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15 March, 2012  ▪  Oleksandr Mykhelson

Carte Blanche for the Empire

Given the intensification of leftist, populist and anti-Western rhetoric from Mr. Putin, within the country, the old-new Russian president is going to rely ever more on voters who share his vision of Russia as a “besieged fortress”.

On March 4, 2012, Vladimir Putin won the presidential election in the first round with 63.6% of the vote, a victory that was in the making for the last 12 years. The Central Electoral Committee refused to register both Grigoriy Yavlinski, a liberal politician, which resulted in his supporters staying at home, although they could have “eroded” Putin’s victorious outcome, and radical political activist Alexei Navalny who, as a candidate, could have gained quite extensive coverage in the central media and most important of all, would have shown the true share of uncompromising, but non-Communist opponents of Putin among the voters.  

Most of the total 96,000 polling stations were equipped with web-cameras for the real-time broadcasting of the election process on the Internet. Several instances of ballot stuffing, recorded by observers, would surely have caused a scandal anywhere in Europe. But in the post-soviet reality, though, the fact that the cameras had been installed and the violations had been recorded allowed, a Russian film director and head of Putin’s campaign staff, to describe the election as “the most honest election in Russian history” while some of Putin’s campaign staff even referred to it as “the most honest election in the world”.

This was despite numerous reports of election fraud mechanisms known as “carousels” or multiple voting by well-organized groups of voters travelling from one polling station to another. Participation in the groups was proposed for payment through advertisements – largely made up of students. Others were organized by the directors of large enterprises – made up of their staff. Quite often, the groups voted on the basis of unauthorized certificates rather than the absentee ballots normally issued for such situations.

A reporter from Gazeta.ru, an online publication, which took part in tracking and stopping people involved in the “carousel” scheme, described the technology they used to avoid responsibility. A girl who paid the students for voting for the “right” candidate told observers that she was repaying money she had borrowed from her girlfriends. Meanwhile, these girlfriends simply vanished. In any case, Putin would have got more than 50% of the vote in the first round, in other words he would have won, even without the carousels. The latter were most likely applied in the big cities or districts where Putin was not particularly popular. In Moscow, for instance, the “national leader” failed to gain half of the vote.

Both Putin’s campaign staff and Putin himself essentially declared their victory to be a victory over the “Forces of Evil”, which, according to them, are trying to ruin Russia. “We have succeeded in saving ourselves from political provocations that pursue just one goal: to destroy Russian statehood and usurp power, they will not succeed!”, Putin said at a rally at Manezhnaya Ploshchad.

Opposition members were portrayed as people hired by the cunning West. Hysteria was further fuelled by the video clips regularly shown on TV, allegedly advertising the broadcasting of several documentaries about “the real face” of the opposition.

Putin also played on what was called “class hatred” during the Soviet era. It was not for nothing that the first thing Putin took part in right after the closing of polling stations, was a TV satellite linkup with the workers of a Ural train car plant. Given the intensification of leftist, populist and anti-Western rhetoric from Mr. Putin, within the country, the old-new Russian president is going to rely ever more on voters who share his vision of Russia as a “besieged fortress”.  

Foreign policy based on the values of the “greatness of Russia” is also likely to intensify. On the eve of the election, Vladimir Putin told journalists where he would start building this greatness: “The CIS is an absolute priority for us.” In actual fact, he was not asked about this, but about where he would make his first foreign visit, but Putin’s mind was apparently occupied with plans of a much grander scale than just one individual visit. 


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