How the Russian Presidential Election Race Looks in its Final Days

Following up on his Feb. 24 article, “First Impressions of Russia’s Upcoming Presidential Election,” independent political analyst Gilbert Doctorow takes a close look at how the election is shaping up in the days before the vote.

By Gilbert Doctorow

The candidates for the presidency in Russia’s election this Sunday are now in the home stretch.  Not much has changed in the past several weeks as regards the standings of each in the polls of voter sympathies. Vladimir Putin holds the lead, way out in front, with nearly 70% of voters saying they will cast their votes for him. The candidate of the Communist Party, Pavel Grudinin, has held on to second place, at just over 7% despite suffering some severe setbacks over revelations of his bank accounts held abroad. And third place, with just over 5% goes to the nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky of the LDPR.

Liberal candidate, Ksenia Sobchak, who positioned herself to catch the protest vote “against all,” has about 1.5%. The remaining four candidates – Sergei Baburin, Maxim Suraikin on the Communist Left and  Boris Titov, Grigory Yavlinsky on the Liberal Right – have fractions of one percent of the electorate committed to them.

Candidate Putin appears on track to achieve the 70:70 target that his campaign team set for him, meaning a turnout on election day of 70% of the electorate, of which 70% vote for Putin. Such results would support a claim to popular validation of his domestic and foreign programs for the coming six years. It would give him a free hand for substantial reworking of the cabinet, which, rumor says, may come in the days immediately ahead.

However, the campaign is about process as much as it is about results, and at that level there is a great deal  which merits consideration because of what this electoral campaign says about the condition of Russian democracy today and where the country is headed.

The campaign has had several dimensions, some of which require that you be physically present to experience them, others of which can be followed from remote, as I have done. For total immersion, one would have to follow the various candidates around the country as they have visited factories, hospitals, farms and all manner of locations to speak and meet with voters. This has been done daily by the Russian media, and so some feel for it can be acquired remotely. For a further broadly based understanding, one would have to pick up the print media at newsstands and tune in to the major federal radio stations which have allocated time to the candidates under rules established by the Central Election Commission. All of this I and others watching from abroad have missed.

What has been available to us outside the country is all of the televised debates, since they were posted on YouTube often within minutes of their broadcast on air. That and campaign materials posted on Russian social media, which I will discuss below. All of this constitutes invaluable material to see the impressive extent of pluralism, free speech and media access allowed in Putin’s Russia to his challengers, however slight their share of voter support may be. That in itself is quite a revelation.

Nonetheless, the purpose of the analysis which follows is to reach a fair-minded understanding of the processes under way, not to hand bouquets to the incumbent or to anyone else. Following that guiding principle, I will highlight not only the high degree of democratic freedom in evidence but also the thumb on the scales in favor of the ruling party.

The Debates: Some Observations

When I wrote my first impressions of the campaign on February 24, just after the first televised debate, the full strategy of holding debates and their format were not known to any of us, including the candidates themselves, as I deduce from the bitter complaints they made over the early hour of the broadcast, over its being taped rather than going out live, over there being no face to face dueling, just a couple of minutes time to respond to questions pitched by the presenter to each of them separately.  On that first day, the candidates were outraged that the subject for the debate was foreign relations, when as it turned out, none but Zhirinovsky has much experience or knowledge or interest in foreign policy – their programs being constructed strictly around domestic policy and the economy in particular.

To be sure, it is peculiar that the candidates were kept in the dark about the procedures and format, for which the Central Election Commission is to blame. As we subsequently saw, these debates had formats that varied in some important ways from channel to channel, including the issue of live versus taped broadcast.

Ksenia Sobchak

Over the course of the nearly three weeks of debates, changes came about in format that were initiated by the candidates themselves, beginning with Ksenia Sobchak, who was quickest off the mark and most determined not to be told how to behave by the very people she urges the electorate to vote against as a played out generation. Specifically, Sobchak was the first to do what any experienced public figure regularly does on interview programs or talk shows: ignore the question and use the microphone given to her to speak directly to voters about what she considered important. She was not censored, the tapes were not cut and thereafter such a possibility was stated by presenters on some of the debates so that other candidates could avail themselves of the same option. Few did.

Sobchak definitely added color and at times scandal to the entire debating process. In this respect, she was fully the match of nationalist party candidate Vladimir Zhirinovsky who has for decades has had exactly that niche position to himself in electoral politics and in talk shows.  The other candidates were not dull, but were far more polite, and so less newsworthy.

Part of Zhirinovsky’s bag of tricks as television personality has always been his dress code. At times he has come to interviews and talk shows looking formal in a business suit, but very often he has worn firetruck red sports jackets or other attention-grabbing outfits.  Here again, Ksenia Sobchak has done the same in the debates, changing her coiffure, changing her clothes to project different policy positions in her electoral platform. On one day she wore a sweat shirt with big anti-war legend to support what she had to say on how Putin is the war party, whereas she stands for good neighborly relations with all and redirection of Ministry of Defense spending to domestic infrastructure needs.

Along the way, Sobchak has taken some very unpopular stands, particularly with respect to Crimea and what she calls the illegitimate Russian occupation there. This has cost her dearly. Polls show that with a bit more than 1% ready to vote for her, 80% of the electorate say they would never vote for her, making her the most unpopular of all the candidates in the race. However, one can have no doubt that Sobchak and her advisers hold the view that it is better to be hated than to be unknown.

At 36, she has plenty of time ahead to choose policies that will be more in line with the broad population and at that point everyone on the stage with her will have retired.  My clear conclusion is that this race has shown Sobchak as the person to watch in the Duma elections of 2021 and in the next presidential race of 2024.

Looking back at the whole series of debates, it is clear now in retrospect that the organizers intended to give all candidates the opportunity to set out broad platforms touching upon every major sector of domestic and foreign policy. On separate days the following issues were featured on each of the channels:

  • foreign policy
  • youth, education and development of human potential
  • development of the regions
  • development of industry and especially the military industrial complex
  • demography, motherhood and childhood
  • health, the social sphere and provisions for the handicapped
  • the Russian national idea

It is essential to remember that equal time was granted to all, that all were invited to participate in person or by proxy regardless of their actual support levels in the population. In the United States such equal access may occur during the primaries in each party, but is choked off once party nominations for the two main parties, Democratic and Republican are closed, with only their respective nominees invited to debate on national television. If the Russian practice were applied to the U.S., it would be as if the Greens and Libertarians were debating with Democrats and Republicans, along with candidates of other still smaller parties with miniscule numbers of registered voters.

The Russian debates were held not only on the two leading news channels, Rossiya-1 and Pervy Kanal, but also on the less watched but still important federal channels Public Broadcasting (ORT) and Television Center (TVTs), both of which posted some debates on YouTube.  There were televised debates as well at the regional level to which some candidates sent proxies. One on the Ryazan station of Rossiya-1 for example dated 14 March was posted to YouTube. By their presence or absence, the candidates themselves made it fairly clear that they valued above all Rossiya-1 and Pervy Kanal, and these are the channels that I monitored.

From among these many posted videos, I have decided to highlight here the debates from 13 March,  the next to the last day of such televised debates. I think it is preferable to drill down on one day than to skim the surface on several weeks of shows. Moreover, the debates of the 13th on the two leading channels are useful to highlight some very specific Russian features of the country’s political class across the board.

In Pervy Kanal, the subject of the day was relations between the federal capital, Moscow, and the regions. The candidates were unanimous in decrying the present situation, which has not successfully addressed and perhaps has even aggravated over the past couple of decades the very large discrepancies between the “donor regions” of Moscow and a handful of other regions enjoying budgetary surpluses, the best salaries in the country and extensive public services and amenities versus the “deficit regions” which are more than 80% of the federal regions, all in chronic need of funding from the central government, struggling with heavy debts to credit institutions and where the salary levels and public services are many times below those of the donor regions.

For this, the Communist Left candidates found cause in the privatization of state assets that led to plundering of resources and removal of wealth from where it is generated to Moscow and beyond to offshore accounts. The Liberal Right candidates found fault with excessive concentration of budgetary decision making and political power in Moscow, resulting in provincial governors waiting in the corridors of the Ministry of Finance to get handouts to be spent as Moscow directed, not in accordance with local priorities.

Of course, both Liberals Sobchak and Yavlinsky hammered home the need for local mayors and governors to be elected by those whom they govern, not appointed by the Kremlin from among apparatchiki. The issue is valid and highly relevant to whether/how Russia can become dynamic as an economy and as a polity.

And it also was of considerable value to the voter to hear from Boris Titov that fellow liberal Ksenia Sobchak was caught in a contradiction over her support for greater financial independence of the regions, given that her announced preference for Finance Minister should she win the election is Alexei Kudrin, who formerly served under Putin in this capacity, was always and remains in favor of centralization while disparaging local control of finance as likely only to feed corruption and misuse of power.

In passing, this discussion on Pervy Kanal brought out a number of other very important failings of the Putin years as they affect the broad population.  One in particular is worth mentioning:  the limited nature of “gasification” of the countryside, which is not more than 60% of the population. It was noted that Gazprom has earned 600 billion euros in the past decade largely from exports but has invested only 10 billion euros in bringing gas to the households of Russia itself.  The point is painful to the whole rural population of the country which has to cope with the difficult logistics of bottled gas for cooking and wooden logs for heating.

Vladimir Zhirinovsky

The Rossiya-1 debate of March 13 highlighted the special characteristics of Russia’s political class whatever their policy orientation. This typology is not unique, but special and on the Continent, it is closest, perhaps, to France.  By this I mean the high intellectual achievements of all the candidates. Two of the candidates, Sergei Baburin and Vladimir Zhirinovsky, hold Ph.D. degrees. All seven are well educated in terms of general culture, well-read and appreciative of wit and the ability to draw lessons from literature in fellow candidates whose political positions they otherwise may ridicule.

The topic for the Rossiya-1 debate, “culture, art and preservation of historical memory” was particularly amenable to honest discussion among the candidates. The show which resulted in many ways resembled more a drawing room scene from a Tolstoy or Dostoevsky novel than a political debate in the closing phase of a presidential election race. The candidates were unanimously scathing in their criticism of the current management of culture by Minister Medinsky even if their perspectives on the reasons for the unacceptable state of things are diametrically opposed, ranging from the intrusive and corrupting influence of power and wealth in the appraisal of the Communist Left as opposed to the Liberal Right’s underlining mediocracy resulting from the stultifying influence of a bureaucracy directing and financing culture without the participation of sponsors from the broad base of the business community.

The salon nature of the discussion in which candidates even hastened to support the critiques of the status quo leveled by others was heavily encouraged by the demeanor of the “moderator,” Vladimir Solovyov who, for this debate handled himself not according to the script of the CEC, that is, as a detached timekeeper and referee to keep the debaters within order, but instead as he usually does on his own talk shows, intervening and guiding the discussion while expressing his personal opinions.

It was fascinating to observe the common cultural heritage of all candidates regardless not only of political views but of personal wealth and life experience. In this regard, one or another of the Communist-minded candidates, otherwise critical of the bourgeoisie and oligarchy, were treated with respect similarly to that shown to the consumptive Socialist youth Hippolyte Terentiev by the very proper and aristocratic General Yepanchin and his wife and daughters in The Idiot who took him in during his final weeks.  And surely one of the most exceptional moments in this electoral campaign was the lengthy citation by Pavel Grudinin’s proxy Maxim Shevchenko of the conversation between Christ and the Grand Inquisitor in The Brothers Karamazov, all to make a point about power and art in the Russian mind.

In my “first impressions” and in the transcript of the first televised debate on the Pervy Kanal state network that I issued a couple of days later, I suggested that the Russian campaign is all high-level, intellectual combat in an agora of ideas, which to American ears in particular would be a day and night contrast with the tawdry spectacle of mudslinging and ad hominem argumentation that constituted the 2016 American presidential race.

However, my initial impressions did not take in what was excised from the first debate when it was posted on YouTube: namely a vicious exchange between two candidates, Vladimir Zhirinovsky and Ksenia Sobchak, which may just have sunk lower than even the Clinton-Trump debates. Russia, like the Soviet Union before it, often justifies the arch remark that what is fully prohibited is also permitted. In the full, uncut video, a pirated version of which of course found its way onto the internet within hours, we hear Zhirinovsky describe Sobchak, who was at a lectern just next to his, as a “streetwalker,” if I may be allowed a euphemism. In response to which, she doused him with the water in her drinking glass.

A less enjoyable and more irritating problem with the first televised debates which fit precisely the habits of Russian political talk shows, such as the moderators of these debates otherwise host, was shouting down speakers and boisterous heckling. Here again, the most egregious offenders were precisely Zhirinovsky and Sobchak.  Be that as it may, a technical solution was eventually implemented at least on the Pervy Kanal so that by the last debates only one selected candidate had a live microphone at a time.

This obvious and easy to implement solution ensuring unhindered speech by each candidate was not implemented at Rossiya-1 for reasons that are unclear. The result was a second shameful incident marring the record of the debates in what was the very last round on Rossiya-1 yesterday, 14 March. Moderator Vladimir Solovyov claimed he could do nothing towards the end of the show when all 6 male candidates simultaneously subjected Sobchak to verbal abuse for her “fifth column” positions with respect to the national defense and her betrayal to American interests in her latest interview with CNN. Sobchak walked out of the studio in tears just minutes before the curtain came down.

Absence of Putin

One distinguishing feature of the debates was the absence of the President, who chose to neither participate in person, nor to send a proxy.

As it turned out, the absence of Putin from these debates was entirely justified by the utterly unruly behavior and scandals at times during the series.  Moreover, had the President or his representative been present he would have been the subject of attack from all seven challengers in unison, a very unfair situation for him and not very enlightening for the electorate.

At the same time, it is very clear that those managing the incumbent’s campaign were exploiting every legal means to dominate, indeed to overwhelm all his opponents taken together with high quality viewer and listener time singing his praises and arguing for more of the same in the coming six years. These legal means included the delivery of his annual address to the Federal Assembly, the Russian equivalent to the State of the Union address of the American President, in the midst of the electoral campaign, on March 1. This gave Vladimir Putin two hours on all the airwaves to set out what is in effect a program for his next term.

Another device used to put the President before the electorate in a privileged manner was the launch in the past week of two new, sophisticated and full-length documentary films about Vladimir Putin. One, entitled “World Order 2018” features the popular talk show host Vladimir Solovyov as Putin’s interlocutor or interviewer.

As we have seen, Solovyov was also the moderator of the debates on the channel Rossiya-1. The film itself is professional if not brilliant. It contains a number of good sound bites from Putin, such as his recollections of his first visit to Germany in 1992 as an assistant to St. Petersburg mayor Anatoly Sobchak. As he explains here, their meeting with Chancellor Helmut Kohl provided Putin with material that he later used to advantage when he returned to Germany in 2002 as Russian President and delivered a speech to the Bundestag. There are also interesting remarks by Putin about the days immediately following the coup d’etat in Kiev on February 22, 2014 and the behavior of the U.S. And I would point to Putin’s comments about relations with Turkey and about the special Turkish interest in the Crimean Tatars.

The second documentary, simply entitled “Putin,” was produced by the professional film maker Andrei Kondrashov, who is in the President’s election campaign team. Kondrashov is no newcomer to Putin promotion. In March 2015, on the first anniversary of the reunification of Crimea with the Russian Federation, he launched the entertaining “Crimea, A Way Home,” which featured dramatic footage of the way Putin and his security team rescued deposed Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych from almost certain capture and execution by the radical nationalists. With the help of excellent visuals, Kondrashov’s new film gives us the family history of the Putins in the countryside of the Tver region, interviews with those who knew Vladimir Putin in his youth and at turning points in his career, all told with great human warmth.

To avoid violation of the federal regulations on a candidate’s using the federal television channels for unfair free publicity, these documentaries were released onto the Russian social networks Vkontakte and Odnoklassniki, where they apparently have won a large audience. In its first week, “World Order” is said to have found 15 million viewers.  Meanwhile, sound bites from these documentaries were picked up by the major news programs of the federal channels as “news,” pure and simple. Legal, to be sure, but aggressive campaign devices.

To this we can add Vladimir Putin’s interview with Megyn Kelley of CNN in his capacity as President, not candidate, filmed in part immediately following his delivery of his address to the Federal Assembly on 1 March and in conclusion the next day on his visit to Kaliningrad. From start to finish, this filmed interview shows Putin as projecting strength. We see this in his blunt rejection of U.S. allegations of Russian electoral interference in 2016 coming out of the Mueller indictments.

We see it still more clearly in his lengthy explanation of the military hardware part of his March 1 address, showing off Russia’s new cutting edge technology nuclear weapons systems and claiming full restoration of strategic parity with the United States. Who could ignore his wry smile over how the vast sums which the United States had spent developing global ABM systems for the sake of a first strike capability were now demonstrably money thrown out the window.

More generally, there is an issue over the way that leading news programs on the federal channels have become pro-Putin voice boxes.  Nowhere is this more true than in Dmitri Kiselyov’s News of the Week shows on Sunday evenings.

Pavel Grudinin

In my “First Impressions” article, I remarked on Kiselyov’s 15-minute segment on 17 February devoted to Communist candidate Pavel Grudinin. That was an expanded version of what was being reported in the news bulletins on Rossiya- and Pervy Kanal daily. The objective was to discredit the underlying claims of Grudinin’s candidacy, namely that his profitable Lenin State Farm complex in the Moscow suburbs, paying wages double the national average and providing cheap housing, free day care, free medical care for his employees is the model he intends to  generalize all over the country to bring socialist welfare to every home.

Kiselyov directed attention to the complaints filed against Grudinin by elderly pensioners who say they were defrauded by Grudinin in the 1990s when he essentially privatized the state farm and deprived some of its members of their stake in the land assets.  Kiselyov further argued that the prosperity of Grudinin’s farm comes not from the strawberries it cultivates in great quantities for the Moscow market but from land transactions including rentals and sales from the highly desirable territory it owns in the sought after metropolitan area.  A third line of attack focused on the villa and other residence owned in Latvia by Grudinin’s son, whose wife had acquired Latvian citizenship. These were described as “emergency airport” facilities for the candidate in case he ever felt the need to leave Russia in a hurry.  Kiselyov closed his commentary with a recommendation to Communist Party president Zyuganov that he withdraw support from the non-Party Grudinin before he does irreparable damage to his party and thereby also harms Russia’s young democracy.  The whiff of sarcasm there and condescension was pungent.

This singling out of the Communist Party candidate for attack by state television news acting as investigator was patently unfair. That kind of sleuthing and exposure should have been done by the other candidates, not by the State. Nonetheless, as it turned out Kiselyov’s and Russian state television’s focus on Grudinin’s moral weaknesses was not unjustified.  He was finally “nailed” in an unrelated matter impugning his integrity and the whole claim of the Left to be morally superior to the corrupt and oligarch-infested regime of Vladimir Putin and the United Russia Party.

It was discovered that contrary to Grudinin’s declarations to Zyuganov and to the federal electoral commission when applying for registration of his candidacy, Grudinin has some 13 bank accounts in Switzerland holding assets close to a million dollars, as well as some 5 kilograms of physical gold worth a couple of hundred thousand dollars.  This was confirmed in writing to the Central Election Commission (CEC) by UBS Bank in Switzerland. The CEC decided not to disqualify Grudinin, as was their option, but could be highly provocative and destabilizing. They merely will post these accounts abroad on the highly visible list of assets owned by each of the candidates at every voting station. But the damage was done to Grudinin’s reputation among the Party faithful. Grudinin stopped entirely appearing on the debates and sent only proxies.

The scandal also damaged the reputation of Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov for failure to do due diligence. One almost certain consequence of these elections will be Zyuganov’s retirement from office and the coming to power in the Communist Party of young blood.

A word of explanation about the lists of candidate assets: this has become a tradition in Russian federal elections within the concept of full transparency.  At each polling station voters can read about the holdings of the candidates and their immediate family as regards assets in banks, apartments and other real estate, and cars among other property categories.  In this regard, two liberal candidates, Ksenia Sobchak and Boris Titov, will stand out for their personal wealth valued at more than one million euros.  However, both are supporters of the free market with its rewards, whereas the Communists make a virtue of wealth redistribution and equality.

It is unlikely there will be any great surprises in the election’s outcome on 18 March, but it would be a mistake to conclude that the whole exercise is a farce.  Russia’s young democracy is a work in progress. The debates and other procedures of the electoral campaign are evolving, even if the content – namely credible and experienced candidates for the nation’s highest office – remains unsatisfactory.  Partly this results from the concentration of political power in Moscow and the still rudimentary self-government across the country that would normally develop future leaders.  This will have to be addressed in Putin’s final term in office if there is to be a handover of power in 2024 to a worthy successor.

The balloting itself will be another test of the consolidating mechanisms of democracy.  The Kremlin says it has done everything possible to ensure fair and transparent elections.  Advanced technology has been put in place to make every polling station accessible online, so that electoral monitoring by remote is a reality. Moreover, on a pilot basis the Russians have deployed what they say is block-chain technology to make the voting hack-proof.

As an international election observer serving with an NGO, I expect to see firsthand the results of these efforts to reassure Russians and the world at large that democracy is on the move in Russia. I will issue a report on what I see in the days immediately following the election.

Gilbert Doctorow is an independent political analyst based in Brussels. His latest book, Does the United States Have a Future? was published in October 2017. Both paperback and e-book versions are available for purchase on www.amazon.com and all affiliated Amazon websites worldwide.

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29 comments for “How the Russian Presidential Election Race Looks in its Final Days

  1. jimbo
    March 23, 2018 at 7:32 pm

    I await part three:The Results and hope the author addresses the blatant on-video ballot box stuffing that went on. I saw it addressed on Young Turks and Kyle Kalynski and then I went to RT to see their fair and balanced report and I can’t find it there. I have been made a fool posting on another site: Oh yeah, look at how much the Russians love Putin!

    And then this heartbreaking stab.

  2. March 16, 2018 at 7:27 pm

    At last, an unbiased report on the Russian elections. Extremely interesting and important. Not to mention, a most welcome antidote to the flagrant, unprecedented, unsubstantiated charges against Russia, but especially Putin, by the corrupt US news media and political establishment. Bravo!

  3. Lisa
    March 16, 2018 at 7:20 pm

    The Ukrainian Minister of Interior has decided that Russian citizens, staying in Ukraine, will be stopped from entering Russian consulates in Ukraine (Kiev, Harkov, Odessa, Lvov) on the election day, in order to prevent them from voting.
    This is in protest against holding the Russian presidential elections even in Crimea, which Ukraine considers as their territory.

  4. March 16, 2018 at 4:38 pm

    There is a contradiction here which brings up my question;

    Why would an oligarch infested government be interested in fostering a healthy young democracy?

    • Anon
      March 16, 2018 at 5:27 pm

      You are referring to the US I presume. Indeed its oligarchy infests government and suppresses democracy.

  5. Lisa
    March 16, 2018 at 3:35 pm

    “the highly visible list of assets owned by each of the candidates at every voting station.”

    This was news to me, and something for US to copy for the next elections. Did they publish Putin’s assets also? Reference to the rumours of his billions, stuffed away abroad.

    The circus, played by Mrs May, qualifies well as meddling in Russia’s elections, but naturally in a much more “sophisticated” way than the blunt and primitive Russian way (joking!). What if the result is a rise in support for Putin, as comments by “jurgen” hinted?

    BBC had one of the minor candidates, Boris Titov, as a guest in the “Hard Talk” program on March 9th. The interviewer, Stephen Sackur, did his best to provoke Titov to say something negative about Putin. “You are in the opposition, you should criticize him!” Sackur even tried to pull out from Titov some comment on the spy poisoning case, but Titov refused, begged not to ask him about this, as he is a businessman and has never had anything to do with spies. Titov has lived in UK for long periods and mentioned that his children have British passports. Not an asset in the election for a Russian patriot.

    Generally, when all the minor candidates have their share of the public debates, even if they have no realistic chance of winning, they are able to present their policies and give a push for their respective parties.

    On a side note, in January there were presidential elections in Finland, where I cast my vote abroad (Sweden). I was handed the ballot only after presenting a valid photo-ID. The ballot itself is a white paper with a circle in the middle. You write a number of your candidate inside the circle, fold the paper so that the vote is hidden, the ballot is stamped by the officials and I put it in the ballot box. No plans to introduce any voting machines. And there have never been any claims of election fraud, as far as I remember.

  6. Zachary Smith
    March 16, 2018 at 1:27 am

    At 36, she has plenty of time ahead to choose policies that will be more in line with the broad population and at that point everyone on the stage with her will have retired. My clear conclusion is that this race has shown Sobchak as the person to watch in the Duma elections of 2021 and in the next presidential race of 2024.

    I doubt it. I looked up the Wiki for the woman, and found this:

    Views on patriotism and nationalism

    Sobchak describes herself as a patriot and a nationalist. However, she believes that much of the patriotism in Russia today is artificial. She writes, contrasting patriotism unfavorably with the situation in Israel: “Israel, in my opinion, is a hymn to the power of the human spirit… Patriotism, not imposed from above, but born within a person. And that’s another amazing thing. This sense of the importance of your life for the state [in Israel] is created by many more small, as if imperceptible actions… And these little details are much more valuable than all the spirit-lifting speeches on May Day and Victory Day. And I sit, listen and feel bitter from the fact that in my home country all this is not”.

    In most of her photographs Sobchak is pretty, and in a few of them she is gorgeous. But that’s hardly a qualification for running a large nation. In my opinion that “hymn” to Holy Israel veers into bubblebrain territory. If she were an American I’d probably enjoy watching her in a movie, but sitting in the Oval Office? Hell, no.

    • rosemerry
      March 16, 2018 at 5:25 pm

      One important point about Putin is his ability to get along courteously with so many different leaders. Even Netanyahu, who he is able to interact with firmly, without fawning. Quite an achievement- I do not think the Israeli PM respects anyone else, certainly not the 535 US lawmakers!

    • Dax
      March 19, 2018 at 10:57 am

      Sobchak???? PRETTY? GORGEOUS??? ))))) 99% of population in Russia would disagree with you and laugh at that notion. )))) Her nick-name over here is Ms Horse.
      But never mind her looks. She is above all a hypocrite who spent all her life up to four last months openly despising those “disgusting miserable paupers” of Russian tourists who spoil her view while she is enjoying Courchevel, those dumb stupid Russians who support who she doesn’t want them to support, their disgusting children who cry and bother her and so on. And now she is suddenly very much concerned with the well-being of the population? She really does think we are stupid and expect that we have forgotten all her insults and would vote for the lying hypocritical… horse.

  7. March 15, 2018 at 9:15 pm

    jurgen: i guess I’m more concerned about the British reaction to May’s speech as the people in Russia seem better informed by their press.My question: Will anyone in Britain make the connection between M16 and the Skripal poisoning?

    • March 15, 2018 at 9:48 pm

      The shot answer is NO

      The Ministry of Truth (UK MSM: BBC, Sky News etc.) is hard at work to make sure the only connection “anyone in Britain” can make is what Theresa told them to make during that precisely orchestrated farce in the House of Commons and Nikki in her (not her personal of course) push for war with Russia (WWIII) at the UN yesterday.

      “The German Nazis and the Russian Communists came very close to us in their methods, but they never had the courage to recognize their own motives. They pretended, perhaps they even believed, that they had seized power unwillingly and for a limited time, and that just around the corner there lay a paradise where human beings would be free and equal. We are not like that. We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means; it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power. Now you begin to understand me.” – Theresa May

    • March 15, 2018 at 10:55 pm

      That was a quote from George Orwell’s 1984 of course that I sarcastically attributed to T.May

    • Abe
      March 16, 2018 at 1:46 am

      In his essay “Politics and the English Language” (1946), George Orwell notes how “unscrupulous politicians, advertisers, religionists, and other doublespeakers of whatever stripe continue to abuse language for manipulative purposes”.

      In Chapter 3 of Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), the character Winston describes the nature of “doublethink”:

      “To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it, to believe that democracy was impossible and that the Party was the guardian of democracy, to forget whatever it was necessary to forget, then to draw it back into memory again at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly to forget it again: and above all, to apply the same process to the process itself. That was the ultimate subtlety: consciously to induce unconsciousness, and then, once again, to become unconscious of the act of hypnosis you had just performed. Even to understand the word ‘doublethink’ involved the use of doublethink.”

  8. March 15, 2018 at 8:38 pm

    “How the Russian Presidential Election Race Looks in its Final Days”

    Actually it looks little different from the time this article was written.

    Thank to Theresa May and a cast of supporting clowns in that cheap pathetic middle school level melodrama played in the House of Commons two days ago, thank to those idiots Putin’s rating went up 5-8%
    Then, this one, Gavin Willamson, imbecile with probably not a single brain cell in his head, pops up today – well few more percent to Vlad’s rating.
    It looks like those guys never learn from their past mistakes – even few people in Moscow, who i am still communicating with, who were totally pro-western and totally staunchly anti-putin now are saying that they started having some doubts.
    Good job Theresa and Nikki ! Carry on

    • rosemerry
      March 16, 2018 at 5:20 pm

      Yes, and I was noticing a distinct lack of memory of the day 15 years ago when the “evidence for WMDs in Iraq” swept the news. This time no evidence was even conjured up, just accusations of “Russia did it” and the very democratic “prove your innocence” from the leader of the UK “rule of law” régime.

  9. March 15, 2018 at 1:40 pm

    Why no mention that Putin is running as an independent and not wth the corrupt neoliberal United Russia party? Will Putin pivot to the left after the election?

  10. Jeff
    March 15, 2018 at 1:05 pm

    Looks to me like the US could learn some lessons from Russia in open and democratic politics.

  11. jo6pac
    March 15, 2018 at 11:46 am

    “This will have to be addressed in Putin’s final term in office if there is to be a handover of power in 2024 to a worthy successor.”

    I sure hope he does. I’ve read were he has had the old guard governors retire and replaced them by middle age successful business leaders in the areas. It’s a start.

    Thanks GD

  12. Michael Kenny
    March 15, 2018 at 11:29 am

    When it suits Putin’s American supporters to assimilate the Russian Federation to the Soviet Union, they do that. When it suits them to argue that the Russian Federation is totally different from the Soviet Union, they tell us that. The point here is to present Putin as having massive support in the population, which will therefore all march fanatically off to war behind him with eyes ablaze and a knife between their teeth. Nobody, of course, will believe that the election was free and fair. Even assuming that the polls aren’t themselves rigged, a correct reading of them (i.e. following the trend in polls from the same pollster) suggests that Putin will get about 65 – 67% of the vote (the trend is downward). 70% or above suggests rigging, which, of course, is what everyone expects. Moreover, 70% of a 70% turnout, even if honest, is only 49% of the total electorate, which is hardly an impressive score and is anything but “popular validation”. No sign there of the supposedly massive support that is being constantly hyped on the US internet. The outcome will be an ageing and weakened Putin with half the population which wants him out of power, an economy increasingly crippled by sanctions, an arms race Russia can’t afford, an unwinnable war in Syria and the possibility of an all out war with the US, which will cause whatever support he may still have to evaporate overnight. Will Putin survive 6 more years? Probably not.

  13. March 15, 2018 at 10:47 am

    Once again, Gilbert Doctorow’s detailed analysis of the Russian electoral campaign gives us a good overview and even the literary references prompt me to want to reread Dostoevsky.

    “All of this constitutes invaluable material to see the impressive extent of pluralism, free speech and media access allowed in Putin’s Russia to his challengers, however slight their share of voter support may be. That in itself is quite a revelation.” Yes, and now that Larry Kudlow has been added to Trump’s sleezbag of advisors the contrast with Putin’s American counterpart is even greater. Kudlow can be remembered as the slimy sycophant on Fox Business News’ dynamic duo of commentators(Kudlow&Kramer). He never met a bubble that he couldn’t blow more hot air into. If anyone had doubts about draining the swamp, with Kudlow as Chief Economic Advisor and Pompeo as Sec. of State, we now know that it was only to elevate its most abominable creatures to high positions in a government where the chief executive values only advisors that will applaud his own delusional policies.

    • March 15, 2018 at 4:53 pm

      Correction: Kudlow and Kramer were on CNBC(not Fox Business News)back around 2003 when I was watching the program.

  14. mike k
    March 15, 2018 at 10:27 am

    Is everybody ready for nuclear war? It won’t be long now. April is the cruelest month………

    http://www.unz.com/mwhitney/ww3-the-u-s-threatens-to-bomb-syria-while-putin-promises-to-retaliate/

    • mike k
      March 15, 2018 at 10:35 am

      Being of the persuasion that in nuclear war, the living will envy the dead – I make no preparations myself.

    • Quixotic1
      March 18, 2018 at 4:18 am

      This is as good a time as any to quote Kurtz from The Heart of Darkness,

      “The horror! The horror!”

  15. David G
    March 15, 2018 at 9:52 am

    These pieces from Gilbert Doctorow have been really refreshing: well-informed reporting, uninterested in taking sides in the Manichaean dispute about Putin as supervillain/superhero.

    Though I myself greatly admire Putin’s abilities, I have an uncomfortable feeling that while the state apparatus hasn’t felt the need to take off the velvet glove this time to assure his reelection, if a truly credible challenger had emerged we might have really seen the iron fist bared. But perhaps I am doing both Putin and Russian democracy an injustice.

    It’s a shame about Grudinin. It would be great if a real alternative on the left emerged in Russia to reclaim the national wealth amassed by the billionaire class whose birth the West midwifed after the end of the USSR.

  16. Jose
    March 15, 2018 at 7:58 am

    The othe vital issue that I would like to stress is the evolving nature of the Russian electoral system. The author expresses it best. “ The debates and other procedures of the electoral campaign are evolving, even if the content – namely credible and experienced candidates for the nation’s highest office – remains unsatisfactory.” A few decades ago, this article could have been considered a work of fiction; nonetheless, it appears that Russia has put into place a more pluralistic voting system. Compare to the old Soviet way, this turn around is very remarkable.

  17. Jose
    March 15, 2018 at 7:44 am

    After reading this article by Mr. Gilbert, what I like the most is how different candidates have more access to the National media so their points of view might reach more voters. Initially, one may reckon that Mr. Putin could exert his influence to create a choke point for any challengers; however, the opposite seams to be the case. As Mr Gilbert asserts “All of this constitutes invaluable material to see the impressive extent of pluralism, free speech and media access allowed in Putin’s Russia to his challengers, however slight their share of voter support may be. That in itself is quite a revelation. This is a well penned article that helps us understand a bit more Russia electoral dinamics. Bravo.

    • Joe Tedesky
      March 15, 2018 at 9:38 am

      You said it well Jose. I’d loved to have seen Jill & Gary, and anyone else have a opportunity to get included into our national debates….oh well. Joe

    • geeyp
      March 15, 2018 at 8:06 pm

      The points made on Pavel Grudinin were new to me. I saw the free-for-all which took place in which Vladimir threw every slur he could at Ksenia and she walked off in tears. It was very colorful, to say the least. Looking forward to the next report. Much more interesting exchange of views this time than over here in the US last time.

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