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Vladimir Putin re-elected Russia’s President in landslide win

Alexander Mercouris

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With over 80% of the votes counted incumbent Russian President Vladimir Putin is steamrolling towards an even bigger landslide win than predicted in the Russian Presidential election in which he is seeking re-election.

Russia’s Central Election Commission puts Putin’s share of the vote at over 76% – even more than had been predicted – with Pavel Grudinin, the Communist Party’s candidate, a very distant second at 12%.

The exact size of the turnout is not yet clear, but it appears to be 67%, roughly in line with the 65% turnout in the previous Presidential election of 2012, suggesting that very few Russian voters in the end heeded the call of the liberal ‘non-system’ opposition leader Alexey Navalny for a boycott.

Here are a few preliminary thoughts about this election:

(1) Vladimir Putin commands overwhelming public support in Russia.

This is a reality that many in the West deny.  However in what was an election with very few reported violations administered by a Central Election Commission headed by the prominent and well respected ‘system’ liberal Ella Pamfilova Putin has won by an overwhelming landslide.

Suffice to say that even if every Russian eligible to vote in the election who didn’t vote had done so, bringing turnout up to an impossible 100%, and even if every one of those Russians had voted for someone else than Putin, which is also impossible, he would still have won around 50% of the vote, making it a certainty that he would be re-elected President of Russia, though perhaps in a run-off.

In reality many and probably most Russians who did not vote in the election would have voted for Putin if they had voted, increasing the number of Russians who would have voted for him even more.

The simple fact should be faced: at this particular point in their history Vladimir Putin is the political leader the Russian people overwhelmingly support.  Even Ksenia Sobchak – the liberal ‘non-system’ candidate who stood against him in the election – admits it.  So should the West.

(2) The Communist Party is Russia’s main opposition party

If Vladimir Putin won an overwhelming victory over all other candidates Pavel Grudinin – the Communist Party’s candidate – still contrived to win twice as many votes (12% of the vote) as his nearest rival Vladimir Zhirinovsky (6% of the vote), and almost as many votes as all the other opposition candidates put together.

He also scored significantly better than the 7% share of the vote most opinion polls had predicted for him.

This is despite the fact that Grudinin was a very unconvincing candidate.  Not only is he not a member of the Communist Party, but he is actually a former member of Vladimir Putin’s United Russia Party.

Moreover he is multi-millionaire businessman who was found during the election to have squirrelled away large sums of money in foreign bank accounts, a fact which he sought to conceal.

All of these factors must have weighed against Grudinin with Communist voters, and the fact that he was also the target of a vigorous campaign on state television probably didn’t help him either.

Grudinin also showed himself wholly lacking in ideas about foreign policy, which at a time of heightened international tension can’t have impressed voters.

Grudinin’s share of the vote (12%) is significantly less than Gennady Zyuganov, the Communist Party’s veteran leader, achieved in the previous election in 2012 (17%).

However given the tidal wave of support for Putin and his own inadequacies as a candidate I am frankly surprised that Grudinin did as well as he did.

The fact that the Communist Party consistently comes second in national elections in Russia, even with a candidate as unconvincing as Grudinin, shows that it continues to have a significant core of support in Russia.

Constant predictions that its elderly electorate is dying out never quite seem to come true.  Perhaps, in a phenomenon not unknown in other countries, Russian voters tend to turn to the Communists as they grow older.

Vladimir Putin’s overwhelming popularity – especially amongst working class Russians who might otherwise be expected to be attracted to the Communist Party and its programme – makes it difficult to gauge the level of potential support for the Communist Party in Russia.

However the outcome of this election does make me wonder whether when Putin is finally gone a more dynamically led Communist Party with a younger and more convincing leadership might once again become a serious political force in Russia.

I would add that in contrast to Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s LDPR (see below) the Communist Party does seem to have potential leaders in waiting who might one day come forward to lead the party, and my impression from a trip I took to Perm in 2015 is that the Communist Party or at least the ideas that are associated with it may have a greater appeal amongst young Russians than is generally realised.

My trip to Perm however also showed me what an incoherent and disorganised force the Communist Party presently is at grassroots level, a fact which its decision to pick Grudinin as its candidate also shows.

If the Communist Party ever seriously aims to win the full level of its potential support in an election then it must undertake a radical overhaul not just of its leadership but also of its organisation.  That may be more than it is capable of.

(3) Vladimir Zhirinovsky and the LDPR are (probably) on the way out

The relatively strong showing of Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s LDPR in the 2016 Russian parliamentary elections led many to expect that Zhirinovsky might come second in this election ahead of Grudinin.

That did not happen, and as Zhirinovsky has himself admitted the 6% of the share of the vote he won is a setback for him, even if it is the same share of the vote as the one he scored in the Presidential election of 2012.

It is in fact difficult to imagine a post 2000 Presidential election in Russia that played better to Zhirinovsky’s presumed strengths than the one which has just happened.

At a time of heightened international tension Zhirinovsky was the only opposition candidate with an interest in foreign policy to challenge Putin from an anti-Western patriotic position which might be expected to be popular with patriotically minded Russian voters, who form a very substantial portion of Russia’s electorate.

In the event Zhirinovsky failed to capitalise on this in a Presidential election which looked to offer him not only his best chance to make an impact but also probably his last chance.

Zhirinovsky is now 72.  It is difficult to believe that he can still be a credible candidate in Russia’s next Presidential election in 2024, when he will be 78.

By contrast the support Grudinin received shows that there is a portion of Russia’s electorate which is willing to support whatever candidate the Communist Party proposes, even when that candidate is someone as unconvincing as Grudinin, and that the Communist Party is not therefore just stuck with one candidate.

Zhirinovsky’s Party, the LDPR, is by contrast so much his personal vehicle that it is difficult to imagine who can replace him.

The probability must therefore be that by 2024 both Zhirinovsky and his LDPR will be in eclipse, with the only issue being which other party or candidate picks up his votes.

(3) The liberal candidates did dismally (again)

In the Russian parliamentary elections of 2016 the aggregate share of the vote of all of Russia’s various liberal and quasi liberal parties was 4.1%.

The aggregate share of the vote in this election of all of Russia’s various liberal and quasi liberal candidates was 4.09%.  The liberal candidate who did best was Ksenia Sobchak – once spoken of as Russia’s equivalent of Paris Hilton – who did run an unusually slick campaign but who in the event only won 1.66%.

That suggests that Russia’s liberal voting electorate is stable at around 4% of Russia’s voting electorate, at least in any election in which Vladimir Putin either directly or through his party United Russia is a candidate.

The fact that the share of the vote won by liberal candidates in this election is roughly the same as the share of the vote won by liberal parties in Russia’s 2016 parliamentary elections incidentally confirms that Navalny’s call for a boycott of the election was a flop.  If any voters might have been expected to heed this call, it was Russia’s liberal voters.  In the event, in what must be considered a major blow for Navalny, they refused to heed it.

This provides more reason to doubt that Navalny is anywhere close to being the political force in Russia that the Western media likes to say he is.

Needless to say that does not prevent the BBC in this report about the election from referring to Navalny as Russia’s “main opposition leader” who was supposedly “barred from the race”.

Note how this BBC report passes over Grudinin and the Communist Party: the party which really is Russia’s main opposition party, and whose candidate has just won three times more votes all of the liberal candidates put together.

Possibly when Vladimir Putin finally leaves the scene more liberal minded voters will come forward and the share of the vote won by liberal candidates and liberal parties in Russia’s elections will increase.

However until that day comes liberals are a fringe and do not deserve the disproportionate amount of attention Western governments and the Western media continuously give them.

(4) The Skripal case

Putin’s bigger than expected victory will inevitably trigger speculation about what effect if any the Skripal case has had on this election.

My opinion is that it has had none.

Most Russian voters must have long since realised that relations between Russia and the West have become extremely bad.  I doubt that the furore around the Skripal case will have made them think about that any differently or will have effected the way they voted at all.

Nor do I think it will have made Russian voters more inclined to vote for Putin than they were already, and I certainly don’t think that Skripal was attacked in order to increase the number of votes which went to Putin in the election or to ‘energise’ a supposedly dull election.  Frankly those claims are not only entirely speculative; they are also farfetched.

(5) The effect of the sanctions

Lastly, I would make the obvious point that if the purpose of the West’s sanctions was to undermine the Russian people’s support for Vladimir Putin then they have obviously and spectacularly failed.  Support for him appears to be as strong as ever.

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Second group of Su-57 stealth fighters to be requested in 2020

The second Su-57 contract will feature fighters with the advanced engine design that was under development while the prototypes were made.

Seraphim Hanisch

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The contract for a second order of Russian Su-57 stealth fighters is expected to be signed in 2020, according to an unnamed source in Russia’s aircraft-making industry. TASS, the Russian News Agency, reported on this on Wednesday, 16 January:

The second contract to manufacture 13 Su-57 fighter jets for the Russian Aerospace Forces is to be signed next year, a source in Russia’s aircraft-making industry told TASS on Wednesday.

“In 2020, we plan to sign the second contract to manufacture and deliver 13 Su-57 fighter jets, some of them equipped with the second-stage engines,” he said. “The preliminary timeframe for the new contract is five years.”

The first contract envisages the delivery of two fifth-generation aircraft in 2019-2020.

“In line with the contract signed in 2018, one serial Su-57 jet with first-stage engines will be delivered to the Aerospace Forces this year, the other aircraft featuring the same type of engine – in 2020.”

The aircraft’s manufacturer, the United Aircraft Corporation, refrained from commenting on the report.

The Su-57 is a fifth-generation multirole fighter designed to destroy all types of air targets at long and short ranges and hit enemy ground and naval targets, overcoming its air defense capabilities.

The Su-57 took to the skies for the first time on January 29, 2010. Compared to its predecessors, the Su-57 combines the functions of an attack plane and a fighter jet while the use of composite materials and innovation technologies and the fighter’s aerodynamic configuration ensure the low level of radar and infrared signature.

The aircraft has been successfully tested in Syria.

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Kaspersky Lab snags former NSA contractor stealing hacking tools

Semi-buried article did see publication on Politico and Fox News, but Kaspersky Lab was not vindicated for its help in solving this case.

Seraphim Hanisch

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In a time known for Smear Campaigns of the Strangest Kind, we have seen Russia blamed for being there, for interfering and preventing the election of Hillary Rodham Clinton to the Presidency, putting Donald Trump in the White House instead. One of Russia’s companies, Kaspersky Lab, has a particularly notable history of late; that is to say, this computer security company has found itself on the receiving end of quite frankly, illegal levels of slander and punishment without cause from the US government. Kaspersky Lab owner and CEO tried very hard to come to the US to discuss these matters with a Congressional committee, only to have the meeting shelved into limbo.

However, the truth made itself manifest when it became known that Kaspersky Lab actually helped the American FBI catch Harold T. Martin III, who was found to be attempting to steal some of the American government’s most sensitive hacking tools. This fact emerged on Wednesday, January 9, 2019, when sources familiar with this investigation spoke to The Politico magazine. Politico says the following in its report:

[Kaspersky Lab’s] role in exposing Martin is a remarkable twist in an increasingly bizarre case that is believed to be the largest breach of classified material in U.S. history.

It indicates that the government’s own internal monitoring systems and investigators had little to do with catching Martin, who prosecutors say took home an estimated 50 terabytes of data from the NSA and other government offices over a two-decade period, including some of the NSA’s most sophisticated and sensitive hacking tools.

The revelation also introduces an ironic turn in the negative narrative the U.S. government has woven about the Russian company in recent years.

Under both the Obama and Trump administrations, officials have accused the company of colluding with Russian intelligence to steal and expose classified NSA tools, and in 2016 the FBI engaged in an aggressive behind-the-scenes campaign to discredit the company and get its software banned from U.S. government computers on national security grounds. But even while the FBI was doing this, the Russian firm was tipping off the bureau to an alleged intelligence thief in the government’s own midst.

“It’s irony piled on irony that people who worked at Kaspersky, who were already in the sights of the U.S. intelligence community, disclosed to them that they had this problem,” said Stewart Baker, general counsel for the NSA in the 1990s and a current partner at Steptoe and Johnson. It’s also discouraging, he noted, that the NSA apparently still hasn’t “figured out a good way to find unreliable employees who are mishandling some of their most sensitive stuff.”

The Politico piece as well as Fox News’ variant still seem somewhat determined to keep that negative narrative in place, with Fox assessing that the FBI had a “strange bedfellow” in the investigation, and what appears to be an absolutely enormous presumption in Politico’s piece:

The first message sent on Aug. 13, 2016, asked one of the researchers to arrange a conversation with “Yevgeny” — presumably Kaspersky Lab CEO Eugene Kaspersky, whose given name is Yevgeny Kaspersky. The message didn’t indicate the reason for the conversation or the topic, but a second message following right afterward said, “Shelf life, three weeks,” suggesting the request, or the reason for it, would be relevant for a limited time.

However, there are many people in the world named “Yevgeny” (Evgeny, or Eugene) in Russia, and presumably many Evgenys in Kaspersky Lab itself. The notion that the CEO of the company would be involved in this appears to be an absolutely enormous leap of logic.

The maintenance of a negative narrative about Kaspersky Lab has been one of the most frustratingly effective examples of American propaganda in use since Russia overall became increasingly used as America’s newest scapegoat.

This is also not the first time that Kaspersky Lab saved the day for an American intelligence agency. In 2017 the same company’s services found 122 viruses on an NSA employee’s computer.

Kaspersky Lab itself is a highly sophisticated company based in Moscow, Russia, specializing in securing computers against malware, viruses, ransomware and all manner of invasive efforts by the bad guys out on the ‘Net, and among the providers of such services it consistently rates among the best in the industry, including in US surveys. While US retailers Best Buy, Office Depot and the US government have banned selling or running Kaspersky Lab software, European allies of the US have not even breathed the slightest bit of discontent with the AV provider. The narrative is the only thing that is actually wrong, and since Evgeny Kaspersky’s education was largely at the Academy that trained former KGB personnel, (now called FSB), the anti-Russia narrative in the US the acronym “KGB” is usually enough to alarm most low-information American news readers and watchers. 

However, logic and awareness of life in modern Russia, point to the fact that getting an education on security at the FSB Academy ought to be equivalent to the same education at the CIA. Who would know better about how to create security than those people specially trained to compromise it? However the propaganda vantage point that Kaspersky afforded the US government in its drive to get rid of President Donald Trump made the Russian company too juicy a target to ignore.

Over the last year or two, however, this narrative has slowly been falling apart, with this Politico article being a significant, though still small vindication of the company’s prowess and abilities.

That a Russian Internet Security company could succeed where American enterprises failed, and especially where it helped the Americans catch a man who was stealing very powerful hacking tools, is a significant story, indeed.

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Russia’s court jester that tells the truth: Meet Vladimir Zhirinovsky [Video]

While Mr. Zhirinovksy failed in his presidential run, this man is unafraid to speak truth to power. He has done this in Russia for years.

Seraphim Hanisch

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The ancient tradition of court jester is not dead in the world. In Russia it is manifest in the person of Vladimir Volfovich Zhirinovsky, the leader of the Liberal Democrat Party of the Russian Federation. This man is Russia’s answer to the legendary late comedian Rodney Dangerfield, with his famous “I get no respect at all” shtick. However, Mr. Zhirinovsky does his act in full view of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Metropolitan Tikhon Shevkunov and others who are extremely important in the government of Russia.

His “jestering” is often utilized by the government because he has a way of presenting information that other people are reluctant to talk about in such company as the Russian President, and so among Russians he has earned this reputation as a court Jester to President Putin. However, like some jesters have done in history, this affords Mr. Zhirinovsky the unique ability to speak very freely and directly about all manner of topics. Wikipedia refers to him thus:

He is fiercely nationalist and has been described as “a showman of Russian politics, blending populist and nationalist rhetoric, anti-Western invective and a brash, confrontational style”.[1] His views have sometimes been described by western media as fascist.

In this video, just released by VESTI News, the fiery politician made his first major appearance since the 2018 Presidential elections, and he spoke about his views on foreign policy, not only of Russia, but of the United States, China and the rest of the world. What he had to say is nothing less than fascinating:

Some of the more salient points:

[00:15] – Nobody knows how to go on across the whole planet. The age of empires is over.

[00:40] – The US became the sole ruler of the world after 1991, but that time is over. It is neither willing nor able to remain the sole ruler.

[01:00] – North Korea became a nuclear power, able to negotiate on even terms with the US, though it is very small

[01:20] – The Middle East is following a relatively peaceful (!) scenario, tending toward peace.

[01:40] – China has unleashed its full potential, but it doesn’t know what to do next. China knows it could be on top but it isn’t because it doesn’t know what to do with such power, and the US is visibly having problems with such a role.

[02:13] – Ukraine is the nastiest problem. Zhirinovksy predicts they will become more fascist over time, and eventually will “Balkanize” into separate countries.

[03:11] – He goes on to point out how the Russian “elite” who is essentially pro-Western, have essentially sold Russia out, but in so doing, they have lost their happiness because the West used them to punish Russia.

Mr. Zhirinovsky does not stop here. He actually discusses a common phenomenon among the Russian “elites” which is that they often take citizenship in other countries, such as England, Germany and even the United States. Their children attend fine European schools. Yet they keep their Russian citizenship as well. When the Western powers started leveling more and more sanctions against Russia, sometimes it was these elites who took the brunt of the hit. For Mr. Zhirinovsky, Russia’s response should be to strengthen, to let the West know that Russia will never be on the same side as the West, nor will it ever become part of the Western world.

No doubt the Western press, if it picks this story up, will lift this sort of rhetoric out of context, taking it as a “sure sign” that Russia is trying to take over the world. To that end they would refer to Mr. Zhirinovsky’s hopes of Russia stretching from the Mediterranean to the Indian Oceans, and say that this “fascist” leader wants Russia to do something similar to what the West charges President Putin of wanting.

However, this is not exactly the gloom and doom scenario Zhirinovsky envisions. As one continues to watch the video clip there is history, viewpoint and a stunning assessment that excessive focus on capitalist notions like wages, taxes and salaries is a source of great unhappiness in Russia. Far from focusing on “progress” as merely economic development of free markets, Mr. Zhirinovsky goes a different direction, pointing out although the monarchy cannot be restored to Russia, there are elements of it that Russia might call on to get to a better place.

A deeper study of Mr. Zhirinovsky’s context reveals some interesting features that even made it to Wikipedia’s pages in English. We include a few select points that appear interesting:

Zhirinovsky has expressed admiration for the 1996 United States presidential election contender Pat Buchanan, referring positively to a comment in which Buchanan labeled the United States Congress “Israeli-occupied territory.” Zhirinovsky said that both countries were “under occupation.” and that “to survive, we could set aside places on U.S. and Russian territories to deport this small but troublesome tribe.” Buchanan strongly rejected this endorsement, saying he would provide safe haven to persecuted minorities if Zhirinovsky were ever elected Russia’s president, eliciting a harsh response by Zhirinovsky: “You soiled your pants as soon as you got my congratulations. Who are you afraid of: Zionists?”

Zhirinovsky has Israeli relatives, including his uncle and cousin, [and]… [he] has led a number of official Russian delegations to Israel, on behalf of the Russian government. Visiting Israel, he says that he is concerned particularly about the economic situation for the more than one million Russians living in Israel. He also states that “Russia will never allow any kind of violence against Israel.”

Besides expressing his concern for Turks and Caucasians displacing the Russian population from their settled territory, Zhirinovsky also advocated for all Chinese and Japanese to be deported from the Russian Far East. During his 1992 visit to the United States, Zhirinovsky called on television “for the preservation of the white race” and warned that the white Americans were in danger of turning their country over to black and Hispanic people.

In 2004, Zhirinovsky spoke at the City Court of Saint Petersburg, in reference to the assassination of Galina Starovoytova. After accusing Starovoytova of having worked for foreign intelligence, he said “I have always said openly that for democrats of pro-Western orientation there are only three roads: prison, the grave, and emigration.”

In August 2016, Zhirinovsky prayed for the Republican presidential election nominee, Donald Trump, whose antics were similar to Zhirinovsky’s but different in backgrounds, to defeat Hillary Clinton, whom he considered dangerous, in order to take his party’s ideology global. He also expressed his desire to test his DNA to determine whether he and Trump were related. In April 2017, Zhirinovsky promised to drink the champagne for Donald Trump’s impeachment, saying: “A half of Americans voted for different foreign policies. Trump breaks his promises, and if he continues breaking them, his impeachment is inevitable.”

The Last Break Southward (1995) is the magnum opus of Zhirinovsky in which he expressed his worldview. “Since the 1980s, I have elaborated a geopolitical conception—the last break southward, Russia’s reach to the shores of the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean.” This is “really the solution for the salvation of the Russian nation … It solves all problems and we gain tranquility.” Russia will rule the space “from Kabul to Istanbul…” The “bells of the Orthodox Church must [ring] from the Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean.” And Jerusalem becomes close. It is necessary that “the Christian world reunifies in Jerusalem.” The Palestinian problem can be solved by partial transfer of the Palestinian population to the former territories of Turkey and Iran. The great Russian language and Russian ruble would wield Near Eastern and Central Asian peoples into one Russian citizenship.

Along the Russia southern sphere from India to Bosporus, other spheres of influence will stretch from north to south in the forthcoming world order, Latin America would be in the American sphere, Africa in the European sphere, and Japan and China will rule Southeast Asia, Indonesia and Australia. Everywhere “the direction is the same—north-south. “Geopolitically, it is logical. “Hence, the distribution along such a geopolitical formula would be very beneficent for the whole of humanity, and all over the planet would be established warm and clear political climate.”

But his talk in the video makes another stunning point: The spirit of the Monarchy must be returned, rather than thoughts only of wages, spending and taxes. “We must restore the sanctity of power”, says Zhirinovsky, and this is a radical departure from the viewpoint of market economics such as is held in the West.

There is much about the rhetoric of Mr. Zhirinovsky that would, at first and even second glance, would alarm readers schooled in the Western way of viewing the world. But this is also the function of the court jester in motion. Mr. Zhirinovsky has never earned more than about 9.5% of the vote for any of Russia’s recent Presidential elections and he earned only 5.65% in the most recent 2018 election, probably because he dug into a nasty row against the supremely unqualified but nonetheless female candidate Ksenia Sobchak in debate.

However, his function is no less important. In listening to and reading his works, such as “The Great Break Southward”, there are salient points that he has made in the past that turn out to be true. The Jester was able to speak such truth to power and remain unassailed, and yet, this ability does help get people to think.

 

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