DEMONSTRATIONS. The opposition movement is losing steam. As we have seen before in post-Soviet Russia, it is one thing to agree on dislike of the present regime but quite another to agree on what comes next. An association of former ins wanting to get back in, communists, nationalists and “new young people” do not have very much in common. The two pre-eminent leaders (or actors: are there any “leaders”?) now appear to be the hard left Sergey Udaltsov and the anti-corruption (and rather nationalistic) Aleksey Navalniy. They agree on their dislike of Putin &Co and people from Central Asia and the Caucasus. Is that enough to make a match? Perhaps, nationalism and socialism have co-existed before. Meanwhile the anti-Putin demos are getting smaller and, in some cases we see a return to the provocative demos (ie no permit or breaking the permit) that characterised opposition protests in the Luzhkov days. Western reporters breathlessly write these up and diplomats huff but, really, now that it is clear that protesters can assemble in the tens of thousands so long as they do what they apply to do, what is the point of provocative demos? Udaltsov is calling for “a march of millions” for the day before Putin’s swearing in but it seems very unlikely that anything like that will turn out. It’s over for the moment: a VTsIOM poll indicates interest is waning. And, the basic premise that the Duma elections were stolen has still not produced any convincing evidence. And even less so in the case of Putin’s victory. Amusingly, some media people have set up a mock Facebook group “Journalists Against Demonstrations”. Presumably if they hold a “Demo against Demos” they won’t cover it.

NATO. Now that Pakistan is less willing to be NATO’s base for its Afghanistan operations, there is a scheme to build a transit base in Ulyanovsk. The KPRF is demanding a referendum be held first and there has been a small demo against the idea in Ulyanovsk. I remember writing lots of briefing notes in the 1990s for the higher-ups saying you can kick Russia when it’s down, but it won’t always be down.

SYRIA. The flapdoodle about Russia sending troops to Syria, first reported by RIAN and then picked up by other outlets, seems to have been rather thinly based. The official Russian line is that an auxiliary tanker is at the Russian Navy base at Tartus as part of the support for anti-piracy operations off Africa (in which the Russian Navy has been engaged for some years). The ship, although civilian-crewed, has some Armed Forces personnel on board. The Western media is in an all-Syria-all-the-time mode (strange that we don’t hear much about Libya these days. Or Kosovo) and such stories are grist for the excitement mill. For something that goes deeper than “Putin is nasty; therefore he likes nasty people”, the assumption behind so much Western coverage, I recommend reading this: Moscow has practical reasons, realpolitik, in not seeing NATO topple someone else and leave a bigger mess behind. Russian concerns about blowback are never much understood in the West: I believe it to be a major worry affecting Russian-Georgian relations.

RUSSIA’S MIGHTY ARMS BUILDUP. The Air Force is to receive the first six (6) Sukhoy Su-35 (prototype 1988) fighter jets by the end of the year. 30 Su-30SMs (prototype 1989) are expected by 2015. We hear a lot about plans to re-equip Russia’s Armed Forces but what happens is still rather small.

PUSSY RIOT. 2 members of this band were arrested last week and a third a couple of days later and charged with “hooliganism”. They performed an anti-Putin song at Christ the Saviour in Moscow. Some Western reaction here and here. Blasphemous hooliganism or political protest? Here’s the video, dear reader; you decide (PS the church is Russia’s equivalent of St Peter’s Basilica).

CORRUPTION. Last week the Deputy Chairman of Vnesheconombank was charged with large-scale fraud. Some officers of the Federal Drug Control Service were busted for theft in Vologda Oblast. On the 10th a man was arrested in Kazan and died in custody. 5 police officers suspected of torturing and killing him were arrested on the 13th; the head of the local police department was fired on the 15th and the entire police squad was disbanded, with most of the officers to be fired, on the 16th. A faster reaction than we usually see in such cases.

HISTORY. Never goes away. A Latvian court overturned the parliamentary ban on a march of Latvian veterans of Nazi forces and the march duly took place. Somehow I doubt we will see any commemoration of the Latvian Rifle Regiment: that’s not part of Latvian history as now remembered. But seriously, the populations of the Baltic countries were vacuumed up by whichever army got to them first; they have no real heroes of the war: all were on the “wrong side”.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Ottawa, Canada (see


ELECTION. Results here in Russian on the CEC site and in English at RIAN. Putin 63.6%, Zyuganov 17.18%, Prokhorov 7.98%, Zhirinovskiy 6.22% (fourth place for once!), Mironov 3.86%. Turnout 65.3%. Turnout in Moscow City and St Petersburg about 50%. Chechnya was a little more subdued this time: a mere 94.89% turnout with only 99.76% for Putin. Interesting from the point of view of the polls: Putin did better than FOM or VTsIOM predicted but on the low range of Levada’s 63-66%. Zyuganov did better than anyone predicted, beating the average estimate by 20%, and Zhirinovskiy did somewhat worse (but they share a sector of the electorate and their total was very close to the estimate); Prokhorov hit the average prediction but Mironov was significantly worse at only about 65% of the prediction. But, generally speaking not large variations from the predicted results and Putin’s lead over perennial runner-up Zyuganov of three and a half to one is hard to pretend was manufactured. (Which isn’t stopping people from trying with what can only be an intentional misuse of statistics).Turnout was below average but still respectable. I have the feeling that the Western connection of the protestors (and I repeat that the US Ambassador’s meeting with the opposition was a gift) induced some people to vote Putin who might not otherwise (à la Voter 2’s story). Prokhorov may have a future as the non-Communist anti-Putin (a Forbes survey rated him the second-most respected billionaire) (perhaps in the cabinet, Putin suggests). Mironov, however, may not have much of a political future.

TURNOUT. I find the low turnout in Moscow especially and in St Petersburg to a lesser degree very curious. I have three possible explanations (which could be combined in different proportions in different individuals). 1. When the moment came, they couldn’t actually bring themselves to vote for one of the others, so they stayed home. 2. Protesting is cool, voting is uncool. 3. The “new young people” have given up on politics, for now anyway, and will put their energies into something else. One would have thought, after all the excitement, that there would have been a bigger anti-Putin turnout. As it was Putin got less than 50% in Moscow City. I agree with Putin when he said the opposition will become a real political force when they are able to come up with proposals on the future development of the country and prove that their proposals are desirable”. Being against Putin, but not bothering to vote, is not that. Which is not to say that something important isn’t in motion; Russian politics are far too top-down; they badly need an infusion of bottom-up.

PROTESTS. The post election protest pulled only 10K or so (“only” – interesting writing that: last year that would have been a very large number). City Hall has authorised up to 50K on Saturday. I think the protest movement is over for now, or at least will be reduced to the usuals.

RUSSIAN ELECTORAL REALITY. Anatoly Karlin has written the best single thing I have ever seen on electoral reality in Russia. I cannot recommend it too highly – everything is in it. Here it is; read it. Much better than the rubbish in the MSM.

TYPING CLASS. Reuters’ headline and story – which make no mention at all of opinion polls – “Vladimir Putin ‘elected Russian president’, opponents allege fraud” has been re-typed by thousands of outlets. AP’s “Riot police break up anti-Putin protest in Moscow” ditto; it’s only when you read down the account that you learn that the arrests came when some tried to turn it into a sit-in (not authorised in the permit) after several thousand had protested without interference by the police. But the program has been a success – millions of people now believe that Putin’s and United Russia’s victories were fraudulent.

THE RETURN. Putin met with editors of some Western news outlets and said – they obviously weren’t listening the first two times: “I will repeat for the third time (the translation is clearly not coming across very well): he and I represent the same political force; we arranged that the presidency would be contested by whoever enjoyed the better standing and had the greater chance of winning.” So that’s the official reason. He reiterated, as he and Medvedev have done many times before, that they are carrying out the same program.

POLITKOVSKAYA MURDER. Some interesting developments. The senior police officer, who appears to have been the sub-contractor for the murder is singing. According to Kommersant he believes that Berezovskiy and Zakayev “could have been” behind it and the supplier of the murder weapon has been identified.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Ottawa, Canada (see

Tomorrow’s News Today

This video is entitled “Falsifications in the Election of the President of Russia 4 March”. It shows several scenes: voting with a false identity, a local election committee interrupted as it is creating results in a back room and instructions given to a team of multiple voters. The film part isn’t much of anything: shots of hands, floors and someone in a van – all giving that atmosphere of handheld verisimilitude – but the sound is suspiciously good. The whole thing could have been knocked together in a couple of hours.

One fact, two suppositions and one conclusion.

The fact of course is that the video is a fraud: it’s not 4 March yet and the voting hasn’t started.

But whose fraud is it?

One can imagine that some of the pro-Putin people could have put this thing together so as to discredit in advance the kinds of videos that we saw after December’s Duma vote.

But one can also imagine that Russia’s not inefficient signals intelligence organisation has discovered a fraud video being created and stockpiled in advance by the antis.

There are big stakes in this election and a lot of people inside and outside Russia would like to discredit Putin.

The conclusion is that the discrediting apparatus of the “coloured revolution” package: exit polls (done by whom, over what time and how representative?), blurry videos and anecdotes are easily contrived. Opinion polls are real; contradicting their predictive power requires much more robust evidence than these easily-manufactured trifles.

An investigation into the authors has been opened but we probably won’t find out anything for months, if ever.


ELECTION. The last polls are published and it’s clear Putin will win on the first round. VTsIOM. FOM and Levada all agree and their numbers average out at: Putin 60-61%; Zyuganov 15%; Zhirinovskiy 8-9%; Prokhorov 7-8% and Mironov 6%. As always, any significant variation from these numbers will be cause for suspicion. I reiterate that when the final results – as the Duma ones did – correspond to long series of opinions polls from different sources then the burden of proof is on those that say the results were cooked. Really robust evidence is needed to counter the appearance of the expected. This fact ought to be apparent to the meanest intellect but for some reason is no t. I expect the customary incompetent and biased reporting from the Western media. Once again, the runners-up will not be the “liberals” so lionised by Western observers but the Communist and Zhirinovskiy nominees. The rest – however many there may be – compete for 10% to 15%. But that truth – an immutable law of Russian elections since 1991 – seems to be unable to be grasped by so many outside observers who really think that the inclusion of, say, Yavlinskiy would make some difference. Not to Putin’s vote, not to Zyuganov’s vote and not to Zhirinovskiy’s vote. Only to the runners-up in the swamp who would have had to share their small piece of the electoral pie with another. I reiterate that I believe Putin’s decision to stand as President again is a mistake, but the majority of Russians are happy enough with it. 59-61% is, of course a drop from his former results in the high 60s but that is only natural. Most Western politicians would love to get that much. Maybe things would be different if the Communists had refreshed their leadership or if Yavlinskiy ten or fifteen years ago had been willing to share the spotlight but that didn’t happen. The number to watch I think is turnout; I expect it to be down from previous presidential elections (1991-2008), but how much? Normally in the high 60s, the lowest was Putin’s second at 64.3%.

DEMONSTRATIONS. Opposition groups have held more demonstrations in the last few weeks in Moscow and St Petersburg and there have been several pro-Putin rallies as well. But the big ones were Putin’s supporters in Moscow (over 100K) and the antis a couple of days later. I have no size estimate for the latter (police say 11K and organisers 40K so we’ll split at about 25K) but it’s clear that the impetus is draining. 25-30K is very far from the million people Navalniy was boasting about in December. My feeling is that the “new young people” are not at this time going to make their presence felt in politics. At any event a protest against the results (but they haven’t even seen them yet!) is approved for the day after. In an interesting report there are apparently videos out there showing ballot stuffing dated 4 March. (I am reminded of a report some years ago that the Belarusan authorities claimed to have discovered “exit polls”, already filled out and showing an opposition victory, before the election had been held. “Exit polls” and videos are very easy to fake.)

POLITICAL REFORMS. Medvedev has produced a package of electoral changes that, for the most part, put things back to the way they were a decade ago: elected regional heads, easier registration of political parties; dropping the barrier back down to 5%. It passed first reading in the Duma on Wednesday. Two easy deductions: Putin agrees with the changes and, given that many of them have been circling around in discussions for some years, they are not a result of the protests (although the timing may be connected).

REACTION. I note with amusement and no little contempt that those who have been so ready to call Putin a dictator have not come up with any explanation for why he is “allowing” all these protests. And, don’t say he’s been forced to – as we have seen in several instances in recent months, real dictators, with lots of repressive tools, aren’t worried about a few thousand protesters. And we have never seen anything like this in Putin’s Russia. Tough to fit into the meme, so they don’t try.

RUSSIA INC. The Finance Ministry reports Russia’s external debt is down to US$35.8 billion. I remember excitement ten years ago about Russia’s ability to pay. Funny how things turn out: these days Russia is the least indebted major economy by a significant margin.

KYRGYZ REPUBLIC AIRBASES. It sounds as if Bishkek is tired of foreign airbases. President Atambayev reiterated that the US lease at Manas will not be renewed when it expires in summer 2014. A week later he said there was no need for the Russian base at Kant: it does nothing he said, but “flatter the vanity of Russian generals”. And, Moscow was not fulfilling its obligations and hadn’t even paid the rent. The Russian Defence Minister hurriedly promised immediate payment.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Ottawa, Canada (see