20 years under Putin: a timeline

Russian political analyst and Director of the Institute of National Strategy Stanislav Belkovsky spoke with IMR's Olga Khvostunova on the need for a pivotal change of the state paradigm for the rebirth of Russia.



OK: What do you think of the elections' aftermath?

SB: There was nothing interesting about these elections, the outcome was obvious since last September, when Putin announced he would be switching places with Medvedev. It was clear that Putin would win in first round.

OK: Was it clear? Many experts discussed the possibility of a run-off.

SB: Yes, people were speculating. But run-off elections would have been impossible because Putin has never participated in a run-off before, and psychologically, it would have been extremely stressful for him. The second reason there wasn’t a second round is because it may have allowed for the opposition vote to be mobilized even more than it was in the first round. On March 4th, the pre-determined election results were simply confirmed. It was also clear that Putin would win through large-scale manipulations and fraud, which is the way of his regime.

OK: If it was that clear, why did people protest following the parliamentary elections in December?

SB: There is just one reason that I can think of to explain these mass demonstrations and the close public scrutiny of the elections, which didn't mean anything per se. The reason all of this happened is that a social group that that previously been loyal to Putin changed their mind.

OK: What social group?

SB: These are people who, in 2000, accepted Putin as a figure capable of stabilizing the social and economic situation. With Putin in power, this group finally gained an unprecedented amount of basic freedoms – they could travel, buy things, and so on, at the expense of their political freedoms. Now he no longer has this group’s support. Having lost it, Putin has once and for all become the president of the uneducated working class, in rural and urban areas, and of the country's periphery. He has effectively lost a large share of his traditional base, chiefly the politically active segment of the population.

OK: What is the real percentage of people who support Putin?

SB: 38%.

Putin has never participated in a run-off before,
and psychologically, it would have been
extremely stressful for him.

OK: Where does this figure come from?

SB: It's an aggregated and weighted average, derived from the actual sociological data tha texisted before the elections. All the public polls would provide the political estimate which took into account expert opinion and was adjusted for administrative intervention. The resultant estimate is 38%.

OK: It's quite a high percentage.

SB: It is high, but nevertheless it's a loss for Putin, not a victory. If the elections were in fact fair and if the opposition would have had a chance to nominate their own candidate, Putin would have lost. It’s important to deflate the myth that Putin would have won anyway. It’s not true. To win, he had to take advantage of his powers of administrative intervention and manipulate the will of the electorate.

OK: According to your estimate, it comes out that almost 30% of the vote is fraudulent. However, the Golos Association reported that only 15% of votes were falsified.

SB: In their calculations, Golos experts did not make adjustments for the immense coercion and pressure employed by the government. Although only 15% of votes were falsified on the day of the election, if the competition were fair in the first place, Putin would still not have won without abusing government resources to rally and intimidate potential voters.

OK: Do you think he would have lost in the run-off?

SB: It depends on who he would have been running against. For example, if it were against Zyuganov, Putin still would have won.

OK: And if it were against Prokhorov?

SB: Same thing. But if the opposition had introduced a nominee who could represent all the opposition forces and was completely different from Putin, like Oksana Dmitrieva, for example, then Putin would have lost.

OK: A surprising choice, considering that Oksana Dmitrieva is far from being at the center of political activity. Why not someone like [Alexei] Navalny?

SB: Navalny could be such a candidate, but he is a worse choice, because the candidate in question must be an alternate to Putin in every way, while Navalny and Putin have a handful of things in common.

OK: Like what?

SB: They share the image of a macho man, a masculine leader. Although, in my opinion, Navalny is a much stronger politician than Putin. However, Putin is more well-known and experienced, so he can compensate for this deficit of tpolitical power with other means.

OK: Are you saying that they’re similar in their style?

SB: Yes. But I think that Russia needs a pivotal change in the paradigm of state power. It needs to shift from the masculine paradigm, that always comes with the repression and coercion of its own citizens, toward the paradigm of tenderness, if I may call it that. The latter means that Russian authorities will figuratively fold their people into their loving arms. A female president would be a great alternative to these macho men, especially during the period of transition from a presidential republic to a parliamentary one.