On the eve of the presidential election campaign, a cohort of Russian political consultants arrived in Moldova. They most probably landed in Chisinau with the Kremlin’s agreement — as one Russian expert confessed to an undercover RISE Moldova reporter.
RISE Moldova has identified eight so-called election technology advisers, who were spotted among Moldovan Socialist parliamentarians and a spokeswoman for candidate Igor Dodon. Some of them frequently dropped by the Socialists Party headquarters and even entered the presidential administration office in the broad daylight.
Mr. Dodon’s staff has denied any contacts with the Russian consultants until the end of the first round of presidential election, although Dodon himself had unmasked three of them in a smartphone video taken in November 2019, when his party fellow Ion Ceban won the mayoral election in the capital Chisinau.
Friday, 2 October 2020. The incumbent president, Igor Dodon, started his campaign for re-election early on that day. He became formally a candidate for the presidential office. But this time around not on behalf of his Socialists Party (PSRM) which he had officially led since 2016.
Video description: Getting launched in the election campaign and presenting the electoral platform for the presidential election.
The event took place on a road under construction. The incumbent is flanked by Gagauzian governor Irina Vlah and a handful of Socialist parliamentarians including Zinaida Greceanîi, Elena Hrenova, Alexandr Nesterovschi, Vladimir Odnostalco, Bogdat Țîrdea, and Vlad Batrîncea. The latter acted as an anchor and leader of the initiative group supporting Dodon’s candidacy for re-election.
On the same day, we watch Bătrîncea and Odnostalco having a conversation with a group of people om a parking lot near the Riscani District administrative office of the capital. One of these is Ludmila Muntean, spokeswoman for Mr. Dodon, and at least six interlocutors were Russian nationals. At a given moment Mrs. Muntean and a Russian got in a car and the spokeswoman drove away.
MEETING IN SEMI-BASEMENT
Friday, 25 September 2020. Seven days left until Igor Dodon officially joined the race
Early that morning, Socialist parliamentarians Nichita Țurcan and Adela Răileanu visit an office inside a residential building’s semi-basement that is 600 meters away from the PSRM headquarters. The guests had a conversation with a man and a woman outside and then came inside. From time to time they walk out for a smoke, maintaining a heated discussion.
At least two more important visitors showed up at the office in Sergey Lazo Street the next days. One is Gaik Vartanean, a Socialist parliamentarian and member of the legislature’s foreign policy commission. The other is Vitalie Dragancea, who had served as an adviser to Prime Minister Ion Chicu until July 2020. They too talked to the same man and the same woman who were seen earlier with Mr. Țurcan and Mrs. Răileanu.
The hosts in the office in Sergey Lazo street are two Russian nationals: Yuri Gudilin and Olga Grak.
None of Socialist lawmakers seen by RISE Moldova in the company of the two Russians has ever replied our questions in writing. Only the former adviser stepped in with a rhetoric answer.
Vitalie DRAGANCEA: Do you really believe you have the right to meddle with people’s private lives? Do you really believe it is a honest journalist behavior? […] I don’t care at all about your searches and please don’t drag me into your public shows.
VISIT TO PRESIDENT’S OFFICE
Saturday, 26 September 2020. Six days left until Igor Dodon officially joined the race
Olga Grak and a bold-headed man of medium stature approached the presidential administration headquarters. They quietly slip through the Maria Cebotari Street gate and peacefully pass the security checks by the State Guard and Protection Service, getting lost inside the building.
The man who accompanied Mrs. Grak at the presidential administration is Leonid Gonin, who is a compatriot of hers. What was the purpose of their visit there? We asked the president’s press service to answer this question, which it ignored.
We too attempted to get into the presidential administration without a prior agreement. Walking along the same itinerary as the Grak/Gonin pair, we only could walk behind the gate. At the control checkpoint the security details explained that we needed to had the visit coordinated with their superiors.
OLGA GRAK, 47 years old. She was born and has a residence permit in Russia’s Baltic Sea enclave of Kaliningrad. In 2015 she unsuccessfully competed for a seat in the local council of Glebovo village of Yaroslavl Oblast, a region north-west of Moscow. Her latest tax statement we could find dates back to 2016. Mrs. Grak’s employer was Городской Портал OOO (City Portal, Ltd), a Moscow real estate firm.
In her country however she is best known as a political consultant and RISE Moldova was able to confirm this fact from three independent sources. One of these is Anatoly Romashko, a known political consultant in Kaliningrad. In our phone conversation with him we introduced ourselves as potential clients seeking Mrs. Grak’s services in the Moldovan presidential election.
During the conversation Mr. Romashko, who proudly identified himself as Mrs. Grak’s mentor, reckoned that, to hire a team of political consultants for operations abroad, it’s a matter of “good manners” to have the contract cleared by the Kremlin.
Video: Olga Grak among Socialist lawmakers who are close to Igor Dodon
Anatoly ROMASHKO: Most likely is that [deploying a team of political consultants abroad] requires a major political decision, which is normally taken at the top, at the level of the presidential administration [of the Russian Federation]. […]
When it comes to international contracts — and this [travel to Moldova] is indeed an international contract, there must be a sort of tutor up there [in the presidential administration] who approves of their [consultants’] actions.
We don’t know if this is the case of the Russian consultancy group we spotted in Chisinau. We tried to approach Olga Grak on this subject but no luck so far. She read our questions on her Whatsup chat wall but has not replied; nor has she responded our phone calls.
The office of Russian political consultants, Chisinau downtown, 25 September 2020
YURI GUDILIN, 37 years old. Born in Lvyv, Ukraine. Lives in Moscow. According to Russian tax records, in 2018-2019 he was officially employed at МРСК Центра (MRCK Center), an electrical utilities company operating in Moscow.
In the Russian capital Mr. Gudilin officially lived in an apartment in Michurin Prospekt (avenue), which was privatized by his mother before being used as a state-owned residence for employees. What kind of job Gudilin had held to merit a government-paid apartment remains classified. We tried repeatedly to ask Mr. Gudilin what his assignments in Moldova have been about, but he has ignored our messages and calls.
The office of Russian political consultants, Chisinau downtown, 25 September 2020
Video: Yuri Gudilin holding a conversation with people from Dodonțs inner circle
LEONID GONIN, 57 years old. He was born and lives in the Udmurtya Republic of the Russian Federation. In 2007 he competed for a seat in the State Duma on behalf of the Rightwing Forces Party, without much success though.
Yet he did work in the lower chamber of the Russian legislature — as an assistant to parliamentarian Alexey Zagrebin of the United Russia, himself from Udmurtya.
Mr. Gonin portraits himself as a political science specialist. Two Russian journalists have confirmed that in the Udmurtya Republic he indeed is known as a notorious political consultant.
Alexandr MOROZOV, journalist: Gonin had been involved in 1990s elections and many have known him as such [political consultant]. In particular Gonin handled the campaign of [Alexey] Zagrebin who represented Udmurtya during that election.
Video: Leonid Gonin’s meeting with Socialists closed to President Dodon
ABOVE THE PRESIDENT
Monday, 28 September 2020. Four days left until Igor Dodon officially joined the race
The Russian consultancy troika got inside the PSRM headquarters. RISE Moldova has evidence that during the 2020 presidential election campaign this was the third assignment for Leonid Gonin and Olga Grak to Moldova, following their visits on 14 and 15 September. For Yuri Gudilin however it was the first Moldovan assignment. Another visit will take place on 1 October to join his colleague Olga Grak.
So, on 28 September Igor Dodon formally got registered with the Central Election Commission (CEC) as an “independent candidate.” When his Russian guests arrived at the Socialist Party office, Chisinau Mayor Ion Ceban and incumbent President Igor Dodon showed up there too.
After a while Gudilin appeared at the building’s balcony for a smoke, along with Socialist parliamentarian Bogdat Țîrdea, and the two have a conversation. Mr. Dodon meanwhile left the building with two security agents flanking by his sides.
During the campaign the number of people around the Socialist Party who occasionally or frequently met with the Russian political consultants has grown. Aside from the names mentioned above (Nichita Țurcan, Adela Răileanu, Gaik Vartanean, Vitalie Dragancea, and Ludmila Muntean), the suit goes on with Socialist lawmakers Bogdat Țîrdea, Vlad Batrîncea, Vladimir Odnostalco, Vasile Bolea, and Chisinau Mayor Ion Ceban. None of them has agreed to talk about their meetings with the Russian election technology advisers.
Friday, 2 October 2020. Let us get back to the parking lot near the Riscani District administration where we filmed Bătrîncea and Odnostalco, as well as Dodon’s spokeswoman Ludmila Muntean, in the company of at least six Russian nationals. You already know two of them: Olga Grak and Yuri Gudilin. It’s Gudilin who jumped into Munteanu’s car and the two left the area. Mrs. Muntean later refused to disclose her relationships with the Russian consultants.
Analyzing the video footage from the parking lot and images from outside the Socialist Party’s headquarters, we have managed to identify overall six visitors from Russia.
One is already familiar to our reader — it’s Leonid Gonin, who followed Mrs. Grak at the Moldovan presidential administration six days before Igor Dodon launched his campaign. The other five are: Sergey Galyev, Stanislav Patryev, Igor Golubev, Dmitry Dimler, and Sergey Perfilyev.
SERGEY GALYEV, 55 years old. In Kaliningrad he is known as a lawyer familiar with electoral legal issues.
Nikita Kuzmin, editor-in-chief at the business portal RuGrad.EU from that Russian enclave, says that Mr. Galyev has been offering expertise for election campaigners since 2011.
Nikita KUZMIN: Galyev has remained active in campaigns held in the Kaliningrad Region but elections aren’t his exclusive concern. He is a pretty well-known lawyer in criminal law in Kaliningrad. In one particular case, during the COVID-19 shutdown he was charged with organizing free legal counsel to local residents and he even advised people in person.
We identified Galyev at two meetings with politicians close to President Igor Dodon: in September we saw him at the office of political consultants in the Sergey Lazo Street, and in early October we spotted him at the parking lot near the Riscani District administration.
STANISLAV PATRYEV, 41 years old. In Krasnoyarsk he is known as a correspondent of the radio division of the popular print/online newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda. He was spotted in the company with Moldovan Socialist parliamentarians Nichita Țurcan and Adela Răileanu.
IGOR GOLUBEV, 56 years old. He used to work for the newspaper „Право знать” (The Right to Know) in Kaliningrad Region. His paths crossed the paths of Moldovan Socialists at least twice: in the Riscani parking lot and at the office in Sergey Lazo Street.
DMITRY DIMLER, 31 years old. In 2015, he competed for a seat in the legislative assembly of the Novosibirsk Region, on behalf of the party „Гражданская платформа” (Civic Platform). We have not established his official employment. In Chisinau he was seen in the Riscani parking lot.
SERGEY PERFILYEV, 63 years old. We have not learned so far what is his official job. In Chisinau he was observed in the office of Russian political consultants.
Video: Ludmila Muntean and Socialist parliamentarians at a meeting with Russian consultants
Moldova’s Central Election Commission said in an official response for RISE Moldova that „hiring consultants […] is not prohibited by the legal norms, on the conditions that all expenses for their services are reported and they abstained from engaging in electoral advertising as such.”
Dorin CIMIL, chairman of CEC: All candidates seeking election as the president of Moldova are obliged to report all their expenses to CEC. Even if someone works pro bono, including foreign consultants, the candidate must submit and assessment of the cost of services.
RISE Moldova checked it up: none of the reports which Mr. Dodon’s staff submitted to CEC ever mentions any expenses related to services from foreign consultants. And it’s worse — staff officials actually deny any business with those consultants.
Ludmila MUNTEAN, spokeswoman for Igor Dodon (from a formal response for RISE Moldova): Igor Dodon and his colleagues have participated in many elections. They employ a competent team who would not need help from foreign specialists.
All seven Socialist parliamentarians we caught in conversations and meetings with the Russian election experts are official sponsors to Mr. Dodon’s campaign, although he runs as an “independent”. PSRM has not denied or confirmed whether its representatives had been engaged in communication with the Russians.
By the way. A few days before RISE Moldova published the first investigations from the #Kremlinovici series, the office in Sergey Lazo Street began vacating its equipment; now it’s empty.
HIP, HIP, HOORAY!
At least four of the above identified Russian election experts had visited Moldova during the autumn 2019 local elections. We found them in the Russian flights records.
Leonid Gonin and Yuri Gudilin took the same plane from Moscow to Chisinau at least twice: on 4 July and on 22 September. In the second half of 2019 Mr. Gudilin had traveled frequently to Moldova. One of his visits happened between 24 September and 4 November. In order words, Gudilin arrived in Moldova a few days after the first round of local elections and returned to Russia one day before the second round, which the Socialist Ion Ceban won.
Olga Grak too was in Chisinau in early November 2019. A few days after Mr. Ceban’s victory she embarked on a flight back home. Her fellow Sergey Galyev was on the same plane.
The presence of Russian consultants at the local elections in 2019 was filmed by Igor Dodon himself. RISE Moldova has obtained a video from a source close to the president.
During the night of 3-4 November, Dodon walked in a room where around 30 men and women were waiting for the vote count result. He filmed everything with a mobile phone as he moved within the room. At one moment he asked in Russian: “What are the figures, pals?” and turned the phone camera to a screen displaying the official results of the second round. They showed a clear victory for the Socialist candidate, Ion Ceban, who that night became the new mayor of the Moldovan capital.
Someone in the room shouted in Russian: “For this victory — hip! hip!” — and all together chanted a collective response “Hooray!!!” Mr. Dodon meanwhile kept on filming and turned the camera to capture everyone in the room in a panorama. Leonid Gonin, the political consultant from Udmurtya, Sergey Galyev, the lawyer from Kaliningrad, and Yuri Gudilin, the electrician from Moscow, may be clearly identified in the video.
Contributions: Marcela ZĂMOSTEANU, Olga CEAGLEI (RISE Moldova), Constantin GRIGORIȚĂ, volunteers (no names for security concerns), Roman ROMANOVSKII (Transparency International Russia), Nikita KUZMIN (RuGrad.EU – Russia)
Editor: Nicolae CUȘCHEVICI
Translation from Russian: Lilia BOTNARIUC
Infographics and video editing: Roman FILIPPOV
Cartoons: Alex BURETZ