Astrakhan Hunger Striker Gets Support From Moscow Protesters

The candidate, Oleg V. Shein of the Just Russia party, says that falsified tallies cost him the March 4 election, in which a member of Vladimir V. Putin’s United Russia party was declared the winner. Complaints to election officials and the courts hit dead ends, Mr. Shein said.

So for 27 days, he and a small group of supporters have refused to eat solid food, insisting that they will not do so until the results are overturned and a new vote is called.

On Tuesday, their effort was joined by several of the stars of this winter’s street protests, including a popular anticorruption blogger, Aleksei Navalny, and two opposition members of Parliament, Dmitry Gudkov and Ilya Ponomaryov, who tried — and failed — to help broker a deal with the local authorities.

The appearance of the Moscow protest organizers here in Astrakhan, where the Volga River meets the Caspian Sea more than 800 miles southeast of the Russian capital, signaled an important tactical shift by Mr. Putin’s opponents.

They are now seeking to mobilize in regions away from Moscow, using their formidable publicity machine to highlight cases of alleged injustice in places where important elections for governor will be held long before Mr. Putin is on the ballot again in 2018.

“It’s a crucial moment,” Mr. Navalny said in an interview on a downtown plaza where about 200 supporters of Mr. Shein had gathered. “We need to inspire these people. You know these small little conflicts; we have a lot of them.”

Mr. Navalny said that attention was rarely paid to local injustices until the national news media shined a spotlight. “The local authorities, they just don’t care,” he said. “When the federal media is promoting this information and it’s promoted from the Internet, it’s a real problem. That’s why it’s so important to attract people from Moscow.”

But the relatively modest number of protesters who turned out on Tuesday — fewer than 500 people in a city of around half a million, in the evening after the end of the workday — suggested that it could prove increasingly difficult for opposition leaders to gain traction the farther they get from Russia’s largest urban centers.

Sergei Parkhomenko, a radio host, wondered on Facebook if his fellow Muscovites were more interested in the mayoral race in Astrakhan than the people of Astrakhan. “I managed to find a ticket to Astrakhan, which in a surprising fashion turned out not to be so easy — it seems the number of people wanting to fly to this city has unexpectedly increased,” he wrote. “The Astrakhans — where are they? Do they care what is happening with their votes? How they are arranged and who stole them?” He added: “Where has anybody gone? Are they even alive?”

For its part, the Kremlin did not seem alarmed. A spokesman for Mr. Putin, Dmitri S. Peskov, told the Interfax news agency that the president-elect had been fully briefed on the events in Astrakhan but that questions about the mayoral race were the province of election officials and the courts.

The Astrakhan regional governor, Alexander Zhilikin, citing an investigation by prosecutors, was adamant that the election results would stand. And while he met with the two visiting lawmakers from Moscow, he wrote a blog post dismissing Mr. Navalny as an intruder and a rabble-rouser.

“There was no point in Navalny and his supporters coming here,” Mr. Zhilikin wrote. “They don’t know the region, the people, our culture. And they have no idea that Astrakhaners are hospitable people, with good intentions.” He also accused Mr. Shein and his supporters of lying about drinking only water for more than three weeks, writing that people who have gone so long without food could not act as “aggressively” as they did at Tuesday’s rallies.

While there was some minor scuffling with the police, the rallies were mostly peaceful.

Mr. Shein, who turned 40 in March, has served three terms as a member of the State Duma, the lower house of Parliament. He ran for mayor of Astrakhan once before, in 2009, and lost. In December, he won a seat in the regional parliament but said he would have given it up to serve as mayor.

At Tuesday’s rallies, amid 70-degree heat and thick humidity, Mr. Shein looked rail thin and said he had lost about 20 pounds.

Ellen Barry contributed reporting from Moscow.

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