Russia’s main independent polling agency has stopped publishing results of opinion polls on the upcoming presidential election, fearing legal repercussions.
Levada Center was listed as a foreign agent in 2016 under a new law aimed at curbing alleged foreign influence on public life in Russia. Authorities insist that the law does not aim to target critics of the Kremlin.
Levada is not a foreign company, but Russian authorities are able to list it as a foreign agent because it has received foreign funding.
Levada’s director, Lev Gudkov, told the Russian daily Vedomosti on Tuesday that the agency is carrying out election polling but will not publish results during the campaign because it fears that this could be viewed as election meddling and could lead to a motion to close down the pollster.
Russians go to polls on March 18 to vote for their president. Incumbent Vladimir Putin is expected to win by a landslide.
Results of Levada’s polls have not differed dramatically from those by the two main state-owned polling agencies in terms of support for Putin and the ruling party. But recent polls did show a difference regarding the turnout for the upcoming vote.
With his key rival, Alexei Navalny, barred from running, Putin is facing candidates who only nominally oppose him. That raised fears of a lower turnout at the election, which would be a major embarrassment for the Kremlin.
Commenting on the pollster’s announcement, Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Tuesday it was “unfortunate” that Levada will not be able to publish its polls but said it was a matter of following the law.