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Expert Comment: Putin’s Presidential Election Victory

St Basil Cathedral Wednesday 25 April 2012

Bill Jones, Adjunct Professor of Politics at Liverpool Hope University

Viewing Vladimir Putin’s tearful face in the wake of his alleged 64% poll in the presidential contest, one wondered what his long time predecessor Joseph Stalin would have said about it. No doubt he would have laughed at elections as a route to power. For him it was careful positioning, placing key supporters in key jobs and then slowly conducting the orchestra of his complex plans until the day he was able to end the subtleties and rely on the Tsarist tools of the gulag, the Cheka, threats and menace and the ultimate deterrent of nine grams of lead in the back of the head. Old habits die hard. Putin is the re-embodiment of the strong, ruthless man Russians have come to expect at the head of their affairs.

Like the Tsars he holds public expression tight, fearful it will let the dogs of dissent run too freely. Like them too he preaches national greatness and surly opposition to those who might threaten frontiers, national pride and borders. Almost certainly the election was marred by stuffed ballot boxes, the travelling ‘carousels’ of voters, bussed from station to station, voting always for the same candidate.  A tearful Putin said it has meant ‘Glory to Russia’ but it can hardly mean that. The world assumes, knows the elections were cooked. Moscow watchers are well aware the newly emergent Russian middle class has come to despise this vain former KGB officer, who poses, with shirt off, on horseback in the country, who almost certainly has had the bags under his eyes teased away by cosmetic surgery.

Over here all the main media outlets - the Sunday Times, The Economist, The Observer - have told the same story. Vladimir has won this one but the victory is Pyrrhic. His voters know they are being deceived. His musical chairs with Mdvedev, swapping roles so he can be president once again, was so blatant a ruse to hang onto power. The Russian political culture is growing up at last after centuries of slumber. Putin had better enjoy his victory honeymoon, his final and no doubt extended period in power is going to be difficult, volatile and freighted with much conflict. Russia is a long way from the Arab countries, but just a few of its waves lapped up at the doors of the Kremlin. As Jonathan Powell, writes in his book on the Blair years, it’s hubris which gets all rulers who stay on too long, Surrounded by their self constructed barriers, they become cut off from the people they lead, from the real world which ultimately decides their fate.

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