DEMONSTRATIONS. On Sunday there was a small (~500) nationalist demo, Monday saw 5-6K turn out for the authorities but the big one was Saturday’s. I am going with Alexandre Latsa’s estimates – he was there, took pictures and made a methodical estimate. He tells me he estimates about 25-30K at the maximum with many coming and going for a total over the day of maybe 50K. There were demonstrations around the country, so about 75K would be a decent estimate across Russia. Who were they? The photos show the usual oppositionists – disgruntled ex-officials, nationalists, Communists and so on – but also a lot of young middle class people who, presumably, hadn’t protested before. Latsa estimates that perhaps two-thirds were these young middle class people. For lack of a better term I will call these NYP – new young people. What generalisations can be made about them? They came to maturity in the Putin Age, have only childhood memories of the worst of the 1990s and none from the Communist period. They are, so to speak, Putin’s “children”. (Putin agrees). But children grow up and become independent. I suspect that they do not much fear change (I think many older Russians do). They are not especially representative of the population but every Russian city will have some. They are computer-savvy and linked together by the New Media: I doubt they pay much attention to TV newscasts. What were they protesting? Vote-fixing to be sure but they don’t look particularly angry in the photos. I am coming to believe that they were protesting not so much against counterfeit elections as against counterfeit politics: a protest against the Establishment; an Establishment that includes Zyuganov, Zhirinovskiy and the rest: beneficiaries of the stagnant political structure for two decades. They were saying you can’t ignore us any longer! This makes me more convinced that Putin’s decision to return was a bad one especially in the way it was done: a back-room agreement with Medvedev, announcement and servile approval from United Russia. I do not believe that the NYP have any interest in the familiar oppositionists, most of whom they would regard as tainted and – most tellingly – obsolete. I doubt that they have “leaders” (facilitators like Navalniy perhaps. By the way, there’s more to be known about him than The New Yorker tells). I believe that something new has been born but I don’t think that the NYPs or anyone else has any idea of what. I think “Putin’s Children: Flying the Nest” puts it well. It is worth noting, however, that it’s not that clear-cut – many of the people at Monday’s demo look like NYPs too.
NYP POLITICS. It seems to be agreed that the NYPs have not taken much interest in politics before. Have they started to? and if so, who will capitalise on their new interest? Not, I suspect, anyone that we have heard of. But they may continue to reject politics and make their effect felt in some other sphere. Until polling data on the phenomenon appears, no one can say. A protest has been authorised for next week and we will learn more.
ANTI-PUTIN? Is a protest against the mouldy political system – with which he has had a lot to do – a rejection of Putin the presidential candidate? At present he will be running against Zyuganov, Zhirinovskiy, Yavlinskiy – all surely more obsolete to an NYP than he is. Mironov is new to presidential elections but he’s Establishment too. Perhaps Prokhorov will be on the ballot but will NYPs rally around a plutocrat who made a fortune in the 1990s? I don’t think anyone has any idea what the NYPs will do in the presidential vote.
FRAUD. I remain unconvinced that there was game-changing fraud on the part of United Russia. Vedomosti has been doing a recount in Moscow. After examining 294 “protocols” (the document from each polling station showing its results), starting with what it expected to be the worst, it claims to have uncovered 7456 United Russia votes stolen from other parties. As 294 protocols cover 440,000 votes at about 1500 each, this is not a very high percentage. And, because its investigation is already running into diminishing returns with fewer alleged stolen votes in each new protocol examined, the total votes alleged to be stolen will not likely rise very much more. Even if we accept – and double, or triple – these numbers, the alleged theft is a fraction of one percent of Moscow’s seven million voters. The non-Gaussian argument is declared here to be bad mathematics and the author proves his point by showing similar statistical effects from the latest UK election. (I especially recommend that you read him – Google translation). As always the North Caucasus stands out but minorities are amazingly skilful at maximising their presence at the centre where the cheques are written and it is prudent for them to pretend super-loyalty; pumping 80% up to 90% or 95% is again not game-changing. Exit polls do not impress me – too easy to fake or mis-sample. And the results broadly fit previous opinion polls.
© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Ottawa, Canada (see http://www.russiaotherpointsofview.com/)