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Russia

News Analysis: Putin Wins A Battle, But Is He Losing The War?

Supporters wave Putin banners on Manezh Square in Moscow soon after the polls closed on March 4, with election officials suggesting Vladimir Putin had enough votes to avoid a second-round runoff for the presidency.
Supporters wave Putin banners on Manezh Square in Moscow soon after the polls closed on March 4, with election officials suggesting Vladimir Putin had enough votes to avoid a second-round runoff for the presidency.

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Video Putin Declares Victory In Russia Vote

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said he'd won an "honest and fair battle" as he was declared the winner of the March 4 presidential election with more than 60 percent of the vote. Critics have questioned the legitimacy of the process.
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By Brian Whitmore
When Prime Minister Vladimir Putin went to the polls in Russia's weekend presidential election, he accidentally dropped his ballot paper on the floor before casting his vote.

Shortly after he left the polling station, activists from the Ukrainian women's rights group Femen showed up, stripped off their shirts, and tried to steal the ballot box while chanting "Putin is a thief" before being hauled off by police.

Minor indignities for the Russian leader, to be sure. But the symbolism was lost on few.

Putin claimed a decisive victory in the first round of the March 4 election, which was marred by claims of fraud by his opponents and independent observers. But the confident aura of invincibility and unchallenged authority that characterized his first two terms in the Kremlin appears to have faded beyond recognition, analysts say.

"Putin reclaims the presidency, as everybody assumed he would. But he doesn't necessarily reclaim the authority he had in his first two terms of office," Nikolas Gvosdev, a longtime Russia watcher and professor of international security at the U.S. Naval War College, says. "He won the election but hasn't claimed the authority he thought he would."

READ: Independent Observers Claim Fraud, Intimidation In Voting

In contrast to his rise to power over a decade ago when he was hailed as a tough-minded savior who would bring stability to Russia after the chaos of the 1990s, Putin now appears to be a diminished figure, analysts say.

He must govern a deeply fractured country in which significant numbers of its fledgling middle class see his return to power as illegitimate -- and have taken to the streets to make their case. He is faced with an elite that is bitterly split over the need to reform and modernize the economy and political system.

A police officer patrols next to a pro-Putin meeting on Manezh Square in Moscow on March 4.
A police officer patrols next to a pro-Putin meeting on Manezh Square in Moscow on March 4.

As Edward Lucas, longtime correspondent for the British weekly "The Economist" and author of the book "Deception: Spies, Lies, and How Russia Dupes The West" notes, during his campaign he made promises of lavish spending to win support that the Russian economy simply can't sustain.

"I think Putin has won the battle but he's lost the war. And he's lost the war in two senses," Lucas says. "The promises he made in the election campaign are unsustainable. He can't deliver them with oil at $110 a barrel, so he is going to be disappointing his supporters. He's also lost the war that he can't convince the protesters that Russia is on track toward modernization and a pluralistic political system."

Slippery Slopes

Many in the Russian elite, most notably former Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin, have stressed that the Russian economy needs to be diversified away from its dependence on oil and gas exports and that the authoritarian political system needs to be opened up and liberalized to allow innovation in society to flourish.

But such reforms threaten powerful interests, most notably those of the "siloviki," the cadre of security service veterans who are close to Putin. Many siloviki, like the powerful Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin, have close ties to the energy sector and are adept at protecting their bureaucratic interests.

PHOTO GALLERY: Russians Go To The Polls

Lucas points out that true reform would lead to uncomfortable questions for many in Putin's inner circle over issues of corruption and a spate of unsolved killings like the October 2006 assassination of investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya and the July 2009 killing of human rights activist Natalya Estemirova.

"The fundamental point is that any real reform will have to include the rule of law and open media. And as soon as you have the rule of law and open media you will get very difficult questions about Mr. Putin and his close associates," Lucas says. "How did they get so rich? Where did all the money go and who killed all these people. As soon as you get a political system that is open not just in a sham sense but in a real one, people are going to ask these questions and want answers."

Moreover, the rigid, disciplined, and top-down political system Putin designed -- called the "power vertical" by Russian officials -- is showing cracks as latent divisions become more manifest.

'Going To Be Messy'

A divided elite, analysts say, opens up the possibility for the protest movement to push harder for political and economic reform. Gvosdev notes that it also allows for independent centers of power and influence to develop in society.

"There is a sense now that the vertical of power is no longer absolute," Gvosdev says. "[There is a sense] that you can defy the vertical of power, that you negotiate with the vertical of power. You can carve out space from it and say, 'Here is the zone I have carved and now you have to negotiate with me.'"

Vladimir Putin addresses supporters as outgoing President Dmitry Medvedev looks on at Manezh Square in Moscow on March 4.
Vladimir Putin addresses supporters as outgoing President Dmitry Medvedev looks on at Manezh Square in Moscow on March 4.

Gvosdev adds, however, that it remains an open question whether the protest movement, itself deeply divided between Western-style liberals, socialists, and nationalists, can take advantage of the opening.

"For the protest movement, do they organize around a set of achievable objectives so they can sustain the pressure for those objectives? Or does the protest movement begin to splinter?" Gvosdev says. "Then you have the possibility for [the Kremlin to pursue] a divide and conquer approach."

The result, Lucas says, will likely be a protracted period of low-intensity struggle between Putin and his inner circle and an increasingly assertive civil society.

"I think it is going to be messy," Lucas says. "The opposition is too weak to win. I don't think [the authorities] have the capabilities to do a real crackdown. I don't think the authorities can put them down. So I think we'll have a long and inconclusive tug-of-war. The big question is: What tricks do the authorities play to try to get out of it."
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Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Anonymous from: USA
March 05, 2012 04:47
Putin's lavish spending promises will be fulfilled when he convinces Iran to attack Saudi Arabia or Israel. The price of oil will go up, Russians will get their money, and Putin will rule without accountability---no "modernization" needed. Let's just wait and see, shall we?
In Response

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
March 05, 2012 07:20
Yes, we can :-)))))))))
In Response

by: Jack from: US
March 05, 2012 16:19
what's wrong with attacking Saudi Arabia. That dictatorship is the major sponsor of terrorism and it sent 9/11 bombers to kill 3000 Americans on 9/11. That place should have been bombed into dinasaur era on 9/12/2001. Instead, US government is cozying up to Saudi sheikhs.
In Response

by: Anonymous from: USA
March 05, 2012 19:37
One state sponsor of terror attacking another....just like Nazis attacked the Soviets. OK Jack, in your infinite knowledge, what would replace the Saudi royals if they were overthrown? Al Qaeda? I would much rather have a bunch of undemocratic absolute royalty controlling tribal religious fanatics in M-E than Osama bin Laden types. Bin Laden himself was disowned by his own family because of his radical views. He does not represent the State of Saudi Arabia. As for Iran, they have shown they will use any means necessary to eliminate people they don't like...kind of like Russia, really. Maybe the USA should start behaving the same...we'll start by assassinating Chavez and other radical leftists in S. America who do nothing but hurl buckets of $h1T on us on a regular basis. If he dies of cancer first, I for one, will not be shedding a tear. BTW, you missed my overall point, ANY CONFLICT in the Middle-East will drive up global oil prices and benefit Russia exclusively. That's why there won't be any modernization in Russia any time soon.
In Response

by: William from: Aragon
March 05, 2012 22:02
Government's that have difficulty managing their own people point towards foreign threats. Thus, Israel and the Obama administration point to Iran, Iran points to Israel and the Obama administration. None of these forces have the power to attack the other - their focus is on internal fear and control, not war. Military force has proven to fail in this new century.

by: Anonymous
March 05, 2012 07:20
Putin must be quick, will declare war on an East Europe country, or in the south a Muslim neighbour. Lets watch old Soviet "brain-washing-company" , Towarishi ! Komradi ! ataka ! for the KGB married poor mother Russia !

"...our great leader, orders us to die ! not to war..."

by: rkka from: USA
March 05, 2012 11:00
Russians seem to have noticed that the Anglosphere foreign policy elite and punditocracy is vociferously anti-Putin.

Russians also recall that back in the days when deaths exceeded births in Russia by almost a million/year, the Anglosphere foreign policy elite and punditocracy did not find that fact terribly upsetting.

Russians have noticed that the Anglosphere foreign policy elite and punditocracy are much more upset by the methods by which Russia recovered from her late 1990s death spiral than they ever were about Russia's late 1990s death spiral itself. Whitmore's article, indeed, his entire body of reporting on Russia, is nothing more than an expression of this frustration.

Hence their overwhelming vote for Mr. Putin.

by: rik from: Milan
March 05, 2012 12:54
battle .... war

what infantile title ...


anyway,

in a normal scale of values

those values ​​of democracy

about whom Western people

believes it has a moral supremacy

elections should be the war

and not the battle .

by: Bogomir Lookoff (Jeff) from: Moscow
March 05, 2012 19:40
While USA, EU, Commonwealth are flirting with Putin and do not adopt the Law of Magnitsky - the dictatorship of the chekisty-bolsheviky will flourish in Russia. West will pay high price of their weakness and indecision in politics against the dictatorship of the KGB, which lead to World War III. On the establishment of Western countries fault lies as well as for the Munich Agreement in 1938 with Hitler. You can not to flirt with such a powerful actor in international geopolitics as Russia. Putin's KGB junta has long abandoned plans to wage war in its ordinary sense. They began a long-term economic sabotage war for global energy dominance. This is the secret weapon of Russia - its natural resources.

Of course, Putin will be forced under pressure from the West TEMPORARILY make concessions in order to legitimize his imperial ambitions. Chekisty-bolsheviky after elections 2011-2012 will be little relief in korruptsionomike. But in general, these antics will not affect the malignancy of perverted principle of society. In Russia, the policy defines an economy, in the rest of the world – economic is policymaker.
In Response

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
March 06, 2012 08:48
Why all this talk about "WWIII"? The Syrian crisis has shown clearly and distinctly that the "West" is absolutely NOT in the position to start a war now - not even against such a small country as Syria, forget about countries like Russia or China.
What will happen: the "West" will continue losing ground in the world economics and politics - slowly, but steadily, whereas the news powers - such as Brasil, Russia, India and China - will shape the face of the 21st century.
50 years from now, people will be reading about the US and EU in history books and watching stories about these erstwhile powers in historical movies :-))).
In Response

by: Anonymous from: USA
March 06, 2012 23:35
The EU maybe, but not the USA. A debt crisis does not mean the US will disappear....it'll just be a lot poorer. Keep dreamin' Eugenio!

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
March 05, 2012 21:11
The share of vote obtained by different candidates in different Russian REGIONS has been made known. Here are the regions where Vladimir Putin obtained his WORST results:
the city of Moscow: 46,95 %
Kaliningrad reg.: 52,55 %
Kostroma reg.: 52,78 %
Orel reg.: 52,84 %
Vladimir reg.: 53,49%
Karelia: 55,38 %
Irkutsk: 55,45 %
Omsk reg.: 55,55 %
Source: http://www.gazeta.ru/politics/elections2011/2012/03/04_a_4024177.shtml
In Response

by: Jack from: US
March 05, 2012 22:05
Huh! Just as I predicted: Putin got 40+% of votes in Russian heartland, and 99% of votes in Muslim Chechnya. That's because Muslims love people whom they perceive as strongman or (better) as dictators. This explains why there are no democratic Muslim country on the face of the Earth, only corrupt and US-supported dictatorships, like Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Jordan, Egypt. That also explains why RFE/RL consistently champions the Wahhabi terrorist "causes" and "grievances". RFE/RL as US government propaganda outlet wants to see Saudi-Arabia style anti-Christian dictatorships everywhere
In Response

by: JD from: DC
March 06, 2012 17:09
Jack, you do know that there are guerrilla factions in Chechnya that want complete independence from Russia. In fact, there were two wars fought by the Russians against the Chechens during the 1990s, to repress the Chechen independence movement. Their angst against the Russian regime stems from Stalin's 1940s deportation of the entire Chenchen population; in which it is estimated that nearly 1/3 of the population died. Putin may have recieved 99% of the vote in Chechnya, but it is not because they are Muslims who love "strongman dictators." The logical assumption would be that the Russian regime simply rigged the elections in these areas, as they are strongly controlled by the regime politically and they are much more secluded from international election monitors.
Also please stop posting about...everything. Especially, Saudi Arabia, the U.S., and Wahhabi's; all of which you seem to have very little knowledge or evidence of. I'm also tired of reading about your same idea's, over and over and over again, for every story posted on RFE/RL. Essentially, i'm tired of seeing the comment section discussions revolve around your inane comments.
In Response

by: Jack from: US
March 07, 2012 02:42
Looks like JD is Saudi ambassador himself. The most retarded and oppressive regime on the planet is also the most closest ally of US government. Its state religion is hateful and despicable and retarded cult. Which is why they are so angry at Christians that they have a law. BY which anyone who chooses Christianity over Islam is executed
In Response

by: J from: US
March 06, 2012 13:13
What is the structure of Russian elections- do they count the votes by state (oblast)? Or is it all lumped together to get one final number?
In Response

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
March 06, 2012 19:46
For the presidential election, it is a single constituency; the regional results are presented separately only to let people an opportunity to see how their region voted.

by: Martin Dewhirst from: UK
March 10, 2012 21:05
I've been waiting for someone to comment on an amazing revelation in the text of the article: Igor Sechin is said to be a Deputy Foreign Minister! Isn't it about time to adjust that statement?
In Response

by: Moderator from: Prague
March 11, 2012 09:06
Sechin is, of course, the deputy prime minister. We have corrected the text. Thank you.

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