Sunday night, March 4, 2012, on the ‘Moscow Times’ live blog dedicated to the presidential election, one could read the following: ‘With 14.5 percent of ballots counted, Vladimir Putin leads the candidates with 61.7 percent of the vote, followed by Communist Party candidate Gennady Zyuganov with 17.85 percent. Liberal Democrat Vladimir Zhirinovsky is in third with 8.01 percent, billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov is in fourth place with 7.5 percent and A Just Russia candidate Sergei Mironov is in fifth with 3.67 percent.’ According to the exit polls from state-run pollster VTsIOM , Vladimir Putin will receive 58.3 percent of the vote, followed by Communist Party candidate Gennady Zyuganov with 17.7 percent. Billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov is in third place with 9.2 percent, Liberal Democrat Vladimir Zhirinovsky fourth with 8.5 percent and ‘A Just Russia’ candidate Sergey Mironov fifth with 4.8 percent.
As for the fairness of the poll, I am quoting two notes on the BBC live blog: The first one: ‘Cornelis in South Africa emails: My wife just called from Moscow, she is not a fan of Putin. But she and her friends did not see any violence or fraud during the poll. My wife is Russian and is politically active for the opposition. She believes this poll is fair and honest. One of her friends is working in a polling station, she showed my wife that it is impossible to do carousel voting.’(Sunday evening) The second: ‘Alex in London writes: The majority of people at the pro-Putin rallies tonight (and other rallies during the election campaign) were forced to go there by their managers – including one of my family members, who is freezing at Manege right now. Not many people can say <no> to the threat of losing a job in a current economy.’ (Sunday, 19:05)
So the chips were down already on Sunday night. Tuesday morning, on the same live blog (‘The Moscow Times’), one could read the following on the election result: ‘5:48 a.m., Vote Tally Inches Towards Completion, 95% of Ballots Processed; Moscow Vote Gives Prokhorov Second Place; First Rallies Starting: As the vote tally nears its end, the numbers remain largely unchanged. With 95 percent of votes counted, the updated percentages are as follows: Putin: 64.29, Zyuganov 17.14, Prokhorov 7.40, Zhirinovsky 6.25 and Mironov 3.80.”
All the above is not meant to say that the author of these lines endorses the view that the election had a result that was known before, with all that this assertion means. On the contrary, I think that most Russians voted for a continuation of the line of leadership represented by Vladimir Putin (even if he did not obtain a majority of votes in Moscow, analyses showing that it actually marks the separation of the new Russian middle class from Putin). Or, what I mean to show here is why that majority agrees with the ‘Putin line’ and thinks it could be implemented, not so much because it sees no alternative in order to fulfil the desired aims, which is obvious from the percentages the other candidates obtained, as because it has its heart set on reaching such objectives. Or Putin fell over backwards in trying to convince that majority that it was the correct way to think and won.
So what does this majority of the Russian have their heart set on doing? We believe they pursue two crucial objectives.
First of all, they want Russia to regain/keep its current global status. Either under the umbrella of the third Rome (czarist) or of the global communism victory (USSR), in the last 300 hundred years Russia has been an empire with a global power’s vocation. Today, after the fall of USSR, twenty years after what Putin called ‘the biggest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century’, a majority of Russians want to preserve this status. Imperial inertia goes away with much difficulty not only from the mentality of leading elites, but also from national awareness. From this point of view, we can think of quite a few current examples, where former empires’ leaders have a hard time breaking away with imperial manners, even if they had to dismantle their empires already several decades if not over a century ago. Vladimir Putin sensed such irrepressible trend of national mentality. On the eve of the election, he told that to a well-known Canadian journalist answering the latter’s question ‘What do Russians think of Stalin today?’ Here is his ad litteram answer: ‘Stalin is the most popular figure in all of Russia,’ he said. ‘There was an opinion poll. He was No 1. No. 2 was Lenin. No. 3 Peter (the Great). I was No. 4.’ Anyone who knows some Russian history can immediately grasp the meaning of what Putin said: the Russian public mentality is highly appreciative of its empire creators and saviours.
Second of all, but closely related to the first feature shown as representing aims of the Russian electorate, there is people’s appreciation of stability. A reputed Russian writer, Mikhaïl Chichkine, was writing in ‘Le Monde’, after the Sunday election: ‘unfortunately, the problem that my country has is not that the last election was stained with irregularities: that is that, even without such irregularities, Putin’s party won it. It even suits the opposition. In Russia, the supreme value is now as it was yesterday the stability’. From the point of view expressed above, the stability requires an optimisation of ways to focus efforts on achieving the pursued objective – either the Euro-Asian Union already proposed by Vladimir Putin, the recuperation of the global status Russia had not until long ago or the ‘modernisation’ – a word that has already become a mantra of Putin’s political rhetoric. This is also what the new Russian president’s partisans hint at when saying that Russia is facing 12 years of stability, with reference to the two six-year terms Putin could constitutionally complete.
This stability can be accentuated even more by the appointment of Dmitry Medvedev as PM, a castling that will secure the continuity of the Russian macro management team domestically and abroad of the last years.
But, of course, we need to ask ourselves what are the chances of Putin’s opposition to survive, after such a prominent manifestation over the last few months. Many commentators say that, faced with such a massive victory of Putin’s, the opposition is left with just two possible scenarios of evolution: the first would be ‘resignation’, meaning the follow-up on a trend already visible in people who prefer to migrate from Russia heading West (about 4 million Russian nationals, the equivalent of Finland’s entire population, have emigrated in the last twenty years); the second is ‘unification among the fragmented opposition’, or the development of a programme and political party that could eventually enter the Duma at the next election.
Vladimir Putin’s victory is therefore overwhelming and entails a huge responsibility of the winner and his team.