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 http://www.russiaotherpointsofview.com/)