Information operations · Information Warfare · Russia

Russia’s Potemkin Election (2)

Anonymous expert compilation, analysis, and reporting.

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Some very good analytical commentaries and OpEds.

Videos online show blatant ballot-stuffing in Russia – The Washington Post

Sunday’s election in Russia had blatant abuses, but it was probably cleaner than previous votes.

Russian Observers Charge Fraud in Putin’s Landslide Re-Election – Bloomberg

Russian election observers denounced what they said were large-scale violations in the presidential vote that handed Vladimir Putin a crushing victory, including ballot-stuffing that was captured on state-controlled cameras.

Russia’s Presidential Election Observers Were Pressured And Intimidated : The Two-Way : NPR

Before and during the election, observers said they were targeted. Vladimir Putin won a fourth term.

Ballot-Stuffing Caught On Camera At Russian Polls

Russia’s presidential election on March 18 gave Vladimir Putin a fourth term as president with more than 76 percent of the vote, according to the Central Election Commission. But the polls in many districts were marred by irregularities, including cases of apparent ballot-box stuffing recorded on video.

Where Putin scored less than 50%, and where – all 100%? Where did Grudinin lose? Where did they vote for Sobchak? Amazing figures from polling stations

For Xenia Sobchak most voted abroadOf the top 20 polling stations in terms of the number of votes for Sobchak 18 fall to other countries. Her best result is 868 votes in London (23.42%). In Amsterdam, Sobchak was voted by 27% of voters (293 votes).36.15% (47 votes) – the best result of Xenia Sobchak from all Russian sites. This site is located in Chuvashia. On one of the Moscow sites (in the Tver region) Sobchak took the second place with the result of 15.02% (241 votes).

RT’s Top Editor Toasts Putin: ‘He Used To Be Our President; Now He Is Our Leader’

The sharp-tongued head of the TV channel formerly known as Russia Today was fulsome, both in her praise for Putin, and also in her criticism of the West.

The Latest: Putin calls for unity to solve Russia’s problems | Charlotte Observer

President Vladimir Putin says all political forces in Russia must unite efforts to solve the country’s problems.

Putin’s landslide election makes it seem like Russia is stable. Don’t be fooled. – Vox

There’s a looming and shockingly predictable crisis in Russia — and in major authoritarian countries around the world.

Putin is leading an increasingly poor, destabilized Russia – MarketWatch

A generational change is gripping the country, and this new generation is looking for its own voice in the system.

Putin sees future for Russia rising in the east | Comment | The Times

Russia has spent almost a fortnight trying to kick dust in our eyes. There was the Kremlin’s ambassador to the European Union sneering that Britain might have publicly poisoned Sergei Skripal, since Porton Down is “actually only eight miles from Salisbury”. A sardonic Russian embassy tweet called fo

When Putin won in 2012, Russians took to the streets. Why not this time? | Anastasya Manuilova | Opinion | The Guardian

Since then, the Russia’s economy has tanked and so has our global reputation. But still no demonstrations, says Anastasya Manuilova, a reporter for Kommersant newspaper

There’s poison in the Motherland, not just the Skripal attack | London Evening Standard

Russia’s election has passed off as the pseudo-democratic exercise it was intended to be. Vladimir Putin duly rebranded himself, with postmodernist aplomb, from state security operative to rock star in a parka, leading chants of “Russia” and the “Great Motherland” at his victory rally. To those of use who knew Russia in the dying days of communism, it felt like a reprise of the Soviet Union’s greatest hits, but with the Marxist-Leninism omitted.

Ayesha Hazarika: Reality is making McMafia look like Call the Midwife – The Scotsman

It was hardly an X Factor moment of dramatic tension when the state-run media announced a landslide victory for President Putin in the Russian elections with 76.7 per cent of the vote – they could have declared it was 176.7 per cent and no one would have batted an eyelid.

Russian Election: A Fake Democracy But Real Support for Putin – Bloomberg

The Russian president defeated his strongest opponent — voter apathy.

COMMENT: Putin’s Coronation Has The Votes But Not Much Conviction

This was never a real election, and there was never any alternative. The following article was written by Professor Mark Galeotti, Senior Researcher at the Institute of International Relations in Prague. With 99.81% of the votes counted, Vladimir Putin has won his predictable re-election as Russian president for a fourth term, with 76.67% of the total. On the face of it, this is a triumph, a convincing mandate for his rule and his policies. But this was never a real election, and there was never any alternative. Here is the irony: Putin has won a massive victory, but a hollow one. It is not only many Russians who are already seeing his era coming to an end and wondering what will follow, he does too. This was the campaign that wasn’t. Putin himself scarcely bothered electioneering, and even only turned up to his carefully-choreographed victory party outside the Kremlin to deliver a two-minute speech.

Commentary: Why Putin is still – genuinely – popular in Russia

By John Lloyd Vladimir Putin won big on Sunday. According to the central election commission, the Russian president glides into his fourth term after winning his biggest ever election victory, with nearly 77 percent favoring him. His nearest rival was an affluent multi-millionaire communist who got more than 11 percent by presenting himself as a Putin-plus, with a program of nationalizing the oligarchs’ property instead of merely controlling it.Ksenia Sobchak, the nearest candidate to a liberal, had less than 2 percent support. Alexei Navalny, the boldest agitator against corruption, banned from standing, advised Russians not to vote. But they did. Reports of ballot stuffing, harassment of observers and people coerced to go to the polls by their employers abound. We can be sure they will not render the result void. This was a coronation.Putin’s popularity is a mystery to many in the West. He has invaded Ukraine, grabbed its Crimean region for Russia and sponsored a rebellion against the government in Kiev – while lying about the presence of Russian troops fighting with the rebels even as their corpses were returned to Russia. He has committed Russian forces to assist Syrian President Bashar al-Assad  in suppressing his rebels with the utmost brutality. The economy turned sharply down in 2014, as the oil price fell and as economic sanctions were imposed.The charge made by the British Prime Minister, Theresa May, that Russia is likely to have sanctioned the use of a nerve agent against the Russian double agent, Sergei Skripal, and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury earlier this month has been dismissed with sarcastic contempt, with no effort made to assist the British authorities. Putin, in his victory speech said that the UK’s allegations added to his majority.He seems, at present, invulnerable. At a gathering of mainly young Russian liberals which I attended last weekend, Lev Gudkov, the veteran pollster and head of the independent Levada Centre, showed the graphs which underpin the success: a loss of popularity for Putin after his 2012 election and then, with the taking of Crimea and the Russian-sponsored hostilities in Ukraine, a huge spike upwards to some 80 percent of support, a doubling of the figures. In spite of declining incomes, rising prices and the viral videos showing the luxury in which senior officials live, Putin has stayed at or near these heights, unthinkable for a democratic politician. There has been, and remains, no alternative to Russia’s strongman.The common wisdom about elections, since Bill Clinton’s adviser, James Carville, fashioned his famous “it’s the economy stupid!” soundbite, is that voters punish politicians in power during hard times. But Russians aren’t like democratic citizens. They prize – inevitably given their history – stability, and thus strength at the top. Shorn of the Russian-dominated Soviet Union, they rejoice in the return of part of it. Gudkov observed to his audience that many of the reflexes of the Communist period remained active in Russia a quarter of a century after the Soviet Union’s demise. The noted political commentator Andrei Kolesnikov added that Stalin has, for some years, stood as a symbol of order: people were not interested in large-scale protests, let alone revolution. Stability is all.This appears to speak for a fourth presidential term in which tough leadership, patriotic propaganda, the marginalization of liberal causes such as minority rights and continuing defiance of a West pictured as both effete and threatening will continue to be the major tropes. Yet Putin, not being stupid, must fear that the economy, mixed with youthful rejection of the rule of aging and massively enriched top officials, may have its way in the end.In a briefing in London last week, Sergei Guriev, chief economist at the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development, gave a somber assessment of the economic state of Russia in Putin’s coming term. Guriev left Russia in 2013, fearful for his freedom, as a new repression gripped the country. A world-class economist, he is a symbol of the drain of Russia’s best brains – losses which, he told his audience, continue.The recession, now ending, has cost the country some three percent of its GDP, most of which – up to 2.5 percent – is due to the fall in the oil price, which descended to below $40 a barrel last summer, but has since climbed to $70.Russia’s economy grew by 1.5 percent in 2017 – a rate Guriev expects to continue for the next 3-5 years. Growth of 1.5 percent is anemic for a country that should – like other middle-income states – be growing much faster. Investment, domestic and foreign, is low; the energetic wooing of Chinese President Xi Jinping has yielded results falling below Putin’s hopes. The Chinese, greatly expanding their interests throughout the world, are ultra cautious in Russia. Last week, a planned $9 billion stake by a little-known Chinese energy company in the Russian oil giant Rosneft was delayed, amid statements from the Chinese rating agencies of “uncertainties” around the purchase.The burden of the recession, Guriev says, was borne by households that saw incomes shrink by 10 percent – a large drop for middle-income families and a huge loss for the poor as commodities become more expensive. These middle – and low-income Russians, the majority, may realize – it isn’t much featured in Russia’s news media – that the very rich are richer than they were before the recession. A recent analysis shows Russian inequality rising faster than even in China, resulting in what Guriev said were huge increases in wealth for 0.001 percent of the population – a few tens of thousands of super-rich people.Russians are, by any standards, highly educated and often ambitious. But the pattern of the Putin years has been one of low investment, and little development of modern industries that would attract the clever and upwardly mobile young – and thus a corresponding growth of a brain drain which has benefitted the West.With a low-growth economy, Russia’s claim to be a superpower pales before the continuing dominance of the United States and the fast-rising economic and strategic power of China. Guriev’s analysis, devoid of political spin, points to Putin’s new term as being one of economic stagnation, which in turn will prompt continued aggression towards the West, with needed reforms once more ignored.A surly beast from the east, and thus a dangerous one. Putin’s triumph will not make him more inclined to cooperate with a West that will be, perhaps for all of his last term, more useful as an enemy than a friend.(John Lloyd co-founded the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford, where he is senior research fellow. Lloyd has written several books, including “What the Media Are Doing to Our Politics” and “Journalism in an Age of Terror”. He is also a contributing editor at the Financial Times and the founder of FT Magazine.)

The Daily Vertical: Meet The New Tsar, Same As The Old Tsar (Transcript)

As we were all busy parsing the fine print of Vladimir Putin’s re-coronation, there was a little bit of action on Russia’s periphery. As Putin was insisting he doesn’t want a new arms race and would “spare no effort to settle all disputes with our partners by political and diplomatic means,” his military was busy intimidating Russia’s neighbors. It’s probably no coincidence that Russia’s armed forces yesterday launched large-scale exercises in the Southern Military District, including in occupied Crimea, Abkhazia, and South Ossetia. Russia’s media is reporting that the drills include approximately 8,000 troops as well as multiple rocket launchers and artillery systems. Now, it’s always a good idea to pay closer attention to what Russia is doing than to what it’s saying. And it appears that one Putin’s first acts after securing a new term in the Kremlin was to send an unmistakably belligerent message to the Georgians and the Ukrainians. As Russia was busy intimidating its neighbors, Margarita Simonyan, the editor in chief of the state-funded RT television network, sent a pretty clear message to the West as well. “We don’t want to live like you” and “we don’t respect you anymore,” she tweeted. And so the early signals are crystal-clear. As the Russian emigre political commentator Leonid Bershidsky wrote yesterday in Bloomberg, “the West must brace itself for an extended period with a tough, wily, hostile, uncompromising Russia. It would take a miracle to set the country on a different course.” So Putin’s fourth term is probably going to look a lot like his third term.

The Morning Vertical, March 20, 2018

Yesterday’s tweetstorm by RT Editor in Chief Margarita Simonyan was revealing for a number of reasons. As I note in today’s Daily Vertical, in conjunction with Russia’s military exercises in occupied Crimea, Abkhazia, and South Ossetia, it appears to indicate that Moscow’s confrontational line with the West will continue. But Simonyan’s tweets also suggest something about Russian domestic politics. The era of pretend (or “managed” or “sovereign”) democracy is over. Russia is moving toward something else. “Earlier he was simply our president and it was possible to replace him. And now he is our leader,” she wrote in one post, using the Russian word “vozhd” — which is often associated with Soviet dictator Josef Stalin. As I noted in this space yesterday, Putin has a big choice to make. He can either make it clear that he intends to remain in power, one way or another, for the foreseeable future. Or he can effectively turn into a lame duck. Are Simonyan’s tweets a sign that he is leaning toward the former?

The Morning Vertical, March 21, 2018

Vladimir Zhirinovsky is more than the Kremlin’s court jester. He’s the Kremlin’s messenger. He launches trial balloons. And what he says often turns out to be prophetic. Back in March 2000, when Putin was first elected, Zhirinovsky told stunned journalists at the Central Election Commission in Moscow that the “end of democracy” was coming and “you’re all on the list.” So perhaps we should seriously consider his comments today claiming that the March 18 presidential election would be Russia’s last. Zhirinovsky told journalist that by 2024, Russia’s “presidency will be replaced by a State Council, which will be not elected but appointed.” These remarks didn’t come out of thin air. As I wrote on The Power Vertical blog back in November, there have been leaks out there for months claiming that Putin would remain in power beyond 2024 through the establishment of a Chinese-style State Council. Just three days have passed since Putin won a fourth term. And the signs keep piling up that what we witnessed on March 18 was not an election, but a swan song for an era when Russia even went through the motions of pretending to be a “managed” democracy.

OPINION – Editorial Others say: The bear growls | NWADG

Vladimir Putin was reported to have won 76.7 percent of the vote in Russia’s presidential election, more than anyone in the post-Soviet era. But the show of popular support his regime orchestrated for itself was less impressive than it looked. Turnout, at 67.5 percent, was below the 70 percent goal the Kremlin set for itself, even though authorities raised the total with ballot-box stuffing so blatant that videos of it were readily available. Young people did not turn out: According to the New York Times, an exit poll by a state-backed agency showed only about 9 percent participation by voters aged 18 to 25. In all, it seemed more than understandable that Putin, who is often described as wildly popular, did not take the risk of allowing his most prominent opponent, Alexei Navalny, to run against him. Navalny, who called for a boycott, ended up stealing some of Putin’s show anyway: His live online debate with the officially sanctioned opposition candidate, Ksenia Sobchak, generated far more buzz than Putin’s lackluster victory rally. Putin based his campaign almost entirely on hostility toward the West. Putin has promised to raise economic growth above 3 percent from its current level of under 2 percent. But with oil prices flat and Western sanctions increasing in response to provocations like this month’s nerve-agent attack on a former Russian spy in Britain, that appears unlikely. Similarly, Putin has on several occasions declared Russia’s intervention in Syria a mission accomplished. But the war doesn’t appear likely to end anytime soon; Putin’s attempts to broker a settlement have fallen flat. Nor are Russian forces likely to find a way out of the eastern Ukrainian territories they invaded four years ago, where hostilities continue. These troubles could make Putin more rather than less dangerous. In recent years he has repeatedly used foreign ventures, such as the invasion of Crimea, to distract Russians from domestic stagnation. He can be expected to mount influence operations in the 2018 and 2020 U.S. elections. Might there also be more nerve-agent attacks, or a military probe of a NATO country in Central Europe or the Baltics? Those who rule out the latter should consider that U.S. troops in Syria last month came under attack from an irregular but officially sanctioned Russian force armed with artillery and tanks. Only forceful Western action will deter Putin. Ukrainian forces should be supplied with more weapons, and cyberattacks should be answered. Above all, Putin and the clique of oligarchs around him should be prevented from stashing their money in Western financial and real estate markets. Putin should know that further adventures abroad will put his newly renewed regime at risk. Editorial on 03/21/2018

Vladimir Putin’s Last Stand?

Russia’s president remains in power until 2024. Now what?

Putin’s Long Goodbye

As Russia gears up for a presidential election, the perennial Moscow parlor game of rumors, speculation,and leaks about schemes to keep Vladimir Putin in power indefinitely — has begun in earnest.

An old kind of new low

TheTribune: The prospect of Vladimir Putin running Russia for another six years after his victory in Sunday&rsquo;s election, which will make him the longest-serving Soviet/Russian leader since Joseph Stalin, has been greeted with long faces and mournful sighs in Western capitals.

Russians unite around Putin’s ‘centre of power’

Vladimir Putin’s campaign chief says election turnout was up 8-10% “thanks to Great Britain” and the Sergei Skripal poisoning.

Vladimir Putin’s Perverse Powers of Persuasion Won Him Another Six Years in Power

The more he’s reviled—and feared—around the world, the more most Russians are convinced he’s a great leader defending their nation. But nobody knows what he really thinks.

Putin Claims Mandate in Record Win Amid Conflict With West – Bloomberg

Russian President Vladimir Putin won a landslide victory in a tightly controlled election and claimed a renewed mandate for his escalating confrontation with the West.

Chief Putin critic Alexei Navalny turns on ‘puppet opposition’ | World | The Times

Russia’s main opposition leader launched a fierce attack yesterday on the candidates who ran against Vladimir Putin in the presidential election, accusing them of helping to prop up his rule.Alexei Navalny, 41, a lawyer and anti-corruption campaigner, was barred from standing in Sunday’s election de

Following Putin’s Victory, Opposition Candidate Calls Election “Filthy”

Despite alleged ballot box stuffing and accusations of fraud, authorities have certified the re-election of Vladimir Putin in Russia.

Russia’s Next Prime Minister Is In for a Tough Ride (Op-ed)

When problems arise, the prime minister is vulnerable to attack from all sides

Window on Eurasia — New Series: Putin Benefited from Sharp Fall in Russian Living Standards But Will Suffer from Their Prolonged Decline, Golosov Says

Paul Goble Staunton, March 14 – Like most regimes but contrary to the expectations of many, Grigory Golosov says, Vladimir Putin benefitted from the sharp declines in the Russian standard of living after the fall of oil prices because people felt there was no alternative, they became more dependent on the state, and the regime used their situation to marginalize the opposition. But if the decline in living standards continues for a prolonged period, the political scientist at St. Petersburg’s European University says, the population will become frustrated and angry and increasingly turn away from the regime ( Many analysts naively believed that the sharp fall in Russian standard of living as a result of the collapse of oil prices would lead the people to hate the regime, but, Golosov says, “a sharp worsening in the position of the population does not lead to the delegitimization of any political regime” and it did not in the case of Russia either. That is particularly true in authoritarian countries like Russia where when living standards decline, “people become more vulnerable and depend on the authorities. The authorities really help in some ways, therefore they could on loyalty and they receive it” most of the time. In fact, the Russian did “comparatively poorly” in this regard, Golosov continues. “Polls show that from the point of view of people, the authorities are insufficiently concerned about them. They do not feel the small gifts which they periodically receive are a sufficient level of concern; and if they do not feel concern, then their faith that the authorities are a good father which will always come to their help disappears.” As a result, he continues, “a lengthy and slow fall in the standard of living like the one now taking place is a bad situation for the regime.” The authorities constantly need to provide some indication that they care lest people turn away. In Golosov’s view, the Putin regime understands this. One indication of that understanding, he suggests, is that Putin isn’t going to make as many promises and certainly not formal ones like the May decrees lest Russians have a measure of what he and his government are not achieving. Instead, he will try to take “small situational measures” in the hopes that will be enough.

Kremlin: Lack Of U.S. Congratulations To Putin On Reelection ‘No Big Deal’

The Kremlin says the absence of a congratulatory message from U.S. President Donald Trump to Vladimir Putin on his reelection as president is not an unfriendly step.

Court In Tatarstan Fines Poet For Tearing Up Ballot In Polling Station

A court in Russia’s Tatarstan region has fined poet Lilia Gazizova for tearing a ballot at a polling station during the March 18 presidential election.

YP Letters: Paranoid Russia risks safety of the world – Yorkshire Post

From: Hugh Rogers, Ashby. Russia did not “stand by” Britain against Napoleon, the Kaiser and Hitler, as Patrick Mercer said (The Yorkshire Post. March 17). Napoleon attacked Russia, not the other way round. It was the Russian winter which ultimately defeated him. Then Mother Russia showed her true colours in the Crimean War. An initial co-combatant in the First World War, Russia backed out of it in 1917, thus releasing huge German forces for use on the Western Front against the Allies. At the outset of the Second World War Russia, under Stalin, signed a non-aggression pact with Hitler and only reacted (admittedly with great determination) when, after two years, the German army invaded. They didn’t “stand by” us, they defended themselves, with assistance from our Arctic convoys, during which many gallant British servicemen died, incidentally getting little thanks from the Russians for their efforts. The truth is that Russia is, and for various reasons always has been, a country founded upon a peasant mindset which thrives on being “oppressed” by its neighbours. History teaches us that. But in the depths of its paranoia, it risks the safety of the entire world. The worrying thing is that it doesn’t seem to care.

Putin not remotely antisemitic, says Russia’s Chief Rabbi – Diaspora – Jerusalem Post

According to Russia’s chief rabbi, Putin was the first Russian president to attend the opening of a synagogue or any other Jewish event.

UAWire – UN, OSCE, Council of Europe ignore Russia’s appeal about the ban on the election in Ukraine

According to Tatyana Moskalkova, the human rights commissioner for Russia, the UN, the OSCE and the Council of Europe did not respond to the …

Poroshenko says elections in Crimea “fake” – news about politics

Parubiy said the Russian aggressor had deliberately chosen March 18 as an election date.

Election Day in Pro-Russia Crimea | The New Yorker

Joshua Yaffa reports from Election Day in Crimea, a recently annexed Russian territory where support for President Vladimir Putin remains despite crackdowns on free speech.