Ex-Bernie Sanders activist wants to make Russian politics more like Uber

Image: Vitali Shkliarov
Vitali Shkliarov, center, at a Bernie Sanders rally in Seattle in March 2016. Courtesy of Vitali Shkliarov

WASHINGTON — An activist who worked on Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign has set out to disrupt Russian politics by making it “as easy as an Uber ride” to stand against President Vladimir Putin.

Vitali Shkliarov, 41, runs what he calls a “political incubator” that helps novice candidates run on independent tickets in local races.

His mission is to challenge the Russian president and his allies the way that Silicon Valley upstarts transformed the music and transportation industries. Shkliarov believes anyone with fresh ideas, regardless of funding or years spent in service to a party, should be able to run for office.

“Politics should be as easy as an Uber ride,” he told NBC News.

Shkliarov’s playbook comes from years spent working on spirited political campaigns in the U.S. He also campaigned for President Barack Obama.

But the obstacles to change are numerous in a country where Putin controls the airwaves and opposition politicians have been jailed and murdered. In Russia’s recent presidential election, in which the most viable opposition figure was barred from running, Putin won nearly 77 percent of the vote.

More on MSNBC’s ‘On Assignment with Richard Engel’ Friday at 9 p.m. ET

Shkliarov advised opposition candidate Ksenia Sobchak in that race. The TV personality-turned-politician garnered less than 2 percent support at the ballot box.

Shkliarov’s organization raises money to help covers candidates’ campaign costs, shepherds them through the arduous registration process, and coaches them on voter mobilization and engagement.

He compares it to Uber because he says it lowers barriers to entry in politics the same way the ride-sharing app made entrepreneurs out of anyone with a car.

Shkliarov was born in Belarus, in the former Soviet Union, and studied in Germany. It was in Berlin in 2008 that…

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