March 19, 2018 – Fort Russ –
By Eduard Popov, translated by Jafe Arnold –
Today, March 19th, the results of the Russian presidential elections held yesterday have been nearly finalized. Russia’s current President, Vladimir Putin, claimed victory with 76.69% of the vote. As usual, Russia’s top sociological services are now admitting their margins of error, some of up to 5%, some 10%, in a process which some might interpret as diminishing Putin’s outstanding results. The author of these lines was more precise when two weeks before the elections, I forecasted Putin winning with around 75% with a 70% turnout. Yet even my rather daring forecast has been beaten: Putin’s victory was higher by nearly two percent.
I can confirm the official data from Russia’s Central Electoral Commission with insider information from one of the polling precincts in my city of Rostov-on-Don where, according to my sources, more than 1,400 votes were cast for Putin, a little more than 200 for his closest competitor, Pavel Grudinin, and less than 30 votes for the other candidates. Putin’s results at this single polling station slightly exceed the countrywide average.
The same concerns the official statistics which reveal a high voter turnout. I had the opportunity to witness this with my own eyes. My colleagues working at precincts also confirmed this and, to offer a modest sample, out of my numerous associates who are, as a rule, politicized people, not a single person planned not to go out to vote. Hence the high voter turnout of more than 67%.
I also discussed this with my longtime colleague based in the Czech Republic, Alexander Gegalchiy, who worked as an international observer at polling stations in Moscow. I hope to help Fort Russ soon interview with Mr. Gegalchiy on his experience, so stay tuned.
Without further ado, allow me to briefly comment on the outcome of the elections and their likely impact on the international agenda.
The main conclusion of the Russian presidential elections is that Russia’s citizens voted for sovereignty. The very large percentage of people who, like myself, voted for Vladimir Putin, are very critical of his domestic and socio-economic policies, and I can attest to more than a few cases in which people voted for Pavel Grudinin in order to convey to the undisputed winner, Putin, a sense of “voter’s punishment” to spur more effective economic and social policies. This particular phenomenon of “Putin’s protest electorate” is a topic which I will consider in the next part of my analysis dedicated to the domestic aspect of Putin’s victory.
Here let us note that Putin’s victory was secured by an often-noted national trait of Russians: at critical moments, especially when threatened from without, Russians rally around their national leadership. After all, victory in the bloodiest war in history, the Great Patriotic War, was won by the patriotism of Russians and other peoples of the USSR, not Marxist-Leninist ideology. Hence the sarcastic “gratitude” to Theresa May expressed from Putin’s election headquarters, as her threats helped guarantee both a high turnout and a high percentage of votes for Putin. In fact, I think that the British authorities will soon use this argument as “proof” that Russians and Putin personally poisoned the traitor Skripal.
Nevertheless, in my opinion, Russians’ support for the acting president is more profound than a mere reaction to London and the collective West’s anti-Russian tirades. May’s verbal threats only provided additional agitation and intensified Russians’ rejection of the diktat imposed by the governments of the “golden billion.”
The second reason for Putin’s deafening victory margin, closely tied to the first and main point, is Russians’ persistent and categorical rejection of liberalism, which for Russians has become synonymous with defeatism and betrayal. The most expressively liberal and traitorous candidate was, of course, Ksenia Sobchak, followed by Grigory Yavlinsky, although his electorate is much more complicated than Sobchak’s. Taken together, both candidates claimed only 2.73% of votes. Such is the political weight of the liberal camp in Russia minus, of course, Navalny’s supporters who decided to boycott the elections. At any rate, we are dealing with a few percentage points of voters, hardly even 4 or 5%.
The paradox of this situation remains that this insignificant percentage of Russia’s citizens continues to dominate the financial and economic sectors, the field of education, and boasts a far from negligible media presence.
Liberalism is an aggressive dictatorship of the minority. This minority, represented among others by Sobchak and Yavlinsky, either openly appeals to the West or more stealthily acts as a fifth column (which includes numerous oligarchs and mid- and high-ranking officials). Therefore, I regrettably admit that the war with the liberals is far from over, but we will return to this question in the second part of our article.
In my opinion, the Russian elections were held on the heels of an attempt to mobilize the collective West against Russia on the initiative of Theresa May. Perhaps it would be a mistake to say that this attempt failed, because the US and Great Britain, along with the US’ “aircraft carrier in the EU”, Poland, continue to push a line of tough antagonism with Russia which threatens a hot war.
The OSCE, which refused to condemn the act of terror committed by the official Ukrainian authorities and Ukrainian Nazis in blocking Russians from exercising their right to vote, today hastened to allege election violations on the grounds that Vladimir Putin received more airtime. But it is this organization’s credibility and objectivity that are in question. By refusing to condemn clear and obvious violations in Ukraine, the OSCE has once again proved itself to be a biased party. Thanks to this organization and London’s absurd ultimatum, liberalism’s space in Russia is shrinking.
Much more important and interesting is the stance taken by the leader of the EU, Germany. Today, March 19th, a number of statements have sounded from Berlin, including from the ruling CDU/CSU alliance, the German government’s spokesperson, and Germany’s newly appointed foreign minister. All of these statements were strictly critical, but also clearly demonstrated an intention to continue cooperating with Russia. The moment of truth will come when Berlin officially decides the fate of Nord Stream 2, which will clearly show Germany’s political priorities between the two choices of pragmatism or succumbing to the unprecedented pressure of the US and its European allies, primarily Poland. I am more inclined to think that Germany will opt for the former.
And now a question for reflection: will those Western countries who are not willing to engage in constructive cooperation with Russia, refuse to recognize the Russian elections? I do not rule out this possibility. Moreover, I hope for it, because even given all the foreign policy risks, such a turn of events would entail far-reaching domestic political implications which are long overdue in Russia. I admit, however, that a more intermediate variant of “semi-recognition” seems more likely, while a more radical position will be clung to by outright hawks such as McCain and outright marginals such as Ukraine.
Ukraine’s behavior is predictable. Today it became known that a bill has been submitted to the Verkhovna Rada calling to not recognize the Russian election results. Even earlier, Ukrainian politicians could be heard calling for Kiev to withdraw from the Friendship and Cooperation Treaty with Russia, which is in force since 1998. This document, let us recall, guarantees that Russia recognizes Ukraine’s territorial borders. If withdrawn from, the possibility is theoretically open for Moscow to reconsider borders in Europe, especially those resultant of the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact which largely shaped Ukraine as it is today.
Granted, this is still speculation. But I believe that if Ukraine does not recognize the Russian presidential elections, Moscow will have no other reputable option but to withdraw its recognition of the fraudulent Verkhovna Rada and presidential elections held in Ukraine following the coup d’etat and mass armed violence in 2014 which saw opposition candidates literally put under gunpoint. I remain committed to the position I’ve proclaimed since 2014: recognizing the Ukrainian elections was a gross mistake on the part of the Russian foreign ministry and Russia’s leadership as a whole. Neither Ukraine nor the West appreciated Moscow’s compromise, and now they might not even fully recognize Russia’s 2018 presidential elections.
I believe that Russia will gradually harden its position on the former Ukraine (a term which I have deliberately used since 2014 when Ukrainian statehood was officially dismantled). But it will do so gradually and consistently in the form of a response to Ukraine’s own provocative and absurd statements and steps.
Russia’s policy towards the Kiev regime, like towards the Saakashvili regime before, is like a spring which is compressed for a long time, sometimes seemingly indefinitely, until it suddenly jumps up and straightens out. That Kiev does not understand this characteristic policy of the Russian President speaks to the Ukrainian “elite’s” lack of strategic thinking.
Overall, bearing in mind the above remarks, 2018 promises to be a year rich in big, and perhaps enormous changes of an international nature and scope. The hope remains that these changes will in the very least proceed within the context of a “cold war”, and not be compelled to erupt into a hot one. But the chances of the latter are, alas, very high, as long as the West continues to abuse Russia and disrespect its people’s democratically-expressed will.
Eduard Popov is a Rostov State University graduate with a PhD in history and philosophy. In 2008, he founded the Center for Ukrainian Studies of the Southern Federal University of Russia, and from 2009-2013, he was the founding head of the Black Sea-Caspian Center of the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies, an analytical institute of the Presidential Administration of Russia. In June 2014, Popov headed the establishment of the Representative Office of the Donetsk People’s Republic in Rostov-on-Don and actively participated in humanitarian aid efforts in Donbass. In addition to being Fort Russ’ guest analyst since June, 2016, Popov is currently the leading research fellow of the Institute of the Russian Abroad and the founding director of the Europe Center for Public and Information Cooperation.