Putin seems poised for victory in Russia. Feb 25, 2012 17:38:00 GMT -5
Post by uz on Feb 25, 2012 17:38:00 GMT -5
MOSCOW - It is a bit strange that Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin's alleged political decline has received as much attention as it has this winter. After all, absolutely every Russian believes that Putin will resume the presidency again on March 4, after ruling the country as prime minister for four years.
Putin still seems likely to get more than half the votes next Sunday, putting a quick end to the presidential race that will only involve a second round of voting three weeks after the first if the 59-year-old prime minister fails to get half the ballots cast the first time out.
There are many reasons why Putin, who has been in power as president or prime minister for 12 years, is about to win six more years in the Kremlin. One of the biggest reasons is that incumbents everywhere usually have an advantage over challengers. This is especially true in Russia where, despite the vastness of the country, so much of the power to make decisions and grant favours is concentrated behind the imposing red brick walls that loom over the Moscow River, Red Square and Lenin's mausoleum.
Although many Muscovites of the Twitter generation clearly have tired of Putin's macho GI Joe action-figure antics stalking tigers or bears, harpooning whales and jumping into fighter jets, he remains popular in those distant parts of Russia where westerners and Muscovites seldom venture. Millions of other Russians, although no longer fans, will hold their noses and vote for Putin because they see no other worthy candidate and because they have not yet forgotten that it was under Putin that they were able for the first time, to afford a car and vacations in exotic places, such as Egypt, Cyprus, Turkey and Thailand.
A third factor is that the opposition remains hopelessly divided. Despite massive media attention, it has been unable to sustain any pressure through street demonstrations that have been half-hearted when compared with the desperate, 'round-the-clock protests that have rent Arab capitals, such as Cairo.
It says a lot about the state of Russian politics today that the first secretary of the sclerotic Communist party, Gennadi Zyuganov, remains Russia's second-most popular politician, although he is far behind Putin.
Some here say Russia's revolutionary movement fizzled this winter because of the cold and that if only it had been warmer, far more people would have shown their anger at Putin's rule. I reckon the temperature has been a minor factor. The protests have been sporadic mostly because Moscow's self-admiring elites continue to have such a good time gorging on the margins of Russia's oil-soaked economy that they could only be bothered to get out of their Mercedes and BMWs to demonstrate against Putin once every three or four weeks and only then, during daylight on weekends.
That is not to say that the former KGB colonel does not face serious problems. The electorate is unhappy with the Kremlin's manipulation of the media, the courts and the country's governorates, and of the way that so many rubles seem to find their way into the pockets of men in Putin's inner circle.
Even those who admire Putin have lost some of their ardour. A case in point was the pro-Putin rally at the Luzhniki Stadium on Thursday, which was twinned with the public holiday that used to celebrate the Red Army and now celebrates Defenders of the Fatherland.
Putin received a friendly but far from a tumultuous welcome from about 100,000 supporters in the stadium, which is next to the arena where Paul Henderson scored the winning goal in the 1972 Soviet-Canadian hockey summit. Putin declared at the gathering, as he has for weeks now, that those who have been demonstrating against him have been funded by the United States, which sought to weaken Russia and that he, a staunch patriot and defender of the Russian people would never tolerate such outside interference. It is of a piece with his vow to build new generations of tanks, warships, fighter jets, nuclear submarines and intercontinental ballistic missiles.
But trying to revive the old Cold War magic rings hollow at a time when much of the infrastructure outside Moscow is crumbling, China's fortunes are quickly rising and Washington is so self-absorbed that interfering with Russia's destiny is nowhere near the top of its agenda.
After reciting Mikhail Lermontov's Borodino, a poem which exults in the Russian victory over Napoleon's Army two centuries ago, and talking about victory was in Russia's genetic makeup, Putin declared to the faithful at Luzhniki that "we will prevail in the elections."
And so he will. But the former and future president's next six years in the Kremlin clearly will not be as quiet and as unquestioned as the first 12 years of his reign.
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