Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin could still think that the claims of electoral fraud in his country are part of a U.S. plot to oust him from power, just because he is superior to the White House in several ways.
After Secretary of State Hillary Clinton harshly criticized the way in which Russian parliamentary elections were conducted, on Wednesday the Wall Street Journal came out with an in-depth analysis indicating that widespread fraud likely occurred during that vote. Were it not for the massive demonstrations on Saturday in Moscow, we might think we had returned to the days of the Cold War. Putin, who has chosen to emulate Leonid Brezhnev rather than Mikhail Gorbachev, only contributes to the comparison.
Two questions are currently of interest: Will Moscow carry out the reforms that President Dmitry Medvedev (himself a puppet) has mentioned to calm the demonstrators? Could this be the beginning of the end for Mr. Putin?
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It is hard to imagine the Kremlin will nullify the election results, even in problematic areas such as Moscow, St. Petersburg, Volgograd and Astrakhan in the Caucasus region. The presidential election will take place, as planned, on March 4, without any real reform beforehand. Putin, who still enjoys vast popular support, will likely win – but only in the second round, which will serve to further undermine his image of perfection.
However, it is important to note that in Russia today there really is no alternative to Putin. During his 12 years in power, Putin ensured this would be the case. The sign from Saturday's demonstration reading, "Goodbye, Putin," will just have to wait.
The end of Putin's rule is much more complex. His problem not so much with the demonstrators (communists, liberals, anarchists and nationalists) who lack both a united front and leadership (blogger Alexei Navalny and former Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin notwithstanding), but rather with the political and economic elite in his country. Russian oligarchs are suddenly wondering if Putin is capable of ruling at least until 2024 as planned.
In the meantime, Putin is benefitting from Russia's vast resources, mostly oil revenues, which allow him to reward his subjects. Putin's nightmare is not the demonstrators, but rather a drop in oil prices.
Even people like Boris Pasternak, Leonid Tolstoy, Andrei Sakharov and most recently, Gorbachev, sprouted in Czarist and Communist Russia. They did not hesitate to associate themselves with values such as liberty and human rights. Perhaps that is why Putin does not seem particularly bothered by lawyer and protest mouthpiece Alexei Navalny.
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