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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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Trump Demands Tribute from NATO Vassals

The one thing that we should all understand, and which Trump perfectly and clearly understands, is that the members of NATO are a captive audience.

Strategic Culture Foundation

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Authored by Tim Kirby via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


Regardless of whether one loves or hates President Trump at least we can say that his presidency has a unique flavor and is full of surprises. Bush and Obama were horribly dull by comparison. Trump as a non-politician from the world of big (real estate) business and media has a different take on many issues including NATO.

Many, especially in Russia were hoping that “The Donald’s” campaign criticism of NATO would move towards finally putting an end to this anti-Russian alliance, which, after the fall of Communism really has no purpose, as any real traditional military threats to Europe have faded into history. However, Trump as President of the United States has to engage in the “realpolitik” of 21st century America and try to survive and since Trump seems rather willing to lie to get what he wants, who can really say which promises from his campaign were a shoot and which were a work.

So as it stands now Trump’s recent decision to maintain and build US/NATO bases across the world “and make country X pay for it” could mean anything from him trying to keep his campaign promises in some sort of skewed way, to an utter abandonment of them and submission to the swamp. Perhaps it could simply be his business instincts taking over in the face of “wasteful spending”. Making allies have to pay to have US/NATO forces on their territory is a massive policy shift that one could only predict coming from the unpredictable 45th President.

The one thing that we should all understand, and which Trump perfectly and clearly understands, is that the members of NATO (and other “allies”) are a captive audience, especially Germany, Japan and South Korea, which “coincidentally” are the first set of countries that will have to pay the “cost + 50%” to keep bases and US soldiers on their soil. Japan’s constitution, written primarily by American occupation forces forbids them from having a real military which is convenient for Trump’s plan. South Korea, although a very advanced and wealthy nation has no choice but to hide behind the US might because if it were to disappear overnight, then Gangnam would be filled with pictures of the Kim family within a few weeks.

In the past with regard to these three countries NATO has had to keep up the illusion of wanting to “help” them and work as “partners” for common defense as if nuclear and economic titan America needs countries like them to protect itself. Trump whether consciously or not is changing the dynamic of US/NATO occupation of these territories to be much more honest. His attitude seems to be that the US has the possibility to earn a lot of money from a worldwide mafia-style protection scam. Vassals have no choice but to pay the lord so Trump wants to drop the illusions and make the military industrial complex profitable again and God bless him for it. This level of honesty in politics is refreshing and it reflects the Orange Man’s pro-business and “America will never be a socialist country” attitude. It is blunt and ideologically consistent with his worldview.

On the other hand, one could look at this development as a possible move not to turn NATO into a profitable protection scam but as a means to covertly destroy it. Lies and illusion in politics are very important, people who believe they are free will not rebel even if they have no freedom whatsoever. If people are sure their local leaders are responsible for their nation they will blame them for its failings rather than any foreign influence that may actually be pulling the real strings.

Even if everyone in Germany, Japan and South Korea in their subconscious knows they are basically occupied by US forces it is much harder to take action, than if the “lord” directly demands yearly tribute. The fact that up to this point US maintains its bases on its own dime sure adds to the illusion of help and friendship. This illusion is strong enough for local politicians to just let the status quo slide on further and further into the future. Nothing is burning at their feet to make them act… having to pay cost + 50% could light that fire.

Forcing the locals to pay for these bases changes the dynamic in the subconscious and may force people’s brains to contemplate why after multiple-generations the former Axis nations still have to be occupied. Once occupation becomes expensive and uncomfortable, this drops the illusion of friendship and cooperation making said occupation much harder to maintain.

South Korea knows it needs the US to keep out the North but when being forced to pay for it this may push them towards developing the ability to actually defend themselves. Trump’s intellectual “honesty” in regards to NATO could very well plant the necessary intellectual seeds to not just change public opinion but make public action against US/NATO bases in foreign countries. Japan has had many protests over the years against US bases surging into the tens of thousands. This new open vassal status for the proud Japanese could be the straw to break the camel’s back.

Predicting the future is impossible. But it is clear that, changing the fundamental dynamic by which the US maintains foreign bases in a way that will make locals financially motivated to have them removed, shall significantly affect the operations of US forces outside the borders of the 50 States and make maintaining a global presence even more difficult, but perhaps this is exactly what the Orange Man wants or is just too blind to see.

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High-ranking Ukrainian official reports on US interference in Ukraine

It is not usually the case that an American media outlet tells the truth about Ukraine, but it appears to have happened here.

Seraphim Hanisch

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The Hill committed what may well have been a random act of journalism when it reported that Ukrainian Prosecutor General, Yuriy Lutsenko, told Hill.tv’s reporter John Solomon that the American ambassador to that country, Marie Yovanovitch, gave him a “do not prosecute” list at their first meeting.

Normally, all things Russia are covered by the American press as “bad”, and all things Ukraine are covered by the same as “good.” Yet this report reveals quite a bit about the nature of the deeply embedded US interests that are involved in Ukraine, and which also attempt to control and manipulate policy in the former Soviet republic.

The Hill’s piece continues (with our added emphases):

“Unfortunately, from the first meeting with the U.S. ambassador in Kiev, [Yovanovitch] gave me a list of people whom we should not prosecute,” Lutsenko, who took his post in 2016, told Hill.TV last week.

“My response of that is it is inadmissible. Nobody in this country, neither our president nor our parliament nor our ambassador, will stop me from prosecuting whether there is a crime,” he continued.

Indeed, the Prosecutor General appears to be a man of some principles. When this report was brought to the attention of the US State Department, the response was predictable:

The State Department called Lutsenko’s claim of receiving a do not prosecute list, “an outright fabrication.” 

“We have seen reports of the allegations,” a department spokesperson told Hill.TV. “The United States is not currently providing any assistance to the Prosecutor General’s Office (PGO), but did previously attempt to support fundamental justice sector reform, including in the PGO, in the aftermath of the 2014 Revolution of Dignity. When the political will for genuine reform by successive Prosecutors General proved lacking, we exercised our fiduciary responsibility to the American taxpayer and redirected assistance to more productive projects.”

This is an amazing statement in itself. “Our fiduciary responsibility to the American taxpayer”? Are Americans even aware that their country is spending their tax dollars in an effort to manipulate a foreign government in what can probably well be called a low-grade proxy war with the Russian Federation? Again, this appears to be a slip, as most American media do a fair job of maintaining the narrative that Ukraine is completely independent and that its actions regarding the United States and Russia are taken in complete freedom.

Hill.TV has reached out to the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine for comment.

Lutsenko also said that he has not received funds amounting to nearly $4 million that the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine was supposed to allocate to his office, saying that “the situation was actually rather strange” and pointing to the fact that the funds were designated, but “never received.”

“At that time we had a case for the embezzlement of the U.S. government technical assistance worth 4 million U.S. dollars, and in that regard, we had this dialogue,” he said. “At that time, [Yovanovitch] thought that our interviews of Ukrainian citizens, of Ukrainian civil servants, who were frequent visitors of the U.S. Embassy put a shadow on that anti-corruption policy.”

“Actually, we got the letter from the U.S. Embassy, from the ambassador, that the money that we are speaking about [was] under full control of the U.S. Embassy, and that the U.S. Embassy did not require our legal assessment of these facts,” he said. “The situation was actually rather strange because the funds we are talking about were designated for the prosecutor general’s office also and we told [them] we have never seen those, and the U.S. Embassy replied there was no problem.”

“The portion of the funds, namely 4.4 million U.S. dollars were designated and were foreseen for the recipient Prosecutor General’s office. But we have never received it,” he said.

Yovanovitch previously served as the U.S. ambassador to Armenia under former presidents Obama and George W. Bush, as well as ambassador to Kyrgyzstan under Bush. She also served as ambassador to Ukraine under Obama.

Former Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas), who was at the time House Rules Committee chairman, voiced concerns about Yovanovitch in a letter to the State Department last year in which he said he had proof the ambassador had spoken of her “disdain” for the Trump administration.

This last sentence may be a way to try to narrow the scope of American interference in Ukraine down to the shenanigans of just a single person with a personal agenda. However, many who have followed the story of Ukraine and its surge in anti-Russian rhetoric, neo-Naziism, ultra-nationalism, and the most recent events surrounding the creation of a pseudo-Orthodox “church” full of Ukrainian nationalists and atheists as a vehicle to import “Western values” into a still extremely traditional and Christian land, know that there are fingerprints of the United States “deep state” embeds all over this situation.

It is somewhat surprising that so much that reveals the problem showed up in just one report. It will be interesting to see if this gets any follow-up in the US press.

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President Putin’s anti-fake news law is brilliant, but the West makes more

Western media slams President Putin and his fake news law, accusing him of censorship, but an actual look at the law reveals some wisdom.

Seraphim Hanisch

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The TASS Russian News Agency reported on March 18th that Russian President Vladimir Putin signed off on a new law intended to block distorted or untrue information being reported as news. Promptly after he did so, Western news organizations began their attempt to “spin” this event as some sort of proof of “state censorship” in the oppressive sense of the old Soviet Union. In other words, a law designed to prevent fake news was used to create more fake news.

One of the lead publications is a news site that is itself ostensibly a “fake news” site. The Moscow Times tries to portray itself as a Russian publication that is conducted from within Russian borders. However, this site and paper is really a Western publication, run by a Dutch foundation located in the Netherlands. As such, the paper and the website associated have a distinctly pro-West slant in their reporting. Even Wikipedia noted this with this comment from their entry about the publication:

In the aftermath of the Ukrainian crisis, The Moscow Times was criticized by a number of journalists including Izvestia columnist Israel Shamir, who in December 2014 called it a “militant anti-Putin paper, a digest of the Western press with extreme bias in covering events in Russia”.[3] In October 2014 The Moscow Times made the decision to suspend online comments after an increase in offensive comments. The paper said it disabled comments for two reasons—it was an inconvenience for its readers as well as being a legal liability, because under Russian law websites are liable for all content, including user-generated content like comments.[14]

This bias is still notably present in what is left of the publication, which is now an online-only news source. This is some of what The Moscow Times had to say about the new fake news legislation:

The bills amending existing information laws overwhelmingly passed both chambers of Russian parliament in less than two months. Observers and some lawmakers have criticized the legislation for its vague language and potential to stifle free speech.

The legislation will establish punishments for spreading information that “exhibits blatant disrespect for the society, government, official government symbols, constitution or governmental bodies of Russia.”

Insulting state symbols and the authorities, including Putin, will carry a fine of up to 300,000 rubles and 15 days in jail for repeat offenses.

As is the case with other Russian laws, the fines are calculated based on whether the offender is a citizen, an official or a legal entity.

More than 100 journalists and public figures, including human rights activist Zoya Svetova and popular writer Lyudmila Ulitskaya, signed a petition opposing the laws, which they labeled “direct censorship.”

This piece does give a bit of explanation from Dmitry Peskov, showing that European countries also have strict laws governing fake news distribution. However, the Times made the point of pointing out the idea of “insulting governmental bodies of Russia… including Putin” to bolster their claim that this law amounts to real censorship of the press. It developed its point of view based on a very short article from Reuters which says even less about the legislation and how it works.

However, TASS goes into rather exhaustive detail about this law, and it also gives rather precise wording on the reason for the law’s passage, as well as how it is to be enforced. This law is brilliant, for it hits the would-be slanderer right where it counts – in the pocketbook.

We include most of this text here, with emphases added:

Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a law on blocking untrue and distorting information (fake news). The document was posted on the government’s legal information web portal.

The document supplements the list of information, the access to which may be restricted on the demand by Russia’s Prosecutor General or his deputies. In particular, it imposes a ban on “untrue publicly significant information disseminated in the media and in the Internet under the guise of true reports, which creates a threat to the life and (or) the health of citizens, property, a threat of the mass violation of public order and (or) public security, or the threat of impeding or halting the functioning of vital infrastructural facilities, transport or social infrastructure, credit institutions, energy, industrial or communications facilities.”

Pursuant to the document, in case of finding such materials in Internet resources registered in accordance with the Russian law on the mass media as an online media resource, Russia’s Prosecutor General or his deputies will request the media watchdog Roskomnadzor to restrict access to the corresponding websites.

Based on this request, Roskomnadzor will immediately notify the editorial board of the online media resource, which is in violation of the legislation, about the need to remove untrue information and the media resource will be required to delete such materials immediately. If the editorial board fails to take the necessary measures, Roskomnadzor will send communications operators “a demand to take measures to restrict access to the online resource.”

In case of deleting such untrue information, the website owner will notify Roskomnadzor thereof, following which the media watchdog will “hold a check into the authenticity of this notice” and immediately inform the communications operator about the resumption of the access to the information resource.
The conditions for the law are very specific, as are the penalties for breaking it. TASS continued:

Liability for breaching the law

Simultaneously, the Federation Council approved the associated law with amendments to Russia’s Code of Administrative Offences, which stipulates liability in the form of penalties of up to 1.5 million rubles (around $23,000) for the spread of untrue and distorting information.

The Code’s new article, “The Abuse of the Freedom of Mass Information,” stipulates liability for disseminating “deliberately untrue publicly significant information” in the media or in the Internet. The penalty will range from 30,000 rubles ($450) to 100,000 rubles ($1,520) for citizens, from 60,000 rubles ($915) to 200,000 rubles ($3,040) for officials and from 200,000 rubles to 500,000 rubles ($7,620) for corporate entities with the possible confiscation of the subject of the administrative offence.

Another element of offence imposes tighter liability for the cases when the publication of false publicly significant information has resulted in the deaths of people, has caused damage to the health or property, prompted the mass violation of public order and security or has caused disruption to the functioning of transport or social infrastructure facilities, communications, energy and industrial facilities and banks. In such instances, the fines will range from 300,000 rubles to 400,000 rubles ($6,090) for citizens, from 600,000 rubles to 900,000 rubles ($13,720) for officials, and from 1 million rubles to 1.5 million rubles for corporate entities.

While this legislation can be spun (and is) in the West as anti-free speech, one may also consider the damage that has taken place in the American government through a relentless attack of fake news from most US news outlets against President Trump. One of the most notable effects of this barrage has been to further degrade and destroy the US’ relationship with the Russian Federation, because even the Helsinki Summit was attacked so badly that the two leaders have not been able to get a second summit together.

While it is certainly a valued right of the American press to be unfettered by Congress, and while it is also certainly vital to criticize improper practices by government officials, the American news agencies have gone far past that, to deliberately dishonest attacks, based in innuendo and everything possible that was formerly only the province of gossip tabloid publications. The effort has been to defame the President, not to give proper or due criticism to his policies, nor credit. It can be properly stated that the American press has abused its freedom of late.

This level of abuse drew a very unusual comment from the US president, who wondered on Twitter about the possibility of creating a state-run media center in the US to counter fake news:

Politically correct for US audiences? No. But an astute point?

Definitely.

Freedom in anything also presumes that those with that freedom respect it, and further, that they respect and apply the principle that slandering people and institutions for one’s own personal, business or political gain is wrong. Implied in the US Constitution’s protection of the press is the notion that the press itself, as the rest of the country, is accountable to a much Higher Authority than the State. But when that Authority is rejected, as so much present evidence suggests, then freedom becomes the freedom to misbehave and to agitate. It appears largely within this context that the Russian law exists, based on the text given.

Further, by hitting dishonest media outlets in their pocketbook, rather than prison sentences, the law appears to be very smart in its message: “Do not lie. If you do, you will suffer where it counts most.”

Considering that news media’s purpose is to make money, this may actually be a very smart piece of legislation.

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