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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Dirty Tricks Popular in Campaign Battles

ST. PETERSBURG -- Few murders in the history of St. Petersburg have gotten as many laughs as that of Sergei Andreyev.

A few weeks ago, fliers began circulating in the city's Kirov district informing residents that on Feb. 23, Andreyev, who is running for a seat in the city's Legislative Assembly election this Sunday, had been knifed 26 times by three unidentified assailants and died from his wounds.

"Three scoundrels took the life of a colorful politician," the flier, attributed to people "close to Andreyev," said.

What sounded like news of a brutal slaying was, in fact, an example of what is known in Russian as "black PR," a phrase that covers everything from negative campaigning to attack ads to outright slander.

The flier noted that Andreyev would be buried Feb. 26 at a local cemetery. A picture of the candidate was placed at the top of the page with a black banner across the top left-hand corner, a symbol of mourning.

For good measure, the flier adds: "To kill a man just because he is of a different race is low and dirty," implying that Andreyev is not an ethnic Russian.

Andreyev is, in fact, alive and well. He's running on the party list of A Just Russia, the newly formed pro-Kremlin party that is challenging United Russia's stranglehold on power.

St. Petersburg residents Sunday will elect 50 members to the Legislative Assembly.

The liberal Yabloko party has been stricken from the ballot here on a technicality, although the party says it was banned because of its opposition to the Gazprom Tower construction project.

With Yabloko gone, the Liberal Democrats, Communists, Union of Right Forces and Patriots of Russia will be battling for the seats that are not snatched up by United Russia and A Just Russia.

Both of the pro-Kremlin parties have been the primary targets of "black PR" campaigns in several regions, and St. Petersburg is no exception.

In February, a fake version of City Hall's official newspaper, Peterburgsky Dnevnik, was circulated in the city. It alleged that banker Sergei Matviyenko, son of Governor Valentina Matviyenko, was a drug user and had marital problems.

No one has claimed responsibility for most of these stunts. The two pro-Kremlin parties have outspent all other parties running in St. Petersburg, however, and they are widely believed to be behind the muckraking.

"They're both trying to get as close as possible to the president," said Tatyana Dorutina, head of St. Petersburg's League of Women Voters, which plans to station 40 observers at local polling stations on Sunday. "Both of them are looking for a cozy spot."

A source close to A Just Russia's campaign in St. Petersburg conceded as much, saying that such subterfuge was being employed only where personalities -- rather than party platforms -- collide.

"It's just an illusion that it's a real campaign between opposing parties," said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The Union of Right Forces, or SPS, has also been targeted in disinformation campaigns in St. Petersburg, as well as in Tomsk and Omsk. In St. Petersburg, fliers were distributed saying that SPS was offering "respectable pay for people with AIDS to work on our election campaign!"

"As part of a social adaptation program for those suffering from AIDS, a program is being conducted to recruit HIV-positive campaigners," the flier said, the weekly newspaper Vek reported.

More standard forms of negative campaigning have appeared throughout the country in recent weeks as well.

In Samara, A Just Russia distributed fliers in response to United Russia billboards that claimed pensions would be raised by up to 10,000 rubles per month and salaries by 25,000 rubles per month.

The fliers, plastered on lampposts and walls in the city, said it would take United Russia 10,000 years to raise pensions to that level and that United Russia would raise utility bills to 25,000 rubles per month.

In Stavropol, banners appeared on the streets recently that read: "Sell the Bentley and Pay the Alimony," a reference to Stavropol Governor Alexander Chernogorov, whose ex-wife publicly complained recently that Chernogorov -- owner of a Bentley -- was not paying alimony, Nezavisimaya Gazeta and Noviye Izvestia reported.

After the curious flier in St. Petersburg announcing that Andreyev had been murdered, another strange leaflet began making the rounds. In this letter, ostensibly from Andreyev to his constituents -- complete with a signature -- the candidate said he was alive and that "no one killed me or slashed me with knives."

"These scoundrels and bastards who announced my 'murder' drove me to another nervous breakdown, and I was once again forced to consult my shrink," the letter reads.

The letter was also a fake, as was another letter supposedly from Andreyev with an unflattering picture of him under the improbable headline: "I have lied, I lie, and I will keep on lying!"

According to media reports, a pornographic video featuring a man resembling Andreyev was posted on a web site that claimed to be the candidate's official site.

The St. Petersburg prosecutor's office announced Tuesday that it had opened a criminal investigation into the fraudulent letters.

Andreyev, through a spokesman, declined to comment Thursday.

Staff Writer Natalya Krainova contributed to this report from Samara.