23:13

How do you know I'm here?

0:23:130:23:15

We know that you came

from Moscow to St Petersburg.

0:23:150:23:18

Who told you?

0:23:180:23:20

We have our producers who contact...

0:23:200:23:21

And who told them?

0:23:210:23:24

Look it's...

0:23:240:23:26

I mean there is a secret

of our informators, you know that.

0:23:260:23:31

As before, they're from

a pro-Kremlin media company.

0:23:310:23:35

But anyway, carry on,

what's your question?

0:23:350:23:36

So what are you doing

here in St Petersburg?

0:23:360:23:38

It's none of your business.

0:23:380:23:40

OK.

0:23:400:23:45

But what I can tell you is what I'm

doing is I'm doing my job

0:23:450:23:48

as a reporter and when we are ready

it will be broadcast on the BBC

0:23:480:23:52

and you are invited to watch

the programme, as everybody else

0:23:520:24:00

will watch Panorama.

0:24:000:24:03

Many of the opposition

activists we meet are worried

0:24:040:24:06

about being followed.

0:24:060:24:09

Two months ago, Dinar Idrisov tried

to film police handling

0:24:120:24:15

of an opposition rally.

0:24:150:24:19

But he was attacked by three men.

0:24:190:24:22

He's taking me to the place

where it happened.

0:24:230:24:26

TRANSLATION: I had a broken

cheekbone under my eye.

0:24:300:24:32

I had an eye contusion.

0:24:320:24:34

I had many bruises on my face.

0:24:340:24:37

Four bones in my back

were broken and my arm,

0:24:390:24:41

which I was using to protect myself.

0:24:410:24:44

Dinar believes the attackers

were from Russia's state

0:24:470:24:49

security services.

0:24:490:24:51

They were just using their fists?

No weapons?

0:24:560:24:59

They kicked you and you

were on the ground?

0:25:010:25:04

TRANSLATION: Their fighting

technique suggested

0:25:090:25:11

they were front-line police officers

or security services,

0:25:110:25:14

rather than hooligans

or political opponents

0:25:140:25:16

who would show some emotion.

0:25:160:25:18

Whereas these people

were emotionless.

0:25:180:25:26

It's clear Dinar's feeling jumpy.

0:25:310:25:34

He's worried that

we're being watched.

0:25:410:25:44

It soon becomes clear why we've been

followed and filmed.

0:26:030:26:06

One of the state TV channels runs

a special report about me.

0:26:130:26:16

As well as repeating

the vandalism claim,

0:26:250:26:27

As well as repeating

the vandalism claim,

0:26:270:26:27

As well as repeating

the vandalism claim,

0:26:270:26:29

it accuses me of making up stories

about students and Cossacks

0:26:290:26:31

I haven't even met.

0:26:310:26:32

My police statement and passport

details are leaked to the media.

0:26:420:26:48

This is how things work

in Vladimir Putin's Russia.

0:26:480:26:51

The Kremlin wants us to believe that

Sunday's presidential election

0:27:030:27:06

is democracy in action.

0:27:060:27:10

These elections, are

they free and fair?

0:27:190:27:22

Oh, absolutely, free

and fair election.

0:27:220:27:25

And I think the turnout

will be exceeding 70%,

0:27:250:27:27

as public opinion polls show.

0:27:270:27:35

But everyone here

knows who will win.

0:27:400:27:42

The man accused

of waging a new cold war.

0:27:420:27:44

And the winner is?

0:27:440:27:46

And the winner is going

to be the President

0:27:470:27:51

of the Russian Federation,

Vladimir Putin, there

0:27:510:27:52

is no doubt about it.

0:27:520:27:55

As for the banned presidential

hopeful, he's now challenging

0:28:010:28:05

Vladimir Putin in the only

way he can.

0:28:050:28:10

He's calling for voters

to boycott the election.

0:28:100:28:13

I'm appealing to people

and trying to persuade them,

0:28:150:28:19

this is not an election,

you cannot participate in it

0:28:190:28:21

because it's disgrace,

it's immoral, it's awful,

0:28:210:28:23

it's ugly and we cannot call this

procedure an election.

0:28:230:28:31

Vladimir Putin had

two rivals he feared.

0:28:340:28:37

One has been banned.

0:28:380:28:41

The other, shot.

0:28:430:28:46

To stand up to Vladimir Putin

is to go head to head

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with the Russian state.

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And what kind of democracy is that?

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Vladimir Putin is about to face the voters, and most think his victory is a foregone conclusion. If the Russian president does win six more years in power, he will become the country's longest-serving ruler since Stalin. So why is Putin so powerful? Reporter John Sweeney investigates allegations that the Kremlin has subverted democracy in Russia. He meets the Putin opponent who has been banned from the election, hears from the opposition activists who say they have been attacked and finds out for himself what it is like to be targeted by the Russian state.