After a weekend in which anti-Putin protestors united in a ring of defiance around the Kremlin, truly wacky reports have surfaced of a potential assassination plot against Prime Minister and presidential candidate Vladimir Putin, stymied by Ukrainian security forces:
The Russian prime minister’s press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, told the BBC “this was absolutely a plot to kill the prime minister.”
It seems not outside the realm of possibility that Ukraine’s government, which is currently controlled by pro-Russian factions under pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych, could be convinced to help legitimize the gravity of the plot. Certainly, the Kremlin ploy helps to distract, in part, from anti-Putin protests just six days in advance of the first round of Russia’s presidential election.
In a piece in The Guardian yesterday, Russian oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who was jailed by Putin a decade ago and removed as CEO of Yukos Oil, advocates a vote for any of the four opponents to Putin, thereby forcing Putin into a second-round runoff vote. He compares the recent grassroots protests against Putin to the Arab Spring protests of 2011 that toppled dictators in Tunisia and Egypt:
By forcing a second round we will push our country down the path of positive change. Presidential power that previously answered to no one would have to start listening to the people it serves. The state that until now took the monopolistic presidential power for granted would be more wary of its hold and start moderating its behaviour. The politicians who gathered the opposition votes could become a force to be reckoned with, a voice for articulating the thoughts and views that have been ignored before. The establishment would have to start negotiating with the opposition and an evolutionary transition could meaningfully begin. Continue reading Kremlin Kops or Keystone Kops?→
In my ongoing series of odd campaign video from Russia’s upcoming presidential election vote, here’s ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky flogging a donkey from earlier this month. It’s unclear what exactly the point is here.
Zhirinovsky is one of the truly scary clowns of Russia’s political scene. In 1995, he threw a box of juice at an opponent on television. In 1996, he called for recreating the Russian Empire and expanding it to the Indian Ocean and reclaiming Alaska from the United States. He once promised free vodka to all Russians if elected. He’s anti-Zionist, anti-Caucuses, anti-gay, anti-woman, anti-Western, anti-African, and you really could fill a book with outrageous Zhirinovsky quotes. Much, much more here, and that’s just for starters.
In numerous speeches and articles, Zhirinovsky has promised to bury radioactive waste on the borders of the Baltic states, turn Kazakhstan into Russia’s back yard,” provoke internecine wars between the clans and the peoples of Russia’s so-called near abroad (the former Soviet Union) and occupy what will remain of it when the war is over. The masthead of his movement’s magazine, Zhirinovsky’s Hawk, displays a map of Russia that includes Finland, Poland and Alaska, in addition to all of the former Soviet republics.
Of course, his importance as a figure in Russian politics has long since ebbed from its high-water mark in 1995-96. But I’ve considered him for over a decade the personification of Russia’s nationalist id, which can sometimes be quite ugly and dark indeed.
Early reports of returns from Senegal’s presidential election yesterday indicate that current president Abdoulaye Wade leads former prime minister Macky Sall in the first-round ballot by only a 24% to 21% margin, although other reports claimed Wade had around 32% to Sall’s 28%.
Without an outright majority, Wade (pictured above, top) would be forced into a runoff with Sall (pictured above, below) — presumably given the massive opposition to Wade’s run on the basis of a constitutional limit of two terms, it can be expected that the opposition, headed by M23 and other umbrella groups, including supporters of Youssou N’Dour (the popular rapper who was not permitted to stand in the presidential election), will unite behind Sall in the second round.
Given Senegal’s tradition as a nation that has generally respected democratic norms — there have been no coups and no civil wars there since independence in 1960 — Wade would presumably recognize a Sall second-round victory and step down from office.