RSN June 14 Fundraising
FB Share
Email This Page
add comment
Print

Knight writes: "Even if Putin's electoral victory was genuine (and that will continue to be a matter of dispute), it would not necessarily reflect how people feel about a leader when they have only one choice. What matters more is the extent of the democratic opposition to Putin, how far this opposition will go, and what the Kremlin's reaction will be."

A Russian flag featuring prime minister Vladimir Putin flies above his supporters as they celebrate Putin's victory just outside the Kremlin in Moscow, 03/05/12. (photo: A. Nemenov/BELGA/AFP)
A Russian flag featuring prime minister Vladimir Putin flies above his supporters as they celebrate Putin's victory just outside the Kremlin in Moscow, 03/05/12. (photo: A. Nemenov/BELGA/AFP)



Stealing Russia's Future

By Amy Knight, New York Review of Books

10 March 12

 

t came as little surprise that Prime Minister Vladimir Putin won Russia's March 4 presidential election, but the fact that he received over 63 percent of the vote was unexpected. To be sure, the Kremlin had launched a huge propaganda effort on Putin's behalf, and the four other candidates on the ballot, including billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov (who represented no party and had no clear platform), hardly offered viable alternatives. But Putin's popularity had been eroded following December's disputed parliamentary elections, and recent large-scale protests had called into question the continued strength of his support. In fact, there are multiple indications that the Kremlin has again manipulated the outcome. If these reports are correct, they suggest Putin is playing a dangerous game, since the widespread perception that December's elections were fraudulent was what brought tens of thousands of Russians into the streets in the first place.

Once again, the elections have been followed by protests, and some independent observers estimate that had it not been for electoral fraud, Putin would have received slightly under 50 per cent of the vote, forcing him into a second round against the runner-up, Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov, who received an estimated 17 percent of the vote, ahead of Prokhorov, who came in third. Putin could have doubtless won that next round, but such a contest would have done serious damage to his already compromised credibility.) These observers suggest that as much as 14 percent of the ballots may have been falsified. In addition to the usual tampering when votes are tallied, there were widespread reports of "carousel voting" in which busloads of pro-Putin voters were driven around to cast multiple ballots at different polling places. (Voting irregularities and the disputed election count have been discussed in the Russian press by political commentator Dmitry Oreshkin and journalist Evgeniya Albats) According to Martin Dewhirst, a veteran observer of elections in the former Soviet Union who I spoke with in London, carousel voting is a firmly entrenched practice in Russia.

And while Putin has managed to pull off a win, some Russians believe that it will prove costly for him in the long run. Among them is Marina Litvinenko, widow of former KGB officer Alexander Litvinenko, who died an agonizing death in November 2006 after being poisoned by polonium in London. She told me the day after the election that she thinks the results will turn out to be a "punishment" for Putin. Ms. Litvinenko, who is now a British citizen and resides in London with her teenage son, still has her Russian passport, and decided to vote for the first time with an absentee ballot at the Russian Embassy. She firmly believes that Putin gave the order for her husband's murder - and cast her own vote for Prokhorov, whom she admires because of his success as an entrepreneur and his devotion to political causes. Yet she is philosophical about the election outcome: "People will have no more illusions about Putin. He will continue to be in the spotlight and that means that the accusations against him will not go away."

Ms. Litvinenko has a point. In declaring himself the number one, exclusive candidate for the Russian presidency last September, Putin opened up the door to unprecedented public criticism of his leadership. Hard as it would have been to imagine even a year ago, one of Putin's most vocal critics, Boris Nemtsov, who has documented extensive corruption by Putin and his cronies, even appeared recently on state-owned Russian television and also was invited to participate (along with a group of other democratic politicians) in a meeting at the residence of President Dmitry Medvedev. Apparently the Kremlin decided to allow democrats like Nemtsov to speak out in order to provide a safety valve for the mounting resentment of Putin. And Russian authorities, in the run-up to the election, also permitted the opposition to stage very large demonstrations, the likes of which have not been seen since right before the Soviet Union collapsed.

While Putin could not hold back a tear or two of joyous relief after the results of the presidential election were announced, no one, including Putin himself, seems to believe that Nemtsov and others will go away. In fact, the nervousness of the Putin camp is evident already. On the evening after the election, when riot police and internal troops (numbering some 12,000 with a helicopter hovering overhead) confronted a crowd of around 20,000, who were peacefully protesting Putin's re-election on Pushkin Square, they reacted excessively, arresting over 250 (including the famous anti-Putin blogger Alexei Navalny and Left Front leader Sergei Udaltsov) and beating up some in the process. Although the detainees were later released, such violence is bound to backfire and arouse more protest.

Putin's spokesperson Dmitry Peskov defended the police action, saying that it showed a "high level of professionalism, legitimacy and effectiveness," signaling that the government would show no hesitation to use force again on protesters. But journalist Evgeniya Albats had the opposite impression: "It is clear that the information asphyxiation [in the Kremlin] knows no limits, if the press secretary suggests that it is normal for people to be beaten up on the street in the center of the city. These people were doing nothing but standing there and talking."

Even if Putin's electoral victory was genuine (and that will continue to be a matter of dispute), it would not necessarily reflect how people feel about a leader when they have only one choice. What matters more is the extent of the democratic opposition to Putin, how far this opposition will go, and what the Kremlin's reaction will be.

In a further indication of how staged the whole process appears, Putin has promised to appoint outgoing president Dmitry Medvedev to be his prime minister after he becomes president in May. Of course, since Putin served as prime minister "under" Medvedev for the last four years, this cosmetic switch seems to confirm for many that nothing has really changed at the Kremlin. Retaining Medvedev, who continues to play the role of mild-mannered liberal in contrast to Putin the steely-eyed pit-bull, may prove useful to Putin, as he comes under pressure to carry out reforms promised following December's protests.

Curiously, Medvedev has just announced that he has instructed the Russian Prosecutor's Office to re-examine the legality of the imprisonment of oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who was given a second sentence on corruption charges in 2010. Khodorkovsky is viewed as a political prisoner by most Russian democrats - and by western observers - so his release, along with that of his partner Platon Lebedev, and several other such prisoners, would be a major concession to Russian human rights advocates.

But Khodorkovsky has long been one of Putin's fiercest critics, so it is hard to imagine that Putin would allow his release before his prison term ends in 2016. In all likelihood, Medvedev's comments are simply intended as a diversion to assuage voters who are disillusioned by the prospect of six (and possibly twelve) more years of Putin as president. Boris Nemtsov, for one, is convinced that the current president does not have enough powers to insist on the release of Khodorkovsky and Lebedev. "The criminal case against Khodorkovsky and Lebedev will not be retried," he said this week, "because this is beyond the authority of Medvedev, and his instructions to the Prosecutor General's Office are nothing but an efficient gesture to cool down the wave of public protests over the presidential elections." Such gestures may also be intended to improve the Kremlin's image in the international community, including the United States, amid distinct tensions in East-West relations over Middle East policy and Russia's concerns about Western interference in its domestic politics.

Although most Western governments apparently find it more convenient to accept the election results, particularly given the need for Russia's cooperation on Syria and Iran, cooling down domestic opposition might not be as easy as the Kremlin hopes. New demonstrations are planned in Moscow and other cities for March 10. And if they seem threatening to the Kremlin, there may again be recourse to the same strong-armed tactics the authorities used a few days ago.

Putin made a perfunctory promise to look into the allegations of vote fraud, but he dismissed Monday's opposition protests as having no relation to his election. He apparently has no strategy for addressing the mounting discontent with him among the urban, middle-class elite, whose support is crucial for his government to retain its legitimacy. Lev Gudkov, director of the Levada Center, the respected independent polling agency, predicted this week in Izvestia, the Russian daily, that although overt signs of domestic unrest might subside for awhile, opposition to Putin can only grow: "There are very many people - over one-third [of the population], 35 percent - who do not recognize these elections as being legitimate. A wave of indignation will rise up."

 

Comments   

We are concerned about a recent drift towards vitriol in the RSN Reader comments section. There is a fine line between moderation and censorship. No one likes a harsh or confrontational forum atmosphere. At the same time everyone wants to be able to express themselves freely. We'll start by encouraging good judgment. If that doesn't work we'll have to ramp up the moderation.

General guidelines: Avoid personal attacks on other forum members; Avoid remarks that are ethnically derogatory; Do not advocate violence, or any illegal activity.

Remember that making the world better begins with responsible action.

- The RSN Team

 
+10 # bluepilgrim 2012-03-10 15:31
http://tv.globalresearch.ca/2012/03/putin-wins-russian-elections-landslide-despite-us-criticism
Pepe Escobar knows what he talks about.

Is better. Putin did not "managed to pull off a win" -- he won with almsot 64% of the vote, as predicted.
 
 
+8 # Innocent Victim 2012-03-10 17:26
I went to your link and listened with interest. Of course, we do not know how much fraud was in the Russian election, but we do have a good idea of the fraudulent disqualificatio n of voters in American elections. As an opponent of US imperialism, I could share much of what Mr Escobar had to say. If the clique of corporate proxies could be seen as losers by the American people, there would be some hope for improvement of American lives, as well as the lives of many other peoples. I have added Asia Times, RT and Moscow Times to my blog list. Thanks!
 
 
+1 # Stephanie Remington 2012-03-10 23:37
Here's another one that might interest you.
http://www.democracynow.org/2012/3/6/stephen_cohen_on_vladimir_putin_russias

Stephen Cohen did another interview about Russia on Democracy Now! in December 2011.
http://www.democracynow.org/appearances/stephen_cohen

Both were very enlightening to me.
 
 
0 # Innocent Victim 2012-03-11 08:59
Stephen Cohen, from the mid-80s when I first became acquainted with him on interview programs, was always to me the clearest, most reasoned analyst of matters USSR and CRS.
 
 
0 # Activista 2012-03-11 13:26
Stephen Cohen has pragmatical approach to foreign politics - keep out - I agree.
Remember when in 1993 Yeltsin sent tanks against parliament and created imperial presidency - we applauded - now we have imperial Putin.
Another point - opposition in Russia are mostly communists (about 40%).
 
 
+7 # geraldom 2012-03-11 07:51
Way back in the early 1990s, Mikhail Gorbachev negotiated the breakup of the Soviet Union with then Pres George H.W. Bush. In return, the U.S. promised that it & its proxy army in Europe, NATO, wouldn't encroach one inch into what would become the eastern block countries that would be created from this breakup, not militarily or politically.

Bill Clinton almost immediately violated the agreement, followed big-time by G.W. Bush, & continued under Obama. Russia unfortunately allowed the expansion of the U.S. & NATO into these so-called new sovereign states right up to their very border. Most of the leaders of these new countries have become puppet leaders controlled by the U.S. The people of these new states, who fought hard to free themselves of the iron grip of Communism just turned around & sold their souls to their new master, the U.S.

What Russia & China need very badly are leaders that will wake up to the real covert agenda of the U.S., world hegemony, world domination, & hopefully will quickly draw a line in the sand & stand firm against any further expansion by the U.S. Putin may be the only man to do it.

In addition, both Russia & China should immediately protect Iran from any further threats or sanctions or blockades by the U.S. because the U.S. wants nothing less than regime change in Iran, not because it's a nuclear threat, but because they have our oil underneath their ground, the 3rd largest oil reserves in the world.
 
 
+2 # Innocent Victim 2012-03-11 09:02
Putin may be the only man, right now, but the Chinese will have their input, too. A time will come when the US will not be able to keep up its world-wide commitments.

Then, we Americans will have two problems, reconstruction and protection of the national interests of the 99%.
 
 
+2 # geraldom 2012-03-11 14:30
Quoting Innocent Victim:
Putin may be the only man, right now, but the Chinese will have their input, too. A time will come when the US will not be able to keep up its world-wide commitments.

Then, we Americans will have two problems, reconstruction and protection of the national interests of the 99%.


Senator Carl Levin is demanding action by the Obama administration that will forcibly trigger a war with Iran in the same way that Egypt triggered the six-day war in 1967 by attempting to blockade the Gulf of Aqaba. In addition to everything else that we're doing to Iran, Senator Levin is demanding that we completely blockade all Iranian oil shipments in a so-called attempt to force their hand on their mythical and unproven nuclear activities. It will force Iran to take some action. They will not be given a choice in the matter.

If Obama does this, I would suspect that the price of oil will shoot up like a rocket along with gold and silver, and I also suspect that (hopefully) both Russia and China will also be taking some action as a consequence. It would literally be the equivalent of shutting off Iran's blood supply.
 
 
+1 # Innocent Victim 2012-03-11 16:28
I don't give Obama credit for brains as many seem to or did before he chose his cabinet and advisers in early 2009. Still, he cannot be so stupid as to bring down the consequences of war with Iran on himself as well as everyone else. He is an unscrupulous politician. Only a pending defeat at the polls could threaten him sufficiently to force Iran into a war.

Still, I would buy gold and silver as a general rule for these times. I am not a financial analyst.
 
 
+1 # geraldom 2012-03-11 17:36
Quoting Innocent Victim:
I don't give Obama credit for brains as many seem to or did before he chose his cabinet and advisers in early 2009. Still, he cannot be so stupid as to bring down the consequences of war with Iran on himself as well as everyone else. He is an unscrupulous politician. Only a pending defeat at the polls could threaten him sufficiently to force Iran into a war.

Still, I would buy gold and silver as a general rule for these times. I am not a financial analyst.


Obama knew exactly what he was doing when he chose his cabinet at the end of 2008 & in 2009. He wasn't being ignorant or stupid. He knew full well what the consequences of his actions would be. I say this because I've seen multiple times his campaign speech when he was Sen Obama campaigning for the pres where he repeated the old definition of insanity: "Doing the same thing over & over again & expecting different results every time." In that same speech he stated that he would bring on new blood, that he wouldn't bring on the old Washington insiders, the very people who created the mess that we're in today, & yet, that is exactly what he has done.

Obama isn't stupid or irrational. If he's not stupid or irrational, one has to ask what else it could be, & the only answer that I can come up with is that Obama isn't the good shepherd that many people thought he was when he was running for the pres & what still too many people believe he is even today.
 
 
+1 # Innocent Victim 2012-03-11 20:26
Yes, you are right, and I make the same point often in my messages on the net: Obama's character is his (and our) problem, and the fault is not weakness. It is a lack of integrity and humanity. When I write that I do not give him credit for brains, what I mean is he does not understand that the bad choices he makes in order to curry favor with the corporate elite will lead to his own undoing as a president because they will increase our rate of decline.
 
 
+1 # Activista 2012-03-11 16:45
Israel started new Gaza War on Friday - three days after Obama assured Benjamin Netanyahu of ‘unshakeable support'.
Obviously the choice was made to attack Iran - the question is only when (and how?)
 
 
+4 # Activista 2012-03-10 18:58
Stealing Russia's Future? Yeltsin and oligarch tried to steal Russia future (minerals). There is not ONE solid evidence in the article. All rumors of "London - Jerusalem" Russian expatriate community.
Putin is NOT perfect - but he is what messed up World and Russia needs right now.
 
 
+2 # XXMD48 2012-03-11 15:34
What Russia & China need very badly are leaders that will wake up to the real covert agenda of the U.S., world hegemony, world domination, & hopefully will quickly draw a line in the sand & stand firm against any further expansion by the U.S. Putin may be the only man to do it.


Thank you! This is an accurate insight into the Russian situation. It was Mr. Putin who stood up the private companies invasion and who put the fast becoming billionare oil speculator Chodorovsky in jail. Pitty we did not have Mr. Putin in the US. If he were here, we would not have the "Corporate people" with their greed and anti-humanitari an propaganda.
For the whole mankind the future is in the blend of good parts of socialistic and capitalistic philosophy. The Extreme right wing capitalism got us where we are now.
 
 
0 # Innocent Victim 2012-03-11 20:18
Mr Putin represents authoritarianis m. That he is a counter to the unlimited hegemony of the US in the Middle East may serve to moderate US policies, but he is not to be mistaken for a child of the enlightenment. It was during his president of the Russian Federation that his opponent, Litviniov (sp?) in exile in England, was mysteriously poisoned by polonium. Putin is a former, high ranking NKVD agent. He is not the great hope of the future.
 
 
0 # XXMD48 2012-03-20 20:00
Quoting Innocent Victim:
Mr Putin represents authoritarianism. That he is a counter to the unlimited hegemony of the US in the Middle East may serve to moderate US policies, but he is not to be mistaken for a child of the enlightenment. It was during his president of the Russian Federation that his opponent, Litviniov (sp?) in exile in England, was mysteriously poisoned by polonium. Putin is a former, high ranking NKVD agent. He is not the great hope of the future.

It is true that Putin is authoritarian, but he still cares more about his country and its people. Could you name ONE leader of any country who is not an authoriatarian to certain extent?
 

THE NEW STREAMLINED RSN LOGIN PROCESS: Register once, then login and you are ready to comment. All you need is a Username and a Password of your choosing and you are free to comment whenever you like! Welcome to the Reader Supported News community.

RSNRSN