The outspoken deputy of Russia’s communist party said Monday that any foreign official — including from the United States — found guilty of “interfering” in Russia’s upcoming presidential election should face the death penalty or up to 25 years in prison.
“That’s the worst crime that there is, other than rape and murder,” said Leonid Kalashnikov, who’s also a key committee chief in Russia’s State Duma or lower house of parliament, according to news reports in Moscow.
While the death penalty has been constitutionally banned in Russia since 1996, Mr. Kalashnikov suggested in an interview with the state-run RIA Novosti news agency that a “constitutional order” may be needed to restore it and deal with any foreign meddling in the election slated for March 18.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is seeking a second consecutive — and fourth overall — term in the election, which will be the first of its kind in Russia since 2012.
According to a report by The Moscow Times, Mr. Kalashnikov’s comments came as a top Russian diplomat claimed Monday to have evidence of ongoing U.S. attempts to undermine the electoral process.
Deputy Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Rybakov made the assertion at a meeting of the Russian Federation Council or upper house of parliament, during which he claimed that Moscow is ramping up its efforts to identify and block the alleged “interference” by U.S.-backed operatives.
“The Russian Foreign Ministry streamlined efforts to collect the relevant information,” Mr. Rybakov said according to the state-owned Tass news agency in Moscow. “That concerns both attempts to meddle in our affairs and broader detrimental efforts of this kind that the U.S. stoops to committing.”
While few details were given on the actual nature or goals of the alleged U.S.-backed meddling, Mr. Rybakov claimed broadly that “opponents” of Russia are attempting to “sway young people and work in the regions.”
“The focus of this struggle will center on the information space,” he said. “Information warfare will grow far bitterer, and that’s something we will have to live with during the upcoming period.”
The Tass news agency claimed to have obtained an annual assessment Monday by an upper house “commission on the protection of state sovereignty” that exposed “numerous signs of interference from abroad” in Russia’s electoral process between 2011 and 2017.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, meanwhile, made international headlines Monday by asserting that the United States has a “rich tradition” of interfering in the internal affairs of Russia and other nations around the world.
The flurry of allegations from Moscow come amid ongoing federal government investigations in Washington over accusations that Russian operatives engaged in an expansive hacking and digital propaganda campaign aimed at undermining the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Last month saw the U.S. Justice Department level indictments against 13 Russian citizens and two entities on charges their meddling activities amounted to conspiracy to defraud the United States.
Mr. Putin said in an interview with NBC News that aired Sunday that Russia will “never” extradite the 13 individuals charged, even as he insisted they didn’t act on behalf of his government.
The Associated Press noted that the United States has no extradition treaty with Moscow and can’t compel it to hand over citizens, and a provision in Russia’s constitution prohibits extraditing its citizens to foreign countries.