In Time-Tested Spoiler Tactic, Russian Opposition Candidates Face Rivals With The Same Names

"This is the only way these crooks can fight against me," Boris Vishnevsky said about two rival candidates with the exact same names.  

Boris Vishnevsky is a known figure in St. Petersburg.

An opposition politician who heads the liberal Yabloko party’s committee in the local legislature, he is also a man known locally as a defender of the city’s cultural heritage and as a columnist in the independent newspaper Novaya gazeta.

But ahead of elections in September, the number of public figures named Boris Vishnevsky appeared to suspiciously multiply.

In May, Vishnevsky announced his candidacy for both the St. Petersburg legislative assembly and the State Duma, Russia’s lower house of parliament, representing two districts in the center of his native city.

The tactic has been a familiar one in Russia since the 1990s.

In early July, Russia’s Greens party announced its own candidate for the State Duma. His name? Boris Vishnevsky.

And 11 days after that, Vishnevsky learned that the other Boris Vishnevsky was also running against him in the legislative assembly election — along with another new competitor also named Boris Vishnevsky.

That made three candidates with the exact same first and last names competing for a single seat.

"This is the only way these crooks can fight against me," Vishnevsky tweeted in reaction to the news, using part of a phrase — "the party of crooks and thieves" — commonly used by the opposition to refer to the Kremlin-controlled ruling party, United Russia.

The tactic has been a familiar one in Russia since the 1990s. Minor officials or citizens unknown to the general public are approached with an offer to adopt the name and surname of a popular opposition candidate, usually changing their passport details to make the change official and then registering as rival candidates in their own right. Occasionally, spoilers who already bear the same name as an opposition candidate are found.

The hope of those behind such machinations is that a substantial number of voters who support the opposition candidate in that district will cast their ballots for the namesake candidate purely through oversight.

An investigation by Novaya gazeta found that the two other Boris Vishnevskys are a low-level official tied to United Russia and a salesman for a large car repair company, both of whom officially changed their names ahead of the vote.

And the curious case of the two namesakes might just be one among many in this year’s elections, which are slated for September 17-19 and will come against the backdrop of a concerted crackdown on opposition candidates, civil society activists, and investigative journalists — many of whom have left the country instead of staying to face harassment, pressure, and possible criminal charges related to their work.

Sergei Kazankov is facing a candidate with the same name as his father. (file photo) Sergei Kazankov is facing a candidate with the same name as his father. (file photo)

In Russia’s Mari-El region, Communist Party candidate Sergei Kazankov last month suddenly found himself facing a man with the same name as his father, Ivan Kazankov.

Ivan Kazankov, the "clone" candidate from the Communists of Russia Ivan Kazankov, the "clone" candidate from the Communists of Russia

To add to the potential confusion among voters, Ivan Kazankov is a candidate from a small party called the Communists of Russia, whose four-letter acronym, KPKR, has the same two first letters as the much larger Communist Party, or KPRF.

For its part, Russia’s Central Election Commission has indicated that it’s working to clamp down on the practice of registering spoiler namesakes to confuse voters — a seemingly intractable problem that Russia has failed to root out.

"We’ve already received several complaints, and we can see how this dirty technology of cloning various namesakes is being used in several regions. We have reports from party leaders who are concerned," the state news agency TASS quoted Ella Pamfilova, the election commission head, as saying.

The Greens party leader in St. Petersburg, Andrei Nagibin, did not seem concerned at all.

Contacted by a journalist from the St. Petersburg media outlet, he claimed to be unaware of the Boris Vishnevsky who has been active in politics since the Soviet era and a member of the city legislature for almost a decade.

"I know our Vishnevsky, but who are you talking about?" Nagibin asked, later adding: "I don’t know a Vishnevsky from Yabloko. Who is that?"

RFE/RL’s Russian Service and Dmitry Lyubimov of the Idel.Realities desk of RFE/RL’s Tatar-Bashkir Service contributed to this report.

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