Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Hey, he won!

Amazing! Mr (soon to be ex-President and Prime Minister as well as, probably, Chairman of Gazprom) Putin’s nominee, Dmitry Medvedev has won the election. Wow! Who could have predicted it?

Here are those Russian results in full:
As of 10 am, Moscow time, on March 3, Russia’s Central Election Commission was reporting that with more than 99% of the votes in the March 2 presidential election counted, President Vladimir Putin’s handpicked successor, Dmitry Medvedev, won 70.23% of the vote. That means 51,938,974 Russians voted for Medvedev, which is more than the 49,565,238 Russians that voted for Putin when he was re-elected president in 2004.

According to the same preliminary results, Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov came in second, with 17.76% of the vote, followed by Liberal Democratic Party of Russia leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky (9.37%), and Democratic Party leader Andrei Bogdanov (1.29%) (Cikrf.ru, March 3). Turnout – again, according to preliminary results – was 69.61%, compared with 64.38% in the 2004 presidential election (Newsru.com, March 3).
I am shocked, I tell you, shocked. Only 70 per cent of the vote and a turn-out of under 70 per cent. Whatever happened to the sensible Soviet way of running elections? Mind you, I am quite pleased with the way the vote is going. President-elect Medvedev is edging the figures up to their required level.

The West seems to be disappointed by the fact that, with the media almost entirely in the hands of the state, there was little by way of electoral campaigning or, even, display of alternative political ideas.

Possible opposition candidates like Garry Kasparov or Mikhail Kasyanov were prevented in various ways from becoming candidates. Every opposition demonstration, however small, was banned from going to certain places and attacked by large numbers of security police. People were beaten up, dragged away, arrested.

On top of that, there are ever more disturbing stories of oppositionists being imprisoned or sent to psychiatric clinics.

There have been other reports of misconduct of the actual elections.

Well, once again, I am shocked, I tell you, shocked. After all, we have been writing about this for as long as this blog has existed. The big question is what will happen now and that seems to be on everybody’s lips, though the general conclusion appears to be that little will change.

The Wall Street Journal had a very amusing editorial on the subject yesterday, entitled “President ‘Whatever’”. For once they, and we, can agree with Senator Clinton:
Hillary Clinton has been criticized for not knowing the name of Russia's new President. "Meh, um, Menedvadah -- whatever," she said at last week's debate. But her slip actually told a larger truth because, as Mrs. Clinton also put it, "the decisions will be made by Putin."
Sounds entirely reasonable to me. Actually, Medvedev is quite easy to pronounce but the point is valid. President Whatever, he is going to be, unless things happen in Russia fast.

Given that Putin’s entire reign was predicated on high oil prices and given that they continue to climb, there is little reason to think that those things will happen. Added to that is the fact that Medvedev (Putin’s teddy bear or mishka) was picked because he had no power base, not having come through the security services, it seems unlikely that Vladimir Vladimirovich will not remain numero uno.

Should President Medvedev, whose own track-record as Putin’s shadow and chairman of Gazprom is entirely part of the new Russian politics, ever try to break away from that, the siloviki or as they are getting to be known, the Putinistas will exert their control.

Medvedev has, naturally enough, repeated the canard about the West hating Russia when it acquires more power and more clout. Given the amount of money the West poured into Russia in the supposedly weak and disjointed nineties, that is a hard opinion to repeat but the number of Western commentators who have accepted it as a truism is spectacularly high.
"As Russia becomes more powerful, many people get irritated," he [Medvedev] told a Russian magazine. The West would prefer that Russia stay "a sort of Upper Volta with nuclear missiles," he said, while "now we have begun to show our teeth in moderate fashion." In recent months, those teeth were bared against Ukraine, Georgia, NATO expansion, the U.S. missile shield in Central Europe, Kosovo independence and efforts to stop Iran's nuclear bomb. Having badly misjudged Mr. Putin, the West shouldn't expect much better from his hand-picked successor.
Does the Wall Street Journal agree with image of Russia baring her teeth and showing her strength? Because, as one goes through that list of arguments two things become clear: most of them were completely unnecessary and Russia could have used diplomacy instead of teeth-baring; and, furthermore, Russia lost each and every one of those rows.

The news that Medvedev intends to oversee Russia's foreign policy does not fill one, at this stage, with any great hope for Russia or international relations.

How is this good for Russia? How is the fact that, in order to throw the country’s weight around unsuccessfully, Putin has deliberately destroyed the few good developments of the Yeltsin years: free media, growth of private business and, above all, growth of non-state controlled civil society, a benefit for the Russian people? How does any of it aid the development of Russia as a great country?

Meanwhile, there is business as usual. The militia having once again violently dispersed a small protest demonstration that tried to deliver a petition demanding that President-elect Medvedev resign and run an open and honest election, arrested many of the leaders and participants, releasing most of them but intending to charge them in court.

[This link is in Russian but given the number of people who seem to be experts on Russia, that should not be a problem. I am sure they can all read this article. Well, they can look at the pictures, one of which is reproduced here. Thisaccount, is also in Russian.]

Radio Free Europe reported:


Police prevented the Other Russia coalition on March 3 from holding a March of Dissent action in Moscow to protest the previous day's election of First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev as president, RFE/RL's Russian Service and other media reported the same day. Several hundred people gathered for the unsanctioned march, but police cracked down with overwhelming force. Union of Rightist Forces leader Nikita Belykh was among the dozens of demonstrators detained by the authorities.

In St. Petersburg, some 1,000 activists participated in a sanctioned demonstration at which no violence was reported. Speakers at the rally called Medvedev's election "shameful" and "illegitimate," while the crowd chanted, "We are not slaves" and "Your elections are a farce." National Bolshevik Party leader Eduard Limonov told the crowd that "our generation will prove [its courage] yet again by showing resistance to this unjust regime," "The St. Petersburg Times" reported on March 4.

The other piece of news is that Russia has cut down supply of gas to Ukraine by 35 per cent. It seems unclear why they should do so now, unless it is to ensure that Ukraine’s instability never goes away.

Gazprom maintains that it is about pricing and Ukraine had better start paying according to what the market says. Yuriy Korolchuk of Naftohaz Ukrayiny, Ukraine's gas provider maintains that Ukraine has paid its debts for 2007 and the problem is the intermediary, UkrGazEnergo:
UkrGazEnergo is a joint venture between Naftohaz and a second contentious intermediary named RosUkrEnergo. The two intermediaries have, at least until recently, received commissions on the sale of a mix of Russian and Central Asian gas to Ukraine.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, the former "gas princess" who has a long history of clashes with Gazprom, has voiced her fierce opposition to the involvement of the intermediaries since regaining the premiership in December.

When Gazprom announced on December 5 that it had reached a deal under which Ukraine would pay $179.50 per 1,000 cubic meters for gas in 2008, Tymoshenko said the continued use of UkrGazEnergo and RosUkrEnergo was part of a "corrupt" and "brainless" policy.
Gazprom is trying to reassure west Europeans that their supplies will not affected but is also accusing Ukraine of siphoning off gas that is intended for Germany and other friends of Russia. President-elect Medvedev, still chairman of Gazprom, fully supports the company’s actions.

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