Perceptions versus reality in the Russian elections

Last Updated: Tue, Dec 06, 2011 19:11 hrs

Stratfor Senior Eurasia Analyst Lauren Goodrich examines international & domestic reactions to Russia’s preliminary election results.

With votes still being counted, Russia’s Central Election Commission announced yesterday that the ruling United Russia party was projected to take 49.54 per cent of the vote—which means that the party, which is run by Premier Vladimir Putin, will still hold majority of seats when the parties that did not meet threshold fall away from consideration.

As Stratfor has said, United Russia’s hit has been orchestrated as part of a large smoke-and-mirrors campaign called “managed democracy” in which Russia’s election system and parliament look more democratic, while Putin still holds full control behind the curtain.

This theatre continued to play out today where the Kremlin is possibly purging top United Russia figures — like State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov — from his position, in order to restructure United Russia after its slide from dominating Duma. Russian President Dmitri Medvedev came out and said that such a restructuring was normal for any democratic political party, who needs to constantly change in order to meet the needs of the people.

So the Kremlin is continuing to play out its intended perception of United Russia acting as a real democratic group, instead of the authoritarian party of the past.

But what is interesting is that despite United Russia still holding onto majority power, Western media has been calling these elections a major hit to Putin’s power. The West also came out against the elections in general, with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton saying that she was “seriously concerned” how fair the elections were.

It is to be expected that the Russian elections most likely had some fraudulent practices — as is common in most Russian elections. However, even if United Russia garnered less vote than is being projected, Putin still has control and heavy influence over the other political parties projected to get into Duma —the Communist Party, Just Russia, and the Liberal Democratic Party. Even yesterday, the leaders of Just Russia and the Communist Party said that they would work on many issues with United Russia—even using words like “coalition”, showing that they are not really opposition parties.

But what the West is trying to push is the idea that Putin is not as strong of a leader as he was in the past—true or not. The West (especially the US) has to push this idea because Putin is set to return to the Russian presidency in March. Putin’s return has set many countries on edge — particularly those that are on the frontline between Russia’s sphere of influence and the West’s, mainly Central Europe.

The US is looking to guarantee that it is still a strong partner to protect those countries — but with many physical guarantees (like missile defence) still years away, the US is currently looking to ensure that Russia isn’t as strong as may be perceived. And in order to do this, the US is hitting at the perception of Putin and his hold over his own country.

Reprinted with permission from 

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