Tag Archives: zhirinovsky

Putin wins Russian parliamentary elections despite economic woes

Both Russian president Vladimir Putin and Chechnya's governor Ramzan Kadyrov face "votes" on Sunday. (AFP)
Both Russian president Vladimir Putin and Chechnya’s governor Ramzan Kadyrov won their respective “elections” on Sunday. (AFP)

Earlier this month, voters went to the polls in Belarus to elect the country’s rubber-stamp parliament under its authoritarian leader Alexander Lukashenko and, in what amounts to democratic liberalization, two opposition MPs were elected to the 110-member assembly from the constituency that contains Minsk, the capital.chechnyaRussia Flag Icon

Last weekend, a higher number of opposition MPs were elected to the  state Duma (ду́ма), the lower house of the Russian federal assembly, when Russian voters took to the polls on September 18. Nevertheless, despite the unfair and unfree nature of Russian elections, an electoral rout for president Vladimir Putin’s United Russia (Еди́ная Росси́я) means that Putin will now turn to the presidential election scheduled for 2018 with an even tighter grip on the Duma after United Russia increased its total seats from 238 to 343 in the 450-member body. As predicted, Putin took fewer chances in the September 18 elections after unexpected setbacks in the 2011 elections that saw United Russia’s share of the vote fall below 50% for the first time. 

Moreover, nearly all of the remaining seats were awarded to opposition parties — like Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s Liberal Democratic Party (Политическая партия ЛДПР), Gennady Zyuganov’s Communist Party (Коммунистическая Партия) and Sergey Mironov’s A Just Russia (Справедливая Россия) — that long ago ceased to be anything but plaint, obedient and toothless in the face of Putin’s autocratic rule, whose party logos even mirror those of Putin’s United Russia party. Putin’s liberal opponents, operating under greater constraints than in past elections, failed to win even a single seat to the parliament.



The drab affair marked a sharp contrast with the 2011 parliamentary elections, the aftermath of which brought accusations of fraud and some of the most serious and widespread anti-government protests across Moscow (and Russia) since the end of the Cold War, prompting demands for greater accountability and democracy. Today, however, though Russia’s economy is flagging under international sanctions and depressed global oil and commodities prices, Putin’s power appears more absolute than ever. He’s expected to win the next presidential election with ease, thereby extending his rule through at least 2024 (when, conceivably, American voters could be choosing the successor to a two-term administration headed by either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump). 

Moreover, more than 18 months after opposition figure Boris Nemtsov was murdered just footsteps from the Kremlin, perhaps the most telling statistic was the drop in turnout — from around 60% in the 2011 parliamentary elections to just under 48% this year. That’s the lowest in a decade, even as reports emerged of ballot-stuffing and other dirty tricks that may have artificially boosted support for Putin’s United Russia. Turnout in Moscow and St. Petersburg, where opposition voices have traditionally been loudest, fell even more precipitously to well below 30%. Though the low turnout might have boosted the share of support that Putin and his allies won, it’s also the clearest sign of growing disenchantment with Putin’s regime and its record on the economy (which contracted by nearly 4% last year, and is expected to contract further in 2016) and on civil and political rights. Corruption, as usual, remains rampant, even if oligarchs no longer dominate the Russian economy as they did in the 1990s. 

Perhaps the most well-known opposition leader today, Alexei Navalny, a blogger who was at the heart of the 2011 protests, has been notably quiet (with his own ‘Progress Party’ banned from the election), though he is expected to contest the 2018 presidential vote — at least, if he’s not banned or imprisoned.

As a depressed number of Russian voters cast ballots in Sunday's parliamentary vote, president Vladimir Putin seems to have the upper hand in the cat-and-mouse game with Russia's long-suffering liberal opposition. (TASS)
As a depressed number of Russian voters cast ballots in Sunday’s parliamentary vote, president Vladimir Putin seems to have the upper hand in the cat-and-mouse game with Russia’s long-suffering liberal opposition. (TASS)

Notably, it was the first election since 2003 in which half (225) of the Duma’s seats were determined in single-member constituencies, with the other half determined by party-list proportional representation as in recent elections. Though United Russia won just 140 of the 225 proportional seats, it took 203 of the single-member constituency seats, which undoubtedly contributed to its 105-deputy gain on Sunday. One such new United Russia deputy is Vitaly Milonov, a St. Petersburg native who has battled against LGBT rights for years, including a fight to introduce a law in the local city parliament in St. Petersburg banning so-called ‘gay propaganda.’ (For what it’s worth, Russian authorities today censored one of the most popular gay news websites in the country).

For the Kremlin, though there’s some risk that the new constituency-elected deputies could be more independent-minded than party-list deputies, it’s a risk balanced by the massive supermajority that Putin now commands in the Duma.

Conceivably, as Moscow’s economic woes grow, there’s nothing to stop Putin and his allies from moving the scheduled presidential election to 2017 — and there are signs that Putin plans to do exactly that. (The weekend’s parliamentary elections were moved forward to September from an earlier plan to hold them in December, scrambling opposition efforts).

The elections came just a month after Putin replaced a longtime ally, Sergei Ivanov, as his chief of staff, a sign that the Kremlin is already looking beyond the next presidential race to what would be Putin’s fourth term in office (not counting the additional period from 2008 to 2012 when Putin’s trusted ally Dmitri Medvedev served as president, with Putin essentially running the country as prime minister).

Anti-gay crusader Vitaly Milonov won a member constituency race in St. Petersburg. (RIA)
Anti-gay crusader Vitaly Milonov won a member constituency race in St. Petersburg. (RIA)

For Putin, the flawed parliamentary vote also comes at a crucial time for Russia’s role in the international order. Increasingly at odds with NATO, Putin thumbed his nose at American and European officials when he annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, then helped instigate a civil war in eastern Ukraine that continues even today. Increasingly, Putin believes that Russia has a geopolitical responsibility to all Russian-speaking people, even those outside Russia’s borders, complicating relations with several former Soviet states. Putin has also stepped up Russian military assistance to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, providing crucial support against Sunni-dominated militias in Aleppo and elsewhere — even as Russian and U.S. officials try to extend a ceasefire in the country’s now five-year civil war.

Moreover, though the Russian parliamentary elections are hardly front-page international news, the results are relevant to the 2016 US presidential election, in which Russian influence and cyberattacks have played a prominent role. As Republican nominee Donald Trump continues to praise Putin as a ‘strong leader,’ it’s important to note that Putin’s strength comes in large part from a brutal disregard for the rule of law and the liberal and democratic values that have, for over two centuries, been a fundamental bedrock of American politics and governance. To the extent that the next president of the United States has to deal with Putin’s ‘strength,’ it will be derived in part from a parliamentary victory yesterday that bears no resemblance to the kind of democracy practiced in the United States today, but through a mix of authoritarian force and coercion.  Continue reading Putin wins Russian parliamentary elections despite economic woes

The idea of a nuclear war with Russia is absolutely crazy


As if timed to coincide with this week’s NATO summit in Wales, which could mark the most important gathering of Western allies since the end of the Cold War, US-based commentary this week took a huge leap forward in its assessment of the Russian threat — though not necessarily in a way that’s incredible rational.Russia Flag Icon

Call it the ‘underpants gnome’ theory of understanding Russia today:

Russian aggression in Ukraine + ????? = World War III!

But even as a ceasefire takes effect today between the Ukrainian military and the Russian-backed separatists based in Donetsk in eastern Ukraine, based on a plan put forward earlier this week by none other than Russian president Vladimir Putin and brokered by talks hosted by increasingly nervous officials in Belarus, US writers are nevertheless openly contemplating the audacious notion of a potential Russian nuclear strike. Continue reading The idea of a nuclear war with Russia is absolutely crazy

To ы or not to ы, Zhirinivosky asks — as Kazakhstan, central Asia worry


Lest you think that Russia’s favorite crazy uncle doesn’t have anything to say about the latest standoff between Russia and the West, failed presidential candidate and ultranationalist loudmouth Vladimir Zhirinovsky has some choice theories about what’s holding Russia back these days — and he’s been on quite a roll in the last month or so.kazakhstanRussia Flag Icon

It’s been nearly two years since his donkey-flogging stunt during the almost-risible Russian presidential election. Though Zhirinovsky (pictured above won just 6.2% of the vote in that race, it amounts to nearly 4.5 million Russians that have stood by the colorful demagogue since he rose to Russian politics in the mid-1990s.

Not surprisingly, Zhirinovsky believes that Viktor Yanukovich remains the rightful president of Ukraine, and he urged Russia to send troops into Ukraine to support Yanukovich’s claim to the Ukrainian presidency.  For the record, Zhirinovsky supports the right of Crimea to join Russia, too. (Maybe that’s because in January 2013, Zhirinovsky was pelted with pickled cabbage salad on a visit to Kiev by a woman who attacked the flamboyant politician as a ‘Ukrainophobe.’)

But the most curious attacks recently have come with respect to another area of Russia’s ‘near-abroad.’  Last month, Zhirinovsky called for Russia, in essence, to annex five entire countries — Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan — as Russia’s ‘Central Asian Federal Region,’ with a capital that should be known as ‘Verny,’ a Russian word for Almaty, Kazakstan’s largest city (and the city where Zhirinovsky himself was born and grew up).  Even more mystifying is Zhirinovsky’s attack on the Russian letter ‘ы.’  It’s an odd sound — it’s a vowel not unlike the English ‘y,’ though the sound is apparently very difficult for non-native Russian (and other Eurasian language) speakers:

Zhirinovsky says he wants the letter removed from the Russian alphabet, calling it a “nasty Asiatic” import.  The vowel came to the Russian language from the Mongols, Zhirinovsky was quoted as telling the State Duma on March 12.

“Only animals make this sound, ‘ы- ы,'” he said, adding that the regular “и” (“i”) is enough for the Russian alphabet.  “Ы” doesn’t exist in any other European language, argued Zhirinovsky. “This primitive, Asiatic sound is the reason people don’t like us in Europe,” he told lawmakers.

The five central Asian nations each used to be republics in the former Soviet Union, and all of them have relatively strong ties with Russia. Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are candidates to join Russian president Vladimir Putin’s much-feted Eurasian Union, which is meant to be a regional counterweight to the European Union (and also to the economic power of India and China). Continue reading To ы or not to ы, Zhirinivosky asks — as Kazakhstan, central Asia worry

Putin ally Sobyanin holds on for full term as Moscow mayor in race against Navalny


In case you missed it (and there’s much more important news coming from Russia this week), Moscow mayor Sergei Sobyanin has won reelection heartily in what will be the biggest election this year in Russia.MoscowRussia Flag Icon

But don’t get your hopes up — Sobyanin’s reelection has long been certain since announcing what amounts to snap election earlier this summer.

Sobyanin, Moscow’s acting mayor since 2010 and formerly Russian president Vladimir Putin’s chief of staff, easily defeated opposition activist Alexei Navalny by a margin of 51.37% to 27.24%, just enough to avoid a runoff between the two candidates.

Sobyanin, who is Siberian (so not a native Muscovite), replaced longtime Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov, who was fired by then-president Dmitry Medvedev in October 2010.  Sobyanin has demonstrated more energy as Moscow’s new mayor, and many Muscovites compare him to Luzhkov in his first years as mayor in the early 1990s — Sobyanin has worked to install bike lanes, develop parks and reduce traffic congestion within Moscow.

So even while Navalny demands a recount of the vote (and it’s suspicious that Sobyanin won 1.37% more than he needed to avoid a direct runoff with Navalny), there’s a credible basis to the notion that Sobyanin commands the support of a majority of Muscovite voters.  Though there’s not much evidence of fraud in an election that had elements of competitiveness, Sobyanin’s campaign controlled the state media and used other advantages to enhance benefits of incumbency.

That hasn’t stopped Navalny, who is already demanding a runoff on the basis of alternative surveys of Sunday’s vote:

Exit polls conducted by the opposition leader’s campaign office suggest that Navalny has claimed 35.6 per cent of the vote, with Sobyanin receiving 46 percent. The opposition candidate announced that there will be a second round of voting in the mayoral election. He vowed to call on his supporters “to take to the streets” if it does not take place.

What’s most striking is that Navalny did so well — the 37-year-old blogger and anti-corruption crusader started off the race as an asterisk.  When the race began in June, Navalny was polling less than 10% in surveys, but that was before the Russian government harassed Navalny in myriad ways, most notably through a conviction of embezzlement on charges that Navalny stole around $500,000 out of a timber company in Kirov.  As a popular uproar against Putin surged in protest of what many Russian believe was a politically motivated trial, the government provisionally released Navalny, allowing him to continue his campaign.  But Navalny faces imprisonment if his conviction isn’t overturned, which could sideline him in Russia’s next legislative elections for the State Duma (Госуда́рственная ду́ма) in 2016 or even the next presidential race in early 2018.  Continue reading Putin ally Sobyanin holds on for full term as Moscow mayor in race against Navalny

Putin ally Sobyanin maneuvers to hold onto power in Moscow in snap September election


Though it’s sometimes easy to forget in the post-Cold War era, Moscow is still the most populous city in Europe and one of the five most populous cities in the world — it not only Russia’s capital, but Russia’s central city for power, politics and finance. Russia Flag IconMoscow

That makes the city’s mayor one of the most powerful official in the entire Russian federation and, with snap elections due for Moscow’s mayor in September, it gives some of the most unpredictable voters in Russia the opportunity to make a rare popular statement with five years to go until another presidential election, despite fears that the vote may be titled in favor of the incumbent mayor, an ally of Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Earlier in June, Moscow’s current mayor Sergei Sobyanin announced his resignation, despite the fact that his term runs through 2014, setting up snap elections for September 8 that seem increasingly likely to be an easy victory for Sobyanin as his most viable rivals have either stepped aside or face an uphill challenge even making it to the ballot.  Critics immediately called Sobyanin’s resignation and the early elections a ruse to avoid real competition, thereby cementing control over Russia’s largest city within Putin’s grasp.

Elections for Moscow’s mayor are themselves a new phenomenon, given that then-president Dmitry Medvedev and the Russian Duma only reintroduced direct elections for governors and other positions last year, after president Vladimir Putin suspended gubernatorial elections in 2004 on the somewhat dubious rationale of national security and anti-terror efforts.  Under the new direct elections law, however, new hurdles have been introduced that require candidates to have the support of other lawmakers in the region.  Given that Putin’s United Russia (Еди́ная Росси́я) is by far the dominant political party in Russia, that means Putin will continue to have at least some influence on gubernatorial and local elections.

Moreover, earlier this year, Putin pushed through another law allowing regions to avoid direct elections through an alternative process whereby each party in a regional legislature submits three candidates to the Russian president, the Russian president chooses three finalists, and the regional legislature elects a governor from among the three finalists. (You can’t make this up!)

The man who was most widely anticipated to challenge Sobyanin — former presidential candidate and billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov — opted out of the mayoral race in mid-June when it was clear that he would not be able to meet the legal requirements in time for the snap race.  Prokhorov, who formed Civic Platform (Гражданская Платформа), a liberal political party in June 2012 in the wake of his relatively successful presidential race.  But Prokhorov, who is the owner of the New Jersey Nets professional basketball team in the United States, would have run afoul of requirements that require his assets to be repatriated prior to serving as Moscow’s mayor. Continue reading Putin ally Sobyanin maneuvers to hold onto power in Moscow in snap September election

Kremlin Kops or Keystone Kops?

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?

Zhirinovsky vs. the donkey

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.

From a 1994 article:

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.

Putinocracy, 2.0

Vladimir Putin has penned an article in Kommersant today outlining his vision of Russian democracy.  Just try to make it through the opening lines and not laugh:

Real democracy cannot be created overnight and cannot be a carbon copy of some external example. Society must be completely ready for using democratic mechanisms. The majority of people must see themselves as citizens of their country, ready to devote their attention, time and efforts on a regular basis to taking part in the process of governance. In other words, democracy is effective only when people are ready to invest something in it.

If ever a public official neither willing nor ready to invest in democracy, it’s Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin. Continue reading Putinocracy, 2.0