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Russian Elections 2018

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Navalny claimed that the state-owned pollsters VCIOM were artificially inflating Putin’s figures, so his Anti-Corruption Fund will start releasing their own weekly polls, the first of which has just been released in Navalny’s latest video address.

Reminder that Putin got 66% in the last FOM poll, and 73% in the last VCIOM poll.

FBK poll:

poll-fbk-elections-2018

Oops, what a fail: Putin still gets 62%.

poll-fbk-elections-2018-prediction

And this is their prediction, which accounts for undecideds, in which Putin gets 78% – which is, incidentally, perfectly in line with my own old-standing prediction.

Meanwhile, as per my last post, this confirms that Grudinin seems to have stopped making gains relative to Zhirinovsky in the past week, having instead merely converged with him.

 
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Turnout might be much lower than even the record low (60%) than I posited.

Leonid Bershidsky in a recent article:

There are indications that turnout could be lower than ever. Levada Center predicted 52 to 54 percent in December, and the St. Petersburg Politics Foundation, a respected independent think tank, came out with a 52 percent forecast earlier this month, putting expected turnout in Moscow and St. Petersburg well below 40 percent. That would be a disaster for the Kremlin: Even the 2004 election, the most boring in history since not a single political heavyweight dared run against Putin, drew 64.3 percent of registered voters.

Campaigning from Putin has been lackluster to say the least.

Main development is that the campaign website has finally been launched ( http://putin2018.ru/ ). At the time Bershidsky wrote his post, it didn’t even have a program.

That has since been remedied, though the “program” as such consists of a dozen random sound bites (fully open the Crimea bridge at the end of the year; regulate cryptocurrencies; create a network of educational centers for gifted children).

A couple of new polls since my last update.

poll-fom-russia-elections-2018-grudinin

1. First FOM poll to include Pavel Grudinin (KPRF) gives him 6.2%, translating to around 7.6% adjusting for undecideds, spoiled ballots, etc.

Other candidates: Putin – 65.9%, Zhirinovsky – 6.0%, Sobchak – 1.5%. (The others probably won’t be registered).

fom-poll-russia-elections-2018

FOM is also great in that it usually gives considerably demographic detail [xls].

Some takeaways:

a) Reinforces a point I have often made that Communists are dying out, while nationalists are gaining, as is the pattern in much of the rest of the world. Zhirinovsky gets 2% amongst boomers, but 9% amongst the 18-45 year olds; Grudinin gets 7% amongst the boomers, but only 2% amongst the 18-30 year olds.

b) Women are 73% for Putin, vs. 57% of men, while Grudinin and Zhirinovsky are both about twice as popular amongst men as women. As I said: Female political conformism.

c) US-based pro-Western elections analyst Alexander Kireev notes that Grudinin is performing really well relative to the elections in 2004, the only other election in the age of Putin when the KPRF fielded someone who was not Zyuganov. In the first FOM poll in 2004, Kharitonov got a mere 1.5%, but went on to get 13.7% of the vote (15% adjusting for fraud).

Considering that 69% of Russians still haven’t heard of Grudinin – a pretty lame affair, considering he is now the second place candidate in the polling for an election that is a mere two months away – there is room of him to grow further.

However, I would caution against projecting some sort of exponential trendline:

i) The Communist electorate has been inexorably reduced by the demographic grindstone – it is smaller today than in 2004.

ii) Whereas 69% of Russians were hearing about Grudinin for the first time in this poll, it was only 36% amongst Communist voters.

It was LDPR (72%) and United Russia (78%) voters who were most ignorant about him.

According to this poll, some 53% of Communist voters and 38% of Fair Russia voters say they will consider voting for Grudinin, versus only 15% of LDPR voters and 9% of United Russia voters.

Consequently, it is likely that the majority of his core electorate already knows about him.

poll-vciom-russia-elections-2018

2. That this is so is suggested by a new VCIOM poll.

According to them, Grudinin actually peaked on Jan 10, when 7.2% of Russians said they’d vote for Grudinin if elections were held on the nearest Sunday (or 7.6% amongst the firmly decided) versus 4.7% for Zhirinovsky (or 4.2% amongst the firmly decided).

However, as of this poll Jan 15, Grudinin and Zhirinovsky had both converged to 6.1%.

 
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After the surprise Communist candidacy of Pavel Grudinin, the main question was always going to be whether he would merely inherit Zyuganov’s ratings – or climb well above them by invigorating Russians with the prospect of a new face in politics.

We had to wait a couple of weeks longer than usual due to the New Year holidays, but we now have our answer with the release of the first elections poll to include him.

vciom-poll-russia-elections

Here is how the numbers now look according to VCIOM:

  • Putin – 81.1%;
  • Zhirinovsky (nationalist) – 4.2%;
  • Grudinin (communist) – 7.6% (Zyuganov had been at 3.3%);
  • Sobchak (liberal) – 0.7%
  • other people (mostly libs) – 1.6%
  • will spoil ballot – 0.4%
  • can’t say – 4.4%

It is also worth noting that the percentage of people saying they will “definitely” come to vote fell from 70% to 67%. This might be in response to Navalny’s call to boycott the vote.

Comments:

1. Unless he turns out to be very unlikeable on the TV cameras in the next couple of months, or experiences some other major scandal, then Grudinin – contrary to my expectations before this poll – will almost certainly do better than Zhirinovsky after all.

2. Incidentally, our resident Ukrainophiles should be happy with this development – in his recent debate with Zhirinovsky, Grudinin as much as implied that the “Russian World” was equivalent to fascism, and for all intents and purposes defended the Ukraine’s new language laws (“we should not fall to provocations”). This comports with the gathering evidence that he is the most pro-Ukrainian candidate in this race apart from the liberal candidate Sobchak, who, like Navalny, does not even unambiguously recognize the Crimea as part of Russia. Tellingly, in one of his recent shows, Grudinin was the only candidate to whom Navalny showed a somewhat positive disposition, even if he still rejected him as a “real” candidate.

And this was the guy nominated not just by the Left Front and the KPRF, but also by one of the more prominent national-patriotic organizations (NPSR). No wonder Igor Strelkov quit soon afterwards in disgust.

3. Renewed prediction [old predictions]:

  • Putin – 78% (down from 80%)
  • Zhirinovsky – 7% (down from 8%)
  • Grudinin – 13% (up from Zyuganov’s 7%)
  • Sobchak – 3%

Due to the apparent excitement around the new face, turnout might also be slightly higher than the minimally low 60% I was expecting at the start of the year.

I continue to very much doubt the kremlins will be able to fulfill the first part of their “70/70″ goal (70% turnout, 70% Putin), unless they really go overboard with the fraud this year.

Regardless, his candidacy appears to have been a great play by the Presidential Administration, raising interest in the elections, deflating the impact of Navalny’s calls to boycott them, and presenting no real threat to the Kremlin while sowing further division into the nationalist ranks.

 
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Conventional wisdom on the Russian elections:

Positive interpretation: Russian elections give Russians more real ideological choice (conservative centrists, Communists, nationalists, liberals) than American ones (conservative neoliberals, liberal neoliberals).

Negative interpretation: Putin and the party of power are assured of winning through overwhelming administrative resources, state media, and a side of electoral fraud. The other parties coordinate their candidates and campaigns with the Presidential Administration. It’s a meaningless farce.

There are elements of truth to both (though as we’ll see they’re also both substantially wrong).

Still, there’s one general, undisputed point – United Russia, Putin, “The Kremlin” wins. It has done so uninterruptedly since 2000 (or since 1991 so far as the Presidency is concerned).

So what’s the point of voting?

Think of the Russian political system as a series of concentric circles.

map-metro-2033

Map of Metro 2033.
Polis = The Kremlin.
Difference from the book/video game: The Red Line commies and Fourth Reich nationalists share the circle line with Hanseatic League neolibs.
Political marginals (anarchists, Neo-Nazis, The Cult of the Great Worm, etc.) are all located beyond the circle line.

1. The Kremlin and its denizens are in the center (Putin, the silovarchs, the Ozera coop, etc., etc.), much like the medieval fortress is literally in the center of Moscow.

The majority of Russians are basically fine with this system. Its approval rate can be proxied by Putin’s approval rate, which has consistently ranged from 60%-80% during 2000-2017. Academic research shows that these ratings are perfectly “deep” and legitimate. It is periodically “validated” through Putin’s and United Russia’s electoral triumphs.

2. The systemic opposition is arraigned around the Kremlin, and is in turn split up into three segments – the Communists, the nationalists, and the liberals.

While the Communists and nationalists massively outnumber the liberals, the liberals have by far the greater mobilization potential on the streets, the most formidable human capital, and the most significant support from the West.

Relations with the center are civil. Some openly coordinate with the Kremlin, and are even induced into its halls, though rarely into the innermost sanctums (e.g. the nationalist Rogozin, most of the economic liberal bloc). Some oppose the Kremlin, but only from within the system, and tend to defer to it when it insists – this functionally describes all the current Duma parties. However, it is not inconceivable that they would grow buntive in a crisis situation – the closest example we have of this is during the 2011 opposition protests, when Fair Russia briefly showed tantalizing signs of having drifted towards “serious” opposition.

In the 2018 Presidential elections, they are represented thus: Communists – Grudinin; nationalists – Zhirinovsky; liberals – probably Sobchak*.

Why would you vote for any of them? Certainly not because they have any chances of winning.

However, the Kremlin is very much interested in remaining popular. They don’t pay any less attention to opinion polls than classical Western democracies, even if their goals are different (winning elections in the West; detecting simmering discontent in Russia and maximizing the Kremlin’s results in “validating” referendums, i.e. “elections”). To do this successfully, the Kremlin must not only maintain some minimal degree of competence at running the country, but it must also try to remain at the ideological center of the Russian belief space, so as not to allow too many dissatisfied voters to cluster at any particular ideological node. It does this by shifting policy towards that node.

Here is how this translates in practical Russian politics:

A vote for “The Kremlin”, i.e. Putin (/United Russia) = a vote of confidence in the regime.

Grudinin (/KPRF) = shift Left on economic policy and nationality policy.

Zhirinovsky (/LDPR) = shift Right on nationality policy.

Sobchak (/liberals) = shift Left on social policy and on nationality policy; shift Right on economic policy.

In some ways, the resulting equilibrium is remarkably democratic – a sort of “coherent extrapolated volition” of the distilled will of the Russian people (well, unless oligarch interests, institutional resistance, embedded ideological blinkers, etc. get in the way; in Russia as elsewhere, politics is the art of the possible).

moscow-deus-ex

The future’s bright, the future’s black and orange.

This explains the paradox of why I am likely to vote for Zhirinovsky in 2018, even though I consider Putin to be the objectively superior Russian ruler (considerable dissatisfaction with some of his policies regardless). The way I see it, I will merely be doing my very small part to help nudge Russia in the direction of the Russian National State, even though I have no great expectations that it will reach that destination under the Kremlin’s current occupants.

3. The outermost circle contains the political outcasts. This includes figures who are fundamentally opposed to the Kremlin, which doesn’t hesitate to return them the favor.

This includes the non-systemic liberal opposition, which is now completely dominated by Navalny; former doyens such as Khodorkovsky, Milov, Kasparov, etc., etc. have long faded into insignificance. It includes anti-Kremlin nationalists – pro-Ukrainian nationalists, Neo-Nazis, National Bolsheviks back when Eduard Limonov was still in the opposition. It includes genuinely revolutionary leftists such as Sergey Udaltsov/Left Front, and various anarchist groups such as Pussy Riot.

Do they act outside the system because there is no political space for them, or is there no political space for them because they act outside the system? I suppose this is a chicken and egg question.

They reject playing by the Kremlin’s rules, and just as the Kremlin doesn’t balk at operating in a “prerogative” fashion over and above the “constitutional” state**, so these marginal players assert the same privileges for themselves.

If they succeed, the resulting outcome will likely be termed a “color revolution.”

However, the very advantage of running a prerogative state in the first place is that it is not absolutely obligated to deal with these characters by the book.

For instance, by disallowing them from running in the elections on the basis of a fraud conviction marred by irregularities (not to mention dwarfed by the scale of the stealing going on every day in the Kremlin itself).

What do you, as a non-systemic oppositionist, do in this situation?

Color revolution isn’t a realistic choice – not when the Kremlin has an 80% approval rating and the support of all major institutions, including the siloviki.

You could also choose to support the “approved” politician whose values align most closely with your own. However, you don’t think she represents and articulates those values well, you think she is a puppet of a man whom you despite, and you firmly believe that you are the only person who can get the job done properly anyway.

Well, you call a boycott of the elections, and start planning on how to discredit them. As Navalny has just done.

I doubt this will be effective, at least in the short-term. Ordinary Russians don’t care – Kremlin approval is around 80%. The West no longer even pretends to respect Russian elections, but what can they do beyond what they are already doing? Turnout will be perhaps 5% points lower than it otherwise would be, and will hurt the liberals themselves more than anybody (Sobchak shares essentially the same electorate with Navalny, spurious claims that nationalists support him to any significant degree regardless). Hardly relevant for a political system where the average level of electoral fraud typically exceeds 5% points.

* I have yet to write in detail about Sobchak’s program, which was released a few days ago, but frankly, I’m not sure there’s any point. Main points: Major changes to the Constitution; gay marriage; marijuana legalization; a ban on justifying Stalin’s repressions; another referendum on the Crimea. Unelectable, of course. But if you want to nudge Russia in that general direction, no reason not to vote for her, unless you think Navalny’s strategy is better.

** To borrow some terms from Richard Sakwa’s “The Crisis of Russian Democracy.”

 
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Latest development: The KPRF has nominated 57 year old Pavel Grudinin as its candidate.

This is the first time that the KPRF has gone with someone other than old warhorse Zyuganov since 2004, when Nikolay Kharitonov got an unimpressive 13.8% in the Presidential elections.

pavel-grudinin

Coming from a blue-collar background, Grudinin graduated from an agricultural engineering college in 1982, and has since worked on the Lenin State Farm – as head of a mechanical workshop from 1982-89, deputy director from 1990-95, and director to today. During this period, the Lenin State Farm transitioned from state ownership to a cooperative owned by its workers, and successfully sells apples and strawberries to Moscow.

He has been involved in politics since 1997, when he was first elected deputy to the Moscow oblast Duma from 1997-2011. He was a “trusted man” of Vladimir Putin in the 2000 Presidential elections and a member of United Russia until 2010, when he left and joined the KPRF instead he has been an independent ever since but consistently supported by the KPRF.

In 2011, he made the following comments in an interview with the magazine Russian Reporter:

Apartments in the Lenin State Farm are significantly cheaper than in Moscow, but not everyone can settle there. Grudinin, as the head of a state within a state, conducts a harsh national policy, closing the borders to migrants.

Grudinin: “Maybe this is nonsense, I never did this before, but now I do. I tell the investors who build apartments to look at ethnicity. If you sell apartments to the wrong people, I will not work with you. There is such an understanding – face control, where an investor, before buying the apartment, personally talks with everyone. Ivanov – great. Zagorulko – great. Lukashenko – okay. Arutyunyan – think again. Even if we get less money as a result. I am not Rogozin, I don’t think he’s right, but I can see we have a problem. We need to restrict entry. Why do we need so many Uzbeks? Buy machines, and they replace a dozen Uzbeks. There’s be ten times fewer janitors, but everyone will have a vacuum cleaner!”

Interviewer: “Why do you not like Uzbeks?”

Grudinin: “I understand that this is a problem. Ethnic conflict is the future of our country. It’s already clear. Children come to school, not knowing the Russian language. People from the entire aul arrive arrive here. When there is a fight on the playground a white and a black fight, the whites flee if the black wins. But if the white wins, then all the blacks gang up on the white. When there are two of them, it’s not so bad, but there’s a problem when there’s many of them.”

“We had one case a year ago when a ten year old boy crashed his bike into a girl and broke her lip. She got fixed up in hospital and her grandmother went to talk to the boy’s mother. She smashed her door closed. One would think that that would be the end of the incident, but no. The mother phoned her husband, who gathered twenty Azeris, found the girl’s father and grandfather. Afterwards they said that if there were any further problems with their children, they would kill them. On finding out about this, I looked at the CCTV footage, and discovered that the apartment where they live is rented out to one of our farm’s employees. I summoned him, and told him that he has a week to clear them all out – or I will fire you, and your problems won’t end there. And I then phoned the police chef and told him, “Strike up a criminal case and carry it through to the end. Do not take money.” Because this is a bad thing. If our people get drunk, they will go beat them up. And I will have have such a huge mess on my hands. Everyone will suffer.”

Unfortunately, Grudinin’s former colleagues in United Russia, perhaps unhappy with his defection, decided that this interview was extremist and filed a complaint. It’s worth noting that Grudinin didn’t stand by his words, insisting instead that the journalists had quoted him out of context. But that didn’t prevent him from being taken off the ballot box in the 2011 Moscow oblast Duma elections. An appeals court cleared him a couple of years later.

He failed to get into the State Duma as a KPRF deputy in the 2016 Duma elections.

Grudinin was nominated as the single candidate of the Left in a series of primaries organized by Sergey Udaltsov’s Left Front in November 2017. He was also recommend as Prime Minister of Russia by the Second Congress of the National-Patriotic Forces of Russia (NPSR), under President Yury Boldyrev, on December 22. Soon after, his candidacy won a secret vote in the KPRF, and he was officially nominated by Zyuganov and unanimously supported by the Central Committee of the KPRF.

Pavel Grudinin’s platform

On looking through his campaign advertising, one gets the impression that they are looking for some sort of Red/White reconciliation (or what some rather less flatteringly call the Red-Brown alliance).

For instance, here’s one of the images posted in a VK support group. Though they could do with a professional designer.

grudinin-campaign

He seems to have normal relations with the LDPR. In 2012, Grudinin was photographed with LDPR leader Zhirinovsky at the 2012 strawberry harvest at the Lenin State Farm. This was, apparently, not a one-off.

But that’s about where this dallying with nationalists ends.

Writing today for the pro-Putin/patriotic but not really nationalist Vzglyad, Olga Tukhanina went so far as to compare him with Navalny and Boris Yeltsin, but with less rhetorical talent.

Paraphrasing his replies:

Where to get money? Nationalize big enterprises and introduce a progressive tax on the rich (but couldn’t clarify who counted as rich).

What is your economic program? Don’t know, but we’ll gather a team of the best economists, and they’ll write one.

How to get rid of corruption? Lee Kuan Yew managed, he even jailed two of his friends. Who are the two friends you’re going to jail? Do they know about this? My friends are all clean. Then the Singapore variant won’t work, jokes one of the hosts.

We should be friends with the Ukraine. But what if the Ukraine doesn’t want to be friends with us? Then he’ll consult with the Communists and think of something. (My friendly note for Grudinin: The Ukraine banned its Communist Party).

Yes, Crimea is Russia. But what to do with those in the West who think otherwise? Don’t know, I’ll have a Foreign Minister for this.

Russia should end with its imperial ambitions. Better to produce things instead.

We should bring back the Politburo.

In fairness, he has been personally involved in helping with humanitarian supplies to the LDNR, and says he will continue with them indefinitely.

grudinin-on-ukraineHowever, his stances on the Ukraine are if anything even more schizophrenic than the Kremlin’s:

  1. We will continue being friends with the Ukraine
  2. The Ukrainians are a brotherly people
  3. The drunk Poroshenko is not the Ukrainian people
  4. Even a bad peace is better than any war
  5. If the Russian Federation gets busy with its own problems and improves itself, then its neighbors will want to be friends with it

He might want to be friends with the Ukraine, but they certainly don’t want to be friends with him. Not least since he intends to continue economically supporting the LDNR. At least the liberals’ position on unequivocally pulling all support for the Donbass make sense. The idea of “brotherly peoples” is a fading Soviet trope – either they are a subset of the Russian nation, as Russian nationalists insist, and even Putin has at times said; or they are just another neighboring nation, as liberals and the West insist. Of course Poroshenko is not the Ukrainian people – he is about 25% of them; another 25% support the overtly nationalist Tymoshenko, perhaps 10% are hardcore ultranationalists, 15%-20% are genuine Europeanist liberals. The more relevant information is that only 15% can be considered Russia sympathizers.

Summary

This is what Pavel Grudinin’s platform essentially boils down to:

  • Political and foreign policy illiteracy at the highest level. “That’s what my Foreign Minister is for.”
  • Doesn’t even have a platform yet (unlike Zhirinovsky, Navalny).
  • The Venezualization of the Russian economy.
  • Strong position on immigration, but with no credible assurance that he’ll actually stand by his words if things get inconvenient.
  • No indication on his stance on freedom of speech. The KPRF formally opposes the removal of Article 282. Perhaps Grudinin has a different opinion since he was actually the subject of a politically motivated prosecution under “anti-extremism” legislation, but that’s not something to count on until and unless he clarifies his position.
  • Communist rhetoric against Russian imperialism converging with liberal talking points, just as Egor Kholmogorov had predicted.*
  • Muh unitary anti-fascist Ukraine.
  • The restoration of the Politburo to cap it all off and mark the Communist Party’s final descent into complete and utter farce.

Response of Russian nationalists: Thanks but no thanks. As one of them noted in the comments to one of Egor Kholmogorov’s posts, he “offers the worst of both Communism and Russophobic liberalism (sovok + betrayal of Russians, and the permanent consolidation of Russia’s dismemberment)”. I think it’s safe to say that any Red-Brown alliance is dead in the water.

What is the electoral context?

People are already making comparisons with Alexander Lukashenko, who rose from collective farm director to President for Life in 1990′s Belarus.

This sort of “tough manager” (krepky hozyistvennik) shtick may have played well in 1990s Russia. But we’re approaching 2018. It isn’t going to fly now.**

Here’s one of the strongest trends in Russian politics: Communist voters are dying out.

As of the 2016 Duma elections, the KPRF was 2x popular as the LDPR amongst 60+ yo’s, whereas the exact reverse is true amongst 18-35 yo’s.***

It is also hard to see how heading a farm named specifically the founder of the Soviet state is going to be relevant in a country where the percentage of people saying Lenin was the “greatest man in history” has dropped from 72% in 1991 to 32% by 2017.

My interpretation:

1. The KPRF, led by a tired Zyuganov who clearly wants to retire, is making a last hail mary to remain relevant in a Russia whose youth doesn’t care a fig for Marxism-Leninism or the world anti-imperialist struggle. Grudinin appeals to both its core voters, and potentially, to some of the LDPR’s as well.

2. Considering that LDPR/Zhirinovsky has become the main locus of discontented voters it is quite possible that Grudinin’s candidacy was approved or even requested by the Presidential Administration.

Or both could be true, I suppose.

I don’t see Grudinin getting much more than Zyuganov would have got (i.e. around 7%).

Much will depend on the results of his debates with Zhirinovsky and Sobchak, but as was confirmed today, both of them are far better versed at rhetoric and performing on TV.

* From 12 Myths of the Bolshevik Revolution: “In reality, regardless of which question we consider, appeals to the Soviet experience are block brakes on our future progress. It is either a false alternative to the liberal solution, or it is the liberal solution. Therefore, it is of no surprise that we are hearing increasingly Bolshevik overtones in the rhetoric of our liberal cliques, for example, in the matter of anti-clericalism. The Zyuganov era of traditionalist-friendly Communism is coming to its inevitable end, and is becoming displaced by a new era of Communist liberalism, which is hostile to the Russian traditional values that are held in equal contempt by both liberals and conventional Communists.

** No matter how much Israel Shamir might wish it were otherwise.

*** As I have noted on several occasions, this developments in Western countries, such as the United States and France, where the elderly vote conservatives (Cruz/Jeb!, Fillon) but their grandchildren vote nationalist (Trump, Marine Le Pen). Adjust for Russia’s “conservatives” being Communists, are it all slides into place.

 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Communism, Politics, Russia, Russian Elections 2018 
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Big surprise. /s

Lots of boring and repetitive takes out there, so I’ll write about something different; maybe this too will be boring, but at least it’s probably unique.

Here is how three of the leading lights of the Russian nationalist movement, the Two Egors and Igor Strelkov, reacted to this news.

putin-regal

Egor Kholmogorov approves, as one might guess from the very title of his Tsargrad article: “Twenty years of peace.” This is, of course, a reference to Stolypin’s comments in 1909 on the state of the Russian Empire; ultimately, of course, it only got five. He notes that Putin came to power in a country that had been practically destroyed by two massive “social defaults,” the first one being the Bolshevik Revolution, and the second one the liberal reforms that undid its legacy. Each provoked a wave of Russophobic nihilism that denied Russians the right to their own existence.

Instead of a new utopian project, Putin gave Russia breathing room to recuperate itself economically, politically, and spiritually; today, “we see a Russia that is not only richer, better fed, stronger and more confident,” but also one “that is truer to its real self,” having rejected both “liberal globalism” and sidelined “the post-traumatic syndrome of neo-Bolshevism and neo-Stalinism.” Putin has proved an attentive pupil of Solzhenitsyn, who insisted that the best choice for Russia would be “calm authoritarianism, dedication to Russia’s Christian foundations, and putting the interests of the Russian people above that of any utopia.”

If there’s one thing to be regretful about, it is that Russians are still talking about “Presidential terms,” and in so doing paying their dues to a political system that is alien to their nature. But perhaps it is a positive testament to Putin’s gradualist spirit that he hasn’t done away with it.

putin-forever

Egor Prosvirnin has a rather dimmer opinion: “Another 6 years under the thumb of a pensioner who doesn’t use computers or the Internet. Another 6 years of new restrictions and idiotic criminal cases for posting images to Vkontakte. Another 6 years of paranoia and searching for spies and enemies… of trash-patriotism… of “clever plans” and 666D chess… of helping Syria, Sudan, and whoever else they find… of anti-intellectualism… of devouring the private economy and raising the state’s share of GDP in tandem with a lowering of social welfare… of neo-Soviet revanche… of war against russki fascism and our replacement with rossiyane… of multi-nationality and unrestricted immigration from Central Asia… of Latin Americanization and cultural degradation… of lies and offshore firms… of ever richer judo partners… of selling oil and importing hi-tech products… of blathering about moral values, while their real values are a London mansion… of this schizophrenic state where we are “fighting the West” but “sending our families to the West,” where the regime has “popular support” but “there exists the risk of a Maidan,” where there is “stability” but “no money, but you hold tight“… Another 6 years of Kadyrov… of Serdyukov… of Bobokulova… the Rotenbergs… the Minsk Accords… Mutkos… Medvedevs… SORM… FSB…”

Well, you get the point. Prosvirnin doesn’t like Putin or the Russian regime very much at all. And one can sympathize, I’d probably dislike him a lot more as well if I was to have my apartment searched and my computer seized, and my website blocked for “justifying the Islamic State” amongst other ludicrous accusations.

He comes to a pessimistic but grim conclusion: There is no chance of stopping Putin, nor of converting a fundamentally hostile elite to their side. As he clarifies in the comments in response to a question, even politics as such is useless, since the Kremlin simply refuses to register nationalist parties. Furthermore, he believes authoritarianism is only going to get worse: “In the past 20 years, the people in charge have decided on a strategy: Families and capital to the West, building a Venezuela here; or an Iran, if the population is sufficiently stupid to allow it; and North Korea in the worst case.” As such, with conventional politics out of the question, the nationalist strategy should be to intensify their informational work.

putin-emperor

Igor Strelkov doesn’t have anything good to say of Putin either, though his antipathy is one of fatalism rather than anger: “For a person who has managed to screw up everything that remained working in Russia (after the traitor Gorby and the alcoholic Borya), plus get on the wrong side of his “dear Western partners,” remaining in power is a matter of “life or death.” But the Nanogenius wants to live long and happy… and not just himself, but his entire “Ozero Coop” mafia.”

He compares the Russian Federation that Putin has “raised from its knees” to the “oligarchic monarchy” that was the Roman Principate, in which Emperors were made consuls in meaningless elections. After the Principate there came the Dominate, where you would have to bow before the statues of the “godlike” Emperors… and then came the barbarians, “masses of whom Vladimir Vladimirovich has already invited into the country.” And Russia will also have “coups and civil wars” to look forwards to, as the “inevitable accompaniment to life in a great decaying empire.” None of which concerns Putin, because “after Him, the deluge.”

 
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poll-fom-russia-elections-2018

Yesterday there was another poll on the Russian Presidential elections in 2018, this time from FOM (although state-owned, my impression is that they aren’t any less accurate than the independent – and somewhat oppositionist – Levada).

Adjusting for undecideds/no shows, the results if elections were to be held tomorrow are as follows: Putin – 84%, Zhirinovsky – 9%, Zyuganov – 5%, Sobchak – 3%.

First, I am pretty pleased with these results, since they tally with my 80/7/7/7 prediction (Putin will lose a few percentage points due to lower turnout, but make it up with a little padding of the results; relative to Zyuganov, Zhirinovsky traditionally does better in polls than in real life; and Sobchak will eke out quite a lot more thanks to (a) liberals usually being underweighed by polls, and (b) many of the Yavlinsky (1%) and “other candidate” (1%; I assume these are mostly hardcore Navalny fans) supporters voting for her.

But the second, and more interesting, point is how Zhirinovsky, permanent Fuhrer of the nationalist LDPR, has suddenly become the primary recipient of Russia’s protest vote, a role that was previously the preserve of the Communists. Whereas Zhirinovsky gets 13% to Zyuganov’s 11% and the liberals’ (Sobchak, Yavlinsky, other candidate = Navalny) combined ~9% amongst people with a mixed view of Putin, and 17% to Zyuganov’s 10% and the liberals’ ~8% amongst people who are apathetic towards Putin, Zhirinovsky now commands the support of 40% of Russian voters with a negative view of Putin, versus Zyuganov’s 7%, the liberals’ 18%, and 35% who would not vote or would spoil their ballots (many of these are probably liberals).

Several years ago, it was popular to talk of Hungary’s “Putinization” in neoliberal circles. But I submit that we might now get to see Russia’s “Orbanization,” as the great mass of the opposition to a dominant conservative regime shifts from tired old Communists, and liberals whose popularity is confined to yuppies and the intelligentsia in the big cities, to more overt and hardline nationalists.

zhirinovsky-rifle

Bearing this in mind, it is worthwhile to take a closer look at Zhirinovsky’s 2018 program:

The first thing one notices is that it is something of a mess; an idiosyncratic collection of populist, authoritarian, populist, statist, democratic, and even genuinely liberal proposals. It’s like they locked a cryptoanarchist, an Alt Rightist, and a /pol/tard in a room and forced them to come up with something without bothering to even edit the final product. Said room being Zhirinovsky’s beautiful brain. As such, there is something to be found for almost every exotic species of Russian nationalist – though fully satisfying far fewer of them.

The famous Russian far right blogger/troll Vladimir Frolov (“yarowrath“) once argued that the “basedness” level of a Russian politician could be accurately proxied by the ratio of “russkie” (ethnic Russians) vs. “rossiyane” (anodyne PC term for denizens of Russia) in his vocabulary. Perhaps one of the most distinguishing features of Russian nationalists is that they are unafraid to speak of the interests of russkie, whereas kremlins and liberals alike opt for the term rossiyane (PM Dmitry Medvedev prefers the even less offensive “inhabitants of Russia”).

Consequently, the second thing one notices is that Zhirinovsky’s 1,200 word program is full of “russkie” – twelve instances, to be precise. In contrast, the similarly short program of Alexey Navalny, whom some believe to be a nationalist, mentions the word a grand total of once – in the context of the “russkie” (Russian) language.

Here is what Zhirinovsky is promising to do for russkie, in the sense of ethnic Russians:

  • Give passports to all Russians. Defend Russians abroad, do not allow foreigners to take children from Russian families.
  • Russia, its environment and its democracy – for everyone: For Russians, and the other peoples of the country.
  • 23. Add the following preamble to the Constitution: “We, Russians and the other peoples of Russia…”
  • 24. Create an Institute of the Russian Holocaust of the 20th Century
  • 66. Rely on Russians, not foreigners, in the Academy of Sciences and the universities.
  • We will not allow [foreigners] to shoot down russkie planes, or to laugh at, criticize, lie about, and smear Russia.

The mention of an institute dedicated to the persecution of Russians in the 20th century is particularly fascinating, since this is one of the ideas that we (Kirill Nesterov, @pigdog, myself) have been promoting at our ROGPR podcast for the past year. There are few better ways to generate national solidarity than to promote the idea of some great shared tragedy, and it’s not like Russians would even have to invent anything. Meanwhile, it will accelerate the further discreditation of Communism, liberalism, and the cult of West Worship.

In Russian Nationalism 101, I mentioned three things that virtually all Russian nationalists agree on: An end to mass immigration from Central Asia; no more prosecutions for “hate speech”; and the liquidation of regional autonomies. Zhirinovsky’s program is a “tick, tick, tick” so far as all of these are concerned.

  • 8. Do not allow people from the south to commit crimes in central Russia.
  • 22. Remove the political Article 282 from the criminal code.
  • 26. The country should be divided into 30-40 guberniyas.
  • 27. Cancel the Federation Council.
  • 34. Limit immigration to Russia.
  • 57. Teach local languages only if locals want to.

Note that the “nationalist” Navalny only ever mentions the cancelation of Article 282 when he is specifically asked about it. It is not in his program, and while he doesn’t shy away from using his social media reach to promote various petitions and causes, including some rather inconsequential ones, for some reason he has never tried to collect signatures for the cancelation of Article 282.

Ideologically, Zhirinovsky’s program can perhaps best be described as populist-reactionary:

  • 12. Reconcile Tsarist, Soviet, and modern Russia.
  • 13. All revolutions are evil.
  • 15. Return Imperial symbols: The black-gold-white flag, “God Save the Tsar” as the national anthem, replace the Kremlin’s red stars with the original imperial eagles.
  • 20. Return the old names of Russia’s cities and streets.
  • 82. Redominate the ruble: Remove two zeros, one dollar is worth 60 kopeks.

Almost all non-Leftist Russian nationalists support some form of de-Communization program. It is, of course, rather strange that Russia has a 700,000 population city named after an Italian Communist leader who didn’t even succeed in taking power, a 250,000 population city named after a Polish red terrorist, and a 200,000 population city named after a German Russophobe.

The program has a strong patriarchic slant, and is strongly targeted towards siloviks:

  • 6. Further strengthen the Army and security services.
  • 7. Hit criminality. Create a system of military field trials.
  • 9. Cancel the moratorium on the death penalty.
  • 21. Do not allow more than 10% negative information on TV and radio.
  • 65. Encourage men to go into the education sector.

This would meet support with mainstream conservative nationalists, though many of its points would not go over well with the more liberal Sputnik i Pogrom. While they support an increase in the size of the military, especially of the Ground Forces – the Ukraine and Belorussia aren’t going to regather back into Russia by themselves – they want to do it at the expense of the National Guard and other bloated police and paramilitary agencies.

However, there are otherwise few specifics on foreign policy, apart from the general policy of defending Russians abroad:

  • We need to finish things up in the Middle East. Reorient foreign policy to the South. Alliance with Iran, Turkey, Iraq, Syria. This is 400 million people, technologies, resources, armies.

This is probably Zhirinovsky’s background as a Turcologist speaking, but the general point or for that matter even the feasibility of this proposal is a very open question.

There is a strong pro-natality element.

  • 50. Pay women to avoid abortion, the child will be raised by the state.
  • 51. Create a Ministry of Demographics and offer free fertility treatments.
  • 53. Promote a cult of the family.
  • 54. Pay 20,000 rubles per month to people who adopt orphans.
  • 55. Stimulate fertility in regions where deaths exceed births.

It’s worth noting that #55 is basically codeword for ethnic Russian regions.

That said, this is far from a grim document propounding unremitting authoritarianism, militarism, xenophobia, and ultranationalism.

In some respects, it would also increase the civil liberties of ordinary people.

  • 1. Build a country without Communism, Nazism, racism, or authoritarianism.
  • 12. A one party regime doomed the Empire, and the USSR.
  • 17. Name the mistakes of the Soviet leadership, publish the archives, condemn perestroika.
  • 22. Remove the political Article 282 from the criminal code.
  • 29. Replace all the judges.
  • 30. Conduct free and fair elections.
  • 31. Develop local self-government.
  • 42. Political and criminal amnesty. Humanize the Criminal Code.
  • 73. Easen the processs of getting European visas, remove all sanctions.
  • 74. Make life easier for disabled people: Accessible accomodations, more ramps, freedom from having to pay utilities fees.
  • 91. In Russia, the economy, and democracy, was always offered “from above.” Everything was decided by bureaucrats. The people weren’t allowed to decide anything.

Admittedly, there’s a substantial element of schizophrenia here. For instance, given the rest of the program, it’s rather hard to see the Europeans agreeing to expedite #73.

As regards basic governance and economic policy, the proposals fall into two big, somewhat contradictory categories.

On the one hand, there are the “developmental” policies, e.g. high infrastructure spending, the repatriation of offshore capital, and a reduction of regulations on business along lines that one can imagine even institutions like the IMF approving of.

  • 4. Intense development of road networks, trains with speeds of 400km/h.
  • 10. Attention to the fight against corruption. Bribe-taking bureaucrats should be fired and have their assets confiscated. A businessman should compensate anything stolen by a multiple of three.
  • 19. State commission to investigate the looting of the country after 1991.
  • 28. Reduce the numbers of Duma deputies to 200.
  • 35. Forbid banks from offering credit with property as collateral.
  • 42. Political and criminal amnesty. Humanize the Criminal Code.
  • 48. Develop tourism in Russia.
  • 78. Review the results of privatization, without violence and persecution, through persuasion.
  • 81. Organize a mass free distribution of shares in the state companies to Russian citizens.
  • 83. Large-scale economic amnesty, introduce secret accounts in at least one Russian state bank, and return to Russia all capital illegally taken offshore.
  • 87. Companies working in Russia should have their accounts in Russian banks.
  • 92. Motivate rich citizens to return their money to Russia, only here can they be safe, because abroad they are under the threat of sanctions, freezes, and confiscations.
  • 93. No inspections of businesses, apart from restaurants/catering and medicine. Don’t bother hard-working people!
  • 94. Small businesses involved in science and production – freedom from taxes.
  • 96. Reduce amount of compulsory contributions from entrepreneurs.

Orban pushed through the equivalent of #28 in Hungary. A definite answer to the 1990s privatization question needs to be furnished sooner or later to secure property rights in Russia (for comparison, Navalny proposes a windfall tax, as in Britain). #81 is perhaps a good idea to make ordinary Russians feel more invested in any future privatizations, which are otherwise bound to be unpopular. Economic amnesty is an idea often promoted by liberal economists. Since business inspections are too often just a source of rent for bureaucrats in Russia, cutting them down even further is also often proposed.

However, many of Zhirinovsky’s policies are to various extents statist, populist, or just plainly badly thought out; are of dubious efficacy; and would have the general effect of raising spending on social welfare, restricting individual autonomy, increasing state control of the economy, and increasing general inefficiency.

  • 2. Not a single person unemployed, homeless, or hungry.
  • 33. Import substitution, sell finished products, not raw materials, abroad.
  • 37. Cancel the principle of equity construction. The state must build and sell housing.
  • 38. Cancel mortgages. Only building cooperatives and social housing.
  • 39. Forbid debt collectors.
  • 41. Remove all debt-related restrictions on travel abroad.
  • 43. War against unhealthy additives to food. Forbid imports of GMO food.
  • 44. There is an obesity problem. Time to restrict advertising of unhealthy food.
  • 45. No to black market vodka. Create state stores selling cheap but high quality vodka; elsewhere, at market prices.
  • 46. Forbid sects, trainings, centers, etc. whose activities are harmful to citizens.
  • 49. Return completely free healthcare.
  • 59. Cancel the Unified State Exam. Accept students to universities without exams and return 5 year education.
  • 68. Minimum wage of no less than 20,000 rubles.
  • 85. A tax on superincomes.
  • 86. Remove Russia’s foreign currency reserves from US Treasuries.
  • 88. Nationalize trading centers, free up space for domestic producers.
  • 89. Debt forgiveness of at least 50% for all agrobusinesses and farmers.
  • 100. Special attention has to be given to Siberia and the Far East: No tax economy, salary bonuses, housing subsidies, road construction.

Unfortunately the good or at least perspective ideas are more than counterbalanced by alternatingly questionable and outright catastrophic ones which will, in all likelihood, make Russia into Venezuela.

In particular, the assumptions in #45 are simply wrong, and will collapse Russian life expectancy back down by 5 years or so.

As for ending university exams, that’s not just a return to the USSR, but to the 1920s USSR; without even the Unified State Exam to go on, how are universities supposed to select for talent?

However, in all fairness, many of these proposals will play well to the LDPR’s low-information voters.

This hints at the biggest and most irreconcilable problem of nationalism not just in Russia but throughout Europe and the US generally – the human capital is very low.

Nonetheless, there is precisely zero chance of Zhirinovsky winning and consequently trying to push through his more maladaptive ideas (even assuming that they are earnestly meant). As such, a case can be made that Russian nationalists would be well-advised to vote for him to move those issues which the LDPR really is good on – immigration policy, free speech, a vision of a future where ethnic Russians can advocate for their own ethnic interests without being accused of insulting minorities – further within the Overton Window.

 
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Assuming that it will be just between these four, I think it’s going to go something like this:

russia-elections-2018-twitter-prediction

Note that Sobchak and any [liberal candidate] can be substituted for Navalny. (Also TBH, I think Navalny has a chance of getting 10% – see below).

If other candidates (but not Navalny) run, for instance, Grigory Yavlinsky (Yabloko) and Boris Titov (recently nominated by the Party of Growth), then they will split that 7% between each other.

Here’s my logic.

Putin’s result in Presidential elections is usually the same as his approval rating in the Levada polls, which are currently at 80%.

Incidentally, in the very unlikely but not impossible event that Putin doesn’t run after all, but appoints someone like Alexey Dyumin, the successor will get around 60%-70% (Explanation: Medvedev’s result in 2008 was Putin’s approval rating minus 10% points, but he had been built up by Kremlin propaganda beforehand for several years; Putin’s own result in 2000 was approval rating minus 30% points, in the context of only a few months’ worth of “prep,” adversarial TV journalism, and no largescale electoral fraud. Logically, someone like Dyumin should perform somewhere in the middle of those two scenarios).

Zyuganov traditionally polls much better than Zhirinovsky. But that era has now come to an end.

russia-elections-2016-party-support-age-group

Support for the Communists is in long-term secular decline, while the nationalists are on the ascent. Whereas 60+ year old Communist voters hugely outnumbered 18-24 year old LDPR voters in the 2016 Duma elections, by 22% to 10%, amongst LDPR voters the relationship is the complete inverse, with 60+ year old LDPR voters being outnumbered by 18-24 year old LDPR voters by 19% to 8%. Overall results for the two parties were within a hairsbreadth of each other.

russia-elections-2018-voting-intentions

One problem is that Zhirinovsky has a high anti-rating, and tends to underperform his party’s results relative to the Communists (this was especially notable in 2012, when he got almost thrice less than Zyuganov). On the other hand, back in September 2012, the percentage of voters willing to vote for Zhironovsky was 3% versus 6% for Zyuganov, whereas today it is the same 3% to Zyuganov’s much diminished 2%.

I am not going to belabor this point or do any deep analysis at the current stage. There’s still some months left to go and things can still change drastically.

Finally, the liberal candidate.

I have argued that Navalny could get as much as 10%, to the chagrin of hardcore Putinists.

Now Sobchak has a much higher antirating than Navalny, but as a household name, also more name recognizability, so I do not subscribe to the idea that she is totally hopeless and will get something like 1% or 2%. She has said some things that are very unpopular with ordinary people (Crimea is Ukrainian under international law; Russia is a nation of genetic refuse). But this is par for the course for Russian liberals, who do constitute a distinct voting bloc – after all, around 10% of Russians genuinely didn’t support the Crimean takeover – so this is hardly going to dent her numbers. There is even a small chance that making Sobchak say such stereotypically self-hating kreakl things was part of the Kremlin’s condition for allowing her to run (I don’t buy this conspiracy theory; I think she is just an idiot who is being incompetently advised by a britbong PR firm; but it doesn’t really matter).

Now according to the Levada poll (see above), only around 1% are willing to vote for Sobchak (subtracting unknowns/undecideds/etc). A FOM poll suggests that 5% might vote for her, but 87% will not.

The problem is that liberals are less likely to respond to polls, so pollsters tend to systemically underweigh them.

Example.

In the Moscow elections, the Levada poll was giving Navalny 8% to Sobyanin’s 78% amongst those who had “made their choice.”

The median prediction at my blog for Navalny was in the low 10%’s, with some of the most enthusiastic Putinists giving him just 5%-8%.

I predicted 20%.

End result: Navalny – 27%.

However, this was very much in line with immediate pre-election secret polls that showed Navalny was at 23%.

moscow-elections-2013-insider-polling-navalny

Much the same logic should be applied to the [liberal candidate] (with downwards adjustment for Sobchak based on her lack of popularity!; so, instead of ~10% for Navalny, perhaps 5%-7%).

I acknowledge that these arguments will be controversial.

But here is a recent Telegram post by chief editor of Echo of Moscow Alexey Venediktov:

aavst-secret-polling-sobchak

Translation:

Yes, Boris Titov is seriously being considered by the Presidential Administration as a “liberal candidate for President.” Especially considering that their polls show that she has already caught up with Zhirinovsky (7.5% are ready to vote for her, of those who already made up their minds). …

And wouldn’t you guess it, the next day Boris Titov indeed announced that he was running.

Boris Titov is an economically right-wing politician, businessman (he owns the famous Abrau-Durso champagne brand), and activist for entrepreneur rights. He is also not really an oppositionist, being on good terms with Putin and having once even served as a high functionary in United Russia. This would basically be a rerun of 2012, when Mikhail Prokhorov opposed Putin, except that Titov has even fewer oppositionist credentials.

Anyhow, the final decision is up to Putin. Having Titov run would make the election even more of a formality/farce (cross out as per your political sympathies) than it already is, though perhaps marginally safer than having Sobchak run – though the fact that some kremlins actually fear Sobchak of all people makes the whole affair even more surreal.

I think we can pretty much exclude Navalny being allowed to with at least 95% confidence.

On the other hand, with the reality of an 80% approval rating and total control of the administrative resource behind him, it’s not like allowing Sobchak, Titov, or both to run would make any substantive difference to Putin’s almost certainly overwhelming victory in the 2018 Presidential elections.

 
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In my opinion, almost certainly yes (quantified: 90%. In line with PredictIt). Just to get that clear off the bat.

But neither is it an absolutely foregone conclusion.

For instance, see this recent “scoop” from The Independent’s Oliver Carroll:

Vladimir Putin is, sources say, tired. And he is reluctant to engage in a major national election – again. The campaign will be reduced to a bare minimum; there will be no repeat of the exhausting test of the 2011-2012 elections, when Mr Putin declared his candidacy six months early.

The reason “scoop” is in apostrophes is that Putin’s tiredness is hardly new to the Moscow rumor mill.

For instance, here is my Twitter conversation with RT’s Bryan MacDonald (posted with his permission) on this back in December 2016:

bryan-macdonald-putin-tired

And there’s still hints that Putin hasn’t yet fully made his mind up. For instance, MacDonald also noted that RBC recently reported that Putin is shifting his annual State of the Union address from December to early next year. While cautioning against reading too deeply into Kremlinological tea leaves, this does conceivably open the possibility of a sudden resignation and endorsement of a successor along the lines of what Yeltsin did with respect to Putin himself on December 31, 1999.

When I asked Bryan MacDonald to quantify his predictions a week ago, he replied: “5/1 he doesn’t run. 4/6 he’s not President in 2023.”

I should stress that MacDonald and Carroll are hardly the only people with such ideas. Another name I can cite is Artem Zagorodnov, who used to work for RBTH. Back in December 2016, he gave a speech on Russian politics for the Juneau World Affairs Council in Alaska, during the course of which he was asked a question about whether Putin would run in 2018. At the time, Zagorodnov gave this a 80% chance. More recently, I asked him again, and he has now upped it to 90%, but he thinks that there is only a 50% chance of Putin finishing his second term.

I should also note that MacDonald and Zagorodnov are (were) not familiar with each other and came to these very similar estimates independently.

Apart from his rumored fatigue, why might Putin not want to run in 2018?

1. By not running in 2018, Putin retains the option of running one more time at some later time in the future.

Originally, the Russian Constitution disallowed more than two Presidential terms, but only so long as they were consecutive; otherwise, you could serve as many terms as you wished, so long as they were broken up at least once every two terms/eight years. This enabled Putin’s controversial “castling” maneuver with Medvedev in 2011-12, which was within the letter if not the spirit of the law. But a Constitutional amendment in 2012, which also lengthened Presidential terms to six years, set an explicit maximum of two terms, consecutive or otherwise. Any further castlings have been ruled out.

Therefore, if Putin runs now, he will never be able to run for President again – even should he resign midway through his fourth term. Not unless he pushes through a Constitutional amendment. But that would mean reneging on a public commitment not to do that, which would be politically far riskier than even his old castling, which ended up in 100,o00 strong protests in Moscow during 2011-12.

2. Putin is currently at the peak of his approval.

At least so long as Putin’s personal ratings are concerned, the “Crimean Consensus” shows no signs of wearing out.

poll-putin-approval-1999-2017

Source: Levada.

But discontent is once again beginning to simmer in the margins. Overall satisfaction with domestic, social, economic, and even foreign policy has reached lows last seen in 2011, when mass protests over electoral fraud in the 2011 Duma elections flared up.

poll-russia-policy-approval

Source: VCIOM; FPRI Bear Market Brief‏.

And it is probably only a matter of time before this begins to overspill into Putin’s approval rates.

Putin assured his place in the history textbooks in 2014.

Now might be as good and stable a time to leave as any while his reserves of political capital are still maxed out.

In so doing, he also escapes the Brezhnevite “President for Life” trap, leaves on his own terms, and enjoys the rest of his life in luxury (the friends he enriched during his Presidency owe him at least that much).

3. The next six years are going to be… boring.

The next Presidential term is looking up to be one of technocratic optimization and further reforms, of privatizing an overly state-dominated economy, of trying to restore relations with the West.

Very boring. Bad for approval ratings. Not the ideal job for a “tired” populist.

Besides, any real rapprochement with the “Western partners” is inconceivable with Putin, who has become thoroughly unhandshakeworthy, still at the helm – at least formally.

Now unless a new round of military confrontations are being planned – a rather unlikely prospect, given sharply negative trends in projected military expenditure – there is a good chance that that Russia will have to confront the near total nature of its geopolitical defeat in the Ukraine, as that country economically recuperates, accelerates Ukrainization, and Russophile dreams of a “second Maidan” and Ukraine’s imminent breakup veer further and further into the realm of fantasy.

Also probably best to keep a low profile during that period.

4. It is still not too late to nominate a successor.

As it stands today, Putin will win approximately 80% of the vote (70% + 10% customary fraud), while the rest will be split about equally between Zyaganov, Zhirinovsky, and [liberal candidate].

In an experiment conducted by Levada this September, every fifth Russian said they were willing to vote for Andrey Semenov, a Presidential candidate endorsed by Putin – even though both Semenov and Putin’s endorsement were complete fictions.

This suggests that building up a successor from nothing will be a trivial task for the Kremlin. That worked with for Yeltsin’s “Family” and Putin himself in 1999-2000, and it will be even easier now, since the Kremlin now has uncontested dominance of all the major TV stations.

Finally, the specific steps that the Kremlin has been taking – for instance, changing the date of the Presidential elections to coincide with the anniversary of Crimea joining Russia, and getting Ksenia Sobchak, an airhead celebrity with a massive anti-rating, to play the role of the liberal candidate, instead of its natural leader Navalny – indicate that they were not totally sure that Putin would be running, and as such, wanted to make absolute sure that any anointed successor would get a convincing victory almost as easily as Putin.

This convincing victory is referred to as a 70/70 in Kremlin parlanace (70% turnout, 70% share of the vote).

politics-putin-dyumin

Putin going for a walk with potential successor Alexey Dyumin.

Final question: Who would be the successor?

By far the most commonly named “dark horse” candidate is Alexey Dyumin, the current governor of Tula and Putin’s former bodyguard. He personally participated in the events of 2014, and can thus be credibly portrayed as a hero of the “Crimean Spring” (its original name, the “Russian Spring,” has been airbrushed out of history, due to its nationalist connotations). As a loyal military man, basically competent but without being excessively intelligent – he graduated from a third-rate military academy – Dyumin would make a solid replacement for Putin, who would continue to wield extensive influence as some sort of “elder statesman” or “father of the nation” figure.

Meanwhile, in this scenario, Putin’s people would continue to occupy key power positions: Vyacheslav Volodin would continue looking after the Duma, Sergey Shoigu will stay on as Defense Minister, and another of Putin’s former bodyguards, Viktor Zolotov, will remain head of the 340,000 strong National Guard. This would be an additional guarantee against the successor getting too many ideas of his own.

As it happens, I suspect this basic scenario – the rudiments of which have been sketched out by politologists such as the liberal Valery Solovej and the Communist Nafik Famiev during the summer of 2017 – is ultimately likely to play out.

Probably not now, but quite possibly around 2021, or after the end of Putin’s fourth and last term.

 
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Main News

issam-zahreddine* The legendary Major General Issam Zahreddine was blown up by a land mine in Deir ez-Zor.

What damn bad luck.

Surviving an ISIS siege for three years, only to go like that.

* Iraq takes back Kirkuk. Seemingly prearranged return to the status quo of 2014.

* Haaretz: White Nationalist Richard Spencer Gives Israel as Example of Ethno-state He Wants in U.S.

* Investor Mark Faber lands in hot water with the handshakeworthy crowd:

“And thank God white people populated America, and not the blacks. Otherwise, the US would look like Zimbabwe, which it might look like one day anyway, but at least America enjoyed 200 years in the economic and political sun under a white majority,” he wrote.

“I am not a racist, but the reality — no matter how politically incorrect — needs to be spelled out.”

Fortunately he’s old, presumably more or less retired, and lives in East Asia, where nobody gives a fuck.

* Emil Kirkegaard: “Did Lynn fudge the national IQs? Independent recalculation by David Becker. All open and verifiable. So far, n = 305 studies covered. r=.90.” [blog post forthcoming]

lynn-becker-iq-correlation

Incidentally, German psychometrist David Becker is due to start up a blog any day now. Feel free to help him come up with a name.

* Vincent Law: Bike-Sharing Leads Directly To Complete Societal Collapse

* gwern’s September newslatter: On genomic prediction:

Accurate Genomic Prediction Of Human Height, Lello et al 2017

A vindication of Steve Hsu’s predictions: the GWAS lasso works!(Hsu 2014/Vattikuti et al 2014/Ho & Hsu 2015) The height polygenic score has doubled and now explains the full SNP heritability.

This has many implications: primarily, polygenic scores are going to start doubling or quadrupling regularly as contemporary datasets (UKBB in particular?) start hitting the threshold. Years of incremental improvements in GWAS will be compressed into single papers. It will be exciting to have polygenic scores for intelligence which explain up to 30% of variance! These IQ PGSes will highly likely be available by 2019, and it’s possible that they could be computed this year in 2017 (depending on whether existing datasets are big enough to push past the threshold, perhaps assisted by genetic correlation techniques like MTAG). Plus, of course, more accurate genetic correlations. Aside from being one last bullet in the head of genetics denialism, it will massively increase the value of embryo selection and genome synthesis. Has it really been only 4 years since Rietveld et al 2013 was published? It feels like so much longer… It’s worth noting that the cumulative number of genomes is substantially larger than the annual output, and the former is what counts; for example, under one set of assumptions with a fixed annual investment and the observed exponential decrease in cost, there will be 5x total genomes than annually produced, so since 23andMe/Ancestry.com are reportedly collecting approaching millions of samples per year… (In a since deleted post: AncestryDNA alone attracted 1.4 million customers in the fourth quarter of 2016, with an additional two million in the first half of 2017…) The genome sequencing exponentials have been quite a tiger to ride. Very Kurzweilian: everything important happens near the end.

AI

* Eliezer Yudkowsky: There’s No Fire Alarm for Artificial General Intelligence

Progress is driven by peak knowledge, not average knowledge.

If Fermi and the Wrights couldn’t see it coming three years out, imagine how hard it must be for anyone else to see it.

If you’re not at the global peak of knowledge of how to do the thing, and looped in on all the progress being made at what will turn out to be the leading project, you aren’t going to be able to see of your own knowledge at all that the big development is imminent. …

By saying we’re probably going to be in roughly this epistemic state until almost the end, I don’t mean to say we know that AGI is imminent, or that there won’t be important new breakthroughs in AI in the intervening time. I mean that it’s hard to guess how many further insights are needed for AGI, or how long it will take to reach those insights. After the next breakthrough, we still won’t know how many more breakthroughs are needed, leaving us in pretty much the same epistemic state as before. …

But no matter how the details play out, I do predict in a very general sense that there will be no fire alarm that is not an actual running AGI—no unmistakable sign before then that everyone knows and agrees on, that lets people act without feeling nervous about whether they’re worrying too early. That’s just not how the history of technology has usually played out in much simpler cases like flight and nuclear engineering, let alone a case like this one where all the signs and models are disputed.

* On this note: It was only 1.5 years ago that AlphaGo beat world’s then second best player Lee Sedol four matches to one.

alphago-zero

Latest iteration, AlphaGo Zero, reached that level in just three days only playing by itself, and took only 21 days to surpass AlphaGo Master, which beat number one Ke Jie and sixty other top players this May.

Writing in the journal Nature, the researchers describe how AlphaGo Zero started off terribly, progressed to the level of a naive amateur, and ultimately deployed highly strategic moves used by grandmasters, all in a matter of days. It discovered one common play, called a joseki, in the first 10 hours. Other moves, with names such as “small avalanche” and “knight’s move pincer” soon followed. After three days, the program had discovered brand new moves that human experts are now studying. Intriguingly, the program grasped some advanced moves long before it discovered simpler ones, such as a pattern called a ladder that human Go players tend to grasp early on.

 

jeb-wins-russia

Russia

* Putin mutters some vaguely Alt Right sounding things about White Christians being a minority in the USA and preserving Russia as a European space (while continuing to repeat German policies of the 1960s).

Says that Russians and Ukrainians are one people that will unite. Before you get excited/panic, by unite, he means the restoration of normal relations with the Ukraine – a rather strange definition of the term.

We love Ukraine. And I consider them a brotherly people, if not part of the Russian people. Neither Russian nationalists nor Ukrainian nationalists like this, but I believe they will unite, sooner or later. Not at the state level, but in terms of the restoration of relations.

And, of course, this is a total inversion of the standard Russian nationalist position on the Ukraine.

Also issues some thoughts on foreign policy:

The biggest mistake our country made was that we put too much trust in you; and your mistake was that you saw this trust as weakness and abused it.

… and on the Bolshevik Revolution:

However, the largely utopian social model and ideology, which the newly formed state tried to implement initially following the 1917 revolution, was a powerful driver of transformations across the globe (this is quite clear and must also be acknowledged), caused a major revaluation of development models, and gave rise to rivalry and competition, the benefits of which, I would say, were mostly reaped by the West.

I am referring not only to the geopolitical victories following the Cold War. Many Western achievements of the 20th century were in answer to the challenge posed by the Soviet Union. I am talking about raising living standards, forming a strong middle class, reforming the labour market and the social sphere, promoting education, guaranteeing human rights, including the rights of minorities and women, overcoming racial segregation, which, as you may recall, was a shameful practice in many countries, including the United States, a few short decades ago.

This is mostly a myth, but a convenient one.

DMdTBFyV4AA46kZ

* Ksenia Sobchak announces she is running for the Russian Presidency.

Now you, an “educated” and “informed” person, are probably thinking that she is just a brainless celebrity running to give Putin artificial competition in lieu of Navalny. In reality, this is a vicious JIDF smear! My FSB sources tell me this is just the front Ksenia “She-Wolf of the SS” Sobchak (as she is widely known in ultranationalist circles) puts on to infiltrate the PutlerZOG, acting in cahoots with Taylor Swift and American far right militia leader Ben Garrison.

Although I do consider myself somewhat of a nationalist, she sounds far too crazy even for me. I disavow Ksenia “14/88 not 282″ Sobchak and her hateful, extremist ideology. Hopefully Jeb! will save the day.

* #Russiagate. In between the usual nonsense ($100,000 in Facebook ads; Pokemon), we the most serious numerical allegation yet – $2.3 million on a troll factory (broken by the Russian news outlet RBC – so much for the trope of “no adversarial investigation journalism” in Russia).

The obvious question: If all it takes to swing a US election is a few millions of dollars (versus the almost a billion spend by the respective campaigns), why isn’t everyone doing it?

* Patrick Armstrong: RUSSIAN FEDERATION SITREP 19 OCTOBER 2017

* Bryan MacDonald: Ukraine has a Nazi problem and a Western media problem

This is a typical pattern:

  • Western MSM 1,000 Nazis march in Charlottesville: OY VEY DRUMPF & PUTLER MUST PAY
  • 20,000 Nazis march in Kiev: meh

* Russia now plans to build a $10 billion bridge to… Sakhalin, with its half a million people. $10 million is approximately what the federal government gives to the Ministry of Education every year.

Rotenbergs are more important, though.

There are hopes of getting Japan involved:

Russia is counting on Japan to join the project by connecting its northern island of Hokkaido to Sakhalin with a 40-kilometer link of its own, the people said. While an overland crossing from Japan could be an economic game changer for Russia’s Far East, they cautioned there’s been no talks or agreements yet with the government in Tokyo.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was circumspect when asked about the plans at the Vladivostok forum with Putin last month.

“It would be fine to travel to Vladivostok by train,” Abe said. “But for this, our countries need to strengthen mutual trust to make all projects achievable.”

But this is Japanesespeak for “LOL, no.”

World

dysgenics-blacks-whites

* Audacious Epigone: Dysgenics much stronger for Blacks and Latinos than for Whites. JayMan has also noticed this.

Also notes that number of children is positively correlated with mental health.

* The Economist: College students are more accepting of controversial speech

economist-free-speech-college

Other

* Zilaxar.com is an Ossetian nationalist site (in Russian). In case you are interested in what (very little) Ossetians think of their Ingush, Dagestani, and Georgian neighbors.

Apparently the Ingush believe that Ossetians effect territorial expansion through “hospitable prostitution.” Small country nationalisms are so cute.

The style and format clearly owes a lot to Sputnik i Pogrom, which has – amongst other things – inspired a Ukrainian, a Belorussian, and a radical Islamist (!) copycat.

hbd-morrowind

* Latest from (Russian language) ROGPR podcast: Our main host Kirill Nesterov makes a highly autistic 45 minute video review of TES: Morrowind, and we discuss Putin’s legacy.

 
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Navalny has just moved the planned June 12 protest from Prospekt Sakharova, a fairly central and very spacious location, to Tverskaya, which is minutes away from the Kremlin, at the last minute.

The former event was officially sanctioned by the city authorities.

The new one is *not*.

Navalny claims that this was done because the Moscow city administration pressured sound and stage suppliers not to participate in his event. This makes it impossible for him to give a speech to a large crowd. As evidence, he attached a recording between one of the suppliers and what is presumably one of his staff members, in which the supplier sheepishly explains that he has received instructions from on high not to service the event.

This is his version of the story.

There is however an alternate theory.

The Tverskaya protests on March 26 were unsanctioned, meaning that the more timid and “respectable” avoided showing up. Attendance at a sanctioned meeting, all other things equal, should be considerably higher (the middle-aged office plankton who form a considerable percentage of Navalny’s support base aren’t keen on risking arrest by participating in illegal gatherings). But with less than 12 hours to go, the the number of people saying they are “going” on Facebook stands at a modest 4,000. In contrast, 5,200 say they “went” to the Tverskaya protest in March, which translated to an actual turnout of about 8,000. Assuming the correlation holds, we are looking at similar figures this June. This is decidedly embarassing, especially in light of the anti-khrushchevki demolition protests this May, which gathered 20,000 people – and at the very place where Navalny was supposed to hold his meeting, to add to the humiliation.

Ordinary Muscovites evidently care more about their khrushchevki – and for that matter their summer sojourns to their dachas – than staying behind in Moscow to hear more about Navalny’s latest beef with Uzbek oligarchs. Not good!

So this is where the alternate explanation comes in. Since the original protest looked like it was going to be a flop anyway, why not make a last minute change to “illegalize” it, inviting a potentially heavy police response for the delectation of Navalny’s YouTube fans and Western videocameras?

preobrazhensky-polk

There is an additional fact that makes this version of events both more plausible, and more potentially dangerous. June 12 is a national holiday (Russia Day), and there is already another event planned for the Tverskaya location – the last day of a 12 day historical reconstruction festival that has been advertised for weeks, and is expected to draw up to 150,000 visitors.

The last day of the reconstruction festival will be dedicated to the defense of Sevastopol in the Crimean War.

So imagine the spectacle of Preobrazhensky Regiment riflemen coming from all over Russia and abroad to support Navalny – and having to pit their “reconstruction skills” against the truncheons of the OMON.

headlines-ready As noted by one Twitter user: “Cameras and headlines are ready.

Not a lot more to add. Now we wait and see.

Hopefully, the Russian police exercise appropriate restraint, so that we don’t actually have to find out whether the bayonet is a fine lad. They are well funded and quite professional these days, so I don’t think it’s likely things will get out of hand.

It is also worth underlining that it is grossly irresponsible and unethical for someone who pretends to be a serious politician to push his agenda on people who didn’t ask for it, and who only want to watch pretend battles, not risk being caught up in a real one. This applies tenfold if Navalny misrepresented the situation with the stage and sound suppliers to justify his planned hijacking of the reconstruction festival (if so this would not be the first time that he has bent the truth to serve his own narrative).

Though who cares about any of that when there is clickbait to be written about the latest crimes of the Putler regime.

EDIT June 12, 1330 Moscow time: On Reddit (1, 2) a couple of people have criticized me for not using VK.com attendance data. I copy my response:

What matters is not absolute numbers who say they are going to attend, but relative numbers from event to event.

Assuming that a similar multiple of Facebook “goings” translate into visitors from event to event, then comparing the previous event to the later event on just one social media platform is legitimate.

Anyhow, there is a banal reason I didn’t include VK – while this current protest does indeed have 15K, I was simply unable to locate the VK event page for the March 26 protest.

Moreover. List of event pages for the March 26 protest. But Moscow links takes us here, which now advertises today’s event. This is not an event page, but as I understand a group page.

Was the counter actually reset to zero after the last event? This is a critical question that I don’t know the answer to (I don’t use VK much and am not very familiar with its fine workings), so using VK data would have been doubly unrealistic.

Anyhow, if anybody can’t answer the two questions above – whether or not the counter reset to zero after the March event, and if it did, what was the peak “going” figure for it – that would be much appreciated.

EDIT 2: It now emerges that a sound & stage system *was* installed at prospekt Sakharova after all (1, 2), which would appear to invalidate Navalny’s claim that suppliers were forced to pull out.

 
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There have been three significant political protests in Moscow in the past few months, and each in their own way – and in their relation to each other – say a lot about the state of Russia today.

It’s not that great for the Kremlin.

But not for the reasons the Western media would have you believe.

moscow-protest-tverskaya-4

“He Is Not Dimon” / Navalny, March 26

This unsanctioned protest in response to Navalny’s video about Medvedev’s corruption gathered about 8,000 people, mostly young people and university students, with some seasoned color revolution veterans sprinkled in.

It also got by far the most Western coverage, even though 8,000 people is less than 0.1% of Moscow’s population.

This is reflected in Navalny’s poll numbers, which remain very low – firmly in the single digits, though in an election – on the off chance he is allowed to run – I suspect he might eke out as much as 10%, if he overperforms expectations as he did in the 2013 Moscow elections.

I am not going to write much more about Navalny and his protests, since I already have several blog posts about that. My goal here is to look at the alternatives on offer.

enough-protest

“Enough” / Khodorkovsky, April 29

That Navalny is head and shoulders above any other Westernist liberal figure is proved by the embarassingly low turnout at the “Enough” protests called for by Khodorkovsky’s “Open Russia” NGO.

There were perhaps 200 people there. As RT’s Bryan MacDonald noted, “I have honestly seen bigger crowds at bus stops in Russia than what has assembled for Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s march today.” Their guerilla advertising strategy – the graffiti in the photo above appeared on the sidewalk close to my apartment – evidently didn’t work out.

Khodorkovsky himself was quite sad about this, whining on May 1 that it is dangerous to “have a monopoly on opposition” in a transparent dig against Navalny. My advice to him would be just stick to what he does best, such as inserting anti-Putin op-eds into English language papers and single-handedly providing a living for about half the world’s Russia-specialized neocons.

Anyhow, the bottom line is that if Navalny’s anti-corruption populism at least enjoys some degree of mass appeal, Khodorkovsky doesn’t even have that. There just aren’t that many Russians outside a 100 meter radius of Echo of Moscow HQ willing to rise up on hearing the clarion call for more sanctions against their own country on the pages of Politico and The World Affairs Journal.

There wasn’t that much coverage of this protest in the West. I suppose it was just too humiliatingly small for it to be worth giving any further exposure.

khrushchevki-protests

Credit: George Malets, martin_camera

Anti-Khrushchevki Demolition Protest / Evgenia Vinokurova, May 14

In 1955, Khrushchev began a massive program of urban housing construction – an urgent priority at the time, what with the massive influx of peasants into the cities. On the plus side, the program succeeded, and the USSR consequently avoided the slums typical of the urbanizing Third World. On the negative side, these “khrushchevki” were cramped and poorly constructed, both by the standards of Stalinist housing (which mostly catered to the elites) and even of the later Soviet apartment blocks of the 1970s-80s.

Moscow’s mayoralty has recently announced that renovating this housing stock is unfeasible, and it will instead be demolished over the course of the next ten years at a cost of 3.5 trillion rubles ($60 billion), or twice the city’s annual budget income. The current residents will be compensated with more modern housing, of which there is a surplus in the wake of the last construction bust. On paper, everyone will benefit: People will get apartments with working plumbing and internal wiring; the politically connected real estate lobby won’t lose money; and many officials will doubtless be enriched.

But not everyone is happy with this deal. Some have invested considerable amounts of money into renovating their apartments. Others have grown attached to their neighborhoods. Although khrushchevki are bottom tier housing stock, the districts that contain them do tend to have a certain verdant vibrancy to them. They are walkable, they have plenty of greenery, and ecosystems of shops, schools, and other services have long evolved around them. In contrast, the new blocks tend to be massive, gray concrete monoliths on flat, gray plains criss-crossed with asphalt and more concrete.

What’s more, they tend to be farther from the nearest metro station, and at the outskirts of Moscow, if not entirely outside it. Moscow property prices depend far more on location than on building quality, and since the exchanges are square meter for square meter, not ruble for ruble, it is easy to imagine cases where people would stand to actually lose asset value in absolute terms.

And some of those people reacted. Around 20,000 people protested on Sakharov Avenue on May 14 against the khrushchevki plans – more than twice as much as at Navalny’s protest, and a couple of orders of magnitude more than at Khodorkovsky’s.

Moreover, these protesters weren’t kreakl hipsters, or professional revolutionaries, or Ukrainian nationalists, or the assorted other weirdos that tend to fill out Moscow protests against the regime. They were pensioners, housewives, and office plankton, many of them with children, who made their voice heard about a matter of real world concern to them. In other words, they and people like them are the closest thing there currently is to a genuine Russian civil society – and though the situation is currently fluid, it currently appears that officials are seriously engaging with their demands.

And of course the Western media pretty much ignored them.

Incidentally, as Maxim Kononenko points out, Navalny’s response to this protest is also very telling as to his agenda.

Initially, Navalny and his staff largely ignored the anti-demolition campaign, unable to believe that political nobodies campaigning on some boring socio-economic issue could be more successful than the undisputed leader of the “real” Russian opposition with its cult following, massive online presence, and lack of any serious competitors in the professional color revolution industry. But once it emerged that this protest was going to be a big hit after all, Navalny hurriedly dressed up as a very concerned khrushchevka resident and set off for the protest meeting. (As one online wit commented, “Whom hasn’t Navalny roleplayed as?: An owner of a mortgage in foreign currency; a Moscow stall owner; a Dagestani truck driver; a Chechen gay. Now he is a khrushchevka resident”).

Navalny proceeded to request a speaking slot at the meeting. The organizers refused, for the understandable reason that Navalny had no part in organizing them. Shocked by their impudence, Navalny and his acolytes decided to blame this epic zrada on Evgenia Vinokurova, one of the dozen largely female organizers of the protest. She made for an easy target: She has ties with both Putinist patriot-conservatives (she is friends with Kris Potupchik, a former spokeswoman for the youth movement Nashi) and more hardcore nationalists (she is an open Sputnik and Pogrom reader, Russia’s premier nationalist publication), all of which makes her completely “unhandshakeworthy” in the respectable Westernist circles to whom Navalny owes his ultimate loyalty.

So Navalny got an excuse for his failure there – he was sabotaged by a Putler agent. Still, the old problem of said respectable circles remains as acute as ever: Their inability to get any significant number of Russians out into the streets.

 
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The other day a Levada poll was released showing an apparently lackluster performance by Navalny in a hypothetical Presidential race against Putin and the other candidates.

If there were elections on the coming Sunday, who would you vote for? (The figures below exclude those said they don’t know, or don’t intend to vote).

Apr13 Apr14 Apr15 Jan16 Apr17
Putin 64 81 82 83 83
Zhirinovsky 7 6 5 4 5
Zyuganov 13 7 9 6 4
Shoigu 3 2 <1 3 2
Navalny <1 <1 1 1 2
Medvedev 3 <1 <1 <1 1
Mironov 1 1 1 1 1
Prokhorov 4 1 1 1 <1
Other 4 2 1 2 2

This seems very bad for “Alexey 2 Percent,” as he was just styled by the great Paul Robinson.

On the one hand, he is certainly correct in his main point that one shouldn’t be rushing to buy the hype around Navalny generated by the Western media.

OTOH, I don’t think it’s quite as catastrophic for Navalny as the professor makes it out to be. For instance, in February 2012, (adjusted for non-voter’s/don’t knows) about 6% of Russians intended to vote for Prokhorov. In the event, he got 8%, which would have been closer to 9% without electoral fraud.

Of perhaps greater relevance, Levada and VCIOM opinion polls were giving the Kremlin-backed candidate Sobyanin about 70% versus 9-13% for Navalny in the Moscow mayoral election of 2013. In the event, Sobyanin only narrowly avoided a second round with 51% to Navalny’s 27%.

navalny-voting-intentions Even more worrying for the Kremlin though is that the percentage of Russians saying they were “probably” or “definitely” going to vote for Navalny increased from the 5% level he enjoyed from March 2012 to February 2017 (i.e. encompassing the period of the Moscow elections) to 10% in March 2017 following the release of the Medvedev corruption video.

Now just to make it clear I am not implying that Navalny is any sort of serious electoral threat to Putin – at least for now. In particular, the President’s ratings are at a consistent ~80% since Crimea, whereas during the 2012-13 period they were hovering at a nadir of ~60%.

Putin’s relatively greater popularily will, presumably, mostly or even wholly cancel out Navalny’s momentum.

And, of course, the question of whether Navalny will even be allowed to run is still an open one. Just a few hours ago a Russian court upheld the five year suspended sentence given to Navalny for the Kirovles Affair, which might be grounds for formally barring him from the Presidential race – though as in 2013, it is possible that it will not be enforced. Still, I’m not going to bet on that. Navalny is far more charismatic than Prokhorov, he is the only liberal candidate with a reasonable chance of making inroads into the (considerably bigger) nationalist electorate, and the recent attack on him by kremlin-affiliated thugs – which threatens to make him blind in one eye, if his own assertions are true – might create a martyr effect for him (as the murky dioxin poisoning of Viktor Yushchenko in 2004, which helped drive Ukrainians to stage the Orange Revolution). It would not be wise for the kremlins to risk a Navalny run.

One other very interesting, and even more interesting development, is the complete collapse of Zyuganov’s (Communist) support – he has gone from 13% in April 2013, to just 5% today; practically level pegging with the nationalist Zhirinovsky, who has also declined, but by a far more modest degree, despite losing part of his nationalist base to Putin after Crimea.

russia-elections-2016-party-support-age-group As I have long pointed out, the Red base of pensioners is dying out – there are three times fewer Communist voters in the youngest age group versus the oldest, whereas the LDPR’s share, conversely, doubles – and the demographics are now fast translating into electoral politics.

What this means in practice is that in the unlikely scenario that Navalny does run, I strongly suspect that he and Putin will between them compress the two fossils of Russian politics – that is, Zyuganov and Zhirinovsky – into the single digits, and will manage to come a distant second, perhaps 15% to Putin’s 70%.

 
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Almost two weeks since the street protests against corruption, the first poll results have started to trickle in, and the provide a mixed picture.

(1) Politician Approval Ratings

Putin’s approval rating remains at 82% as of this March, almost unbudged from February’s 84%. On the other hand, the approval rating of Prime Minister Medvedev, the main target of Navalny’s anti-corruption video, have plummeted from 52% to 42%.

(2) Navalny’s Video

7% of Russians claim to have seen Navalny’s video, which tallies well with the 17.7 million views it has received on YouTube as of the time of writing. Another 11% haven’t seen it but claim to be familiar with its contents, and another 20% have heard of it but without many details. 60% haven’t heard of it.

Of this 38% of Russians who are somewhat familiar with the video, some 27% are confident that it is entirely true, and another 45% believe that it is likely to be true, although accept that the accusations might not be entirely reliable. 16% think it is entirely false, and 13% don’t have an opinion.

However, 75% of respondents aware of the video think that it is a typical phenomenon amongst the Russian elites, whereas only 12% think it is an unusual case.

Questioning all Russians, some 17% believe that neither Putin nor Medvedev are involved with corruption; 30% think that the accusations against Medvedev are true, but that Putin is clean; while 38% think that all the country’s leaders are involved in corruption. 14% are unsure.

(3) Navalny’s Ratings

Awareness of Navalny has been increasing through the period fo the 2011-12 protests and peaking at around the time of the 2013 Moscow elections. It waned a bit during 2014-16, but in the past month, he has fully regained all the lost ground.

navalny-awareness-rating

Moreover, the share of Russians who had both heard of Navalny, and who said they were “certainly” or “possibly” going to vote for Navalny, doubled from a stable 5% during the period from from 2012 to February 2017, to 10% in March 2017, after the release of his video on Medvedev.

navalny-voting-intentions

That said, Navalny retains a significant “antirating” – that is, Russians who say they are “probably” or “definitely” not going to vote of him – of 40%. This high antirating, which is probably linked to his outspoken opposition to the Crimean referendum and the Novorossiya project – which alienated most of his nationalist base – will be difficult for Navalny to overcome. Ultimately, while Russians are cynical about the moral qualities of their elites, this same cynicism limits the extent to which you can run a political campaign in Russia based just on anti-corruption.

Nonetheless, the kremlinites have no good reason to be particularly complacent either. For instance, a 5% voting intention in March 2013 still translated into a 27% share of the vote in the Moscow mayoral elections against United Russia functionary Sergey Sobyanin, who has the reputation of a competent and reasonably clean bureaucrat (by Russian standards). Now one certainly shouldn’t generalize to Russia, because Moscow is by far Russia’s most “liberal” region; for every Muscovite hipster, there are ten Uralvagonzavod vatniks. Nonetheless, the discrepancy does imply that a lot of the undecideds and those who haven’t heard of Navalny are partial to his message.

 
Anatoly Karlin
About Anatoly Karlin

I am a blogger, thinker, and businessman in the SF Bay Area. I’m originally from Russia, spent many years in Britain, and studied at U.C. Berkeley.

One of my tenets is that ideologies tend to suck. As such, I hesitate about attaching labels to myself. That said, if it’s really necessary, I suppose “liberal-conservative neoreactionary” would be close enough.

Though I consider myself part of the Orthodox Church, my philosophy and spiritual views are more influenced by digital physics, Gnosticism, and Russian cosmism than anything specifically Judeo-Christian.