Putin Wins, Will Mass Protests Follow?
Boris Kagarlitsky: Putin faced no serious opposition candidates, but people are fed up with neo-liberal system
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay.
And in Russia the presidential elections are now over. There are still votes to be counted, but it’s rather clear Vladimir Putin will be the next president of Russia. He apparently has garnered more than 60 percent of the popular vote in what Vladimir Putin said is one of the fairest, most transparent elections in the history of Russia. Now, he’s not the only one saying that. If you’re watching RT at all today, they, most of the pundits and analysts and reporters on RT, are saying the same thing. And there’s been a lot of talk about something new, which was webcams in all of the polling stations. Here’s a report from RT.
RT REPORTER: We won’t forget and we won’t forgive. This is what the opposition promised the Kremlin after December’s parliamentary elections. They claimed the vote had been rigged. In response, the authorities decided webcameras at all 98,000 polling stations would solve that problem. It’s cost Russian taxpayers over $300 million, doubling the initial cost of the vote. Now it’s officially the most transparent and the most expensive in the nation’s history.
JAY: Now joining us from Moscow to unpack the Russian elections is Boris Kagarlitsky. Boris is a sociologist, he’s an adviser to the chairperson of the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Russia, and he’s the director of the Institute of Globalization and Social Movements. Thanks for joining us, Boris.
BORIS KAGARLITSKY, DIRECTOR, INSTITUTE OF GLOBALIZATION AND SOCIAL MOVEMENTS: Hello.
JAY: So what do you make of these transparent elections and this webcam technology? And then we’ll get more into the substance of what was at stake.
KAGARLITSKY: There was a kind of funny scandal, because one polling station in Dagestan was shown on a webcam where we saw two guys who carried piles of ballots. And they were electronic ballot boxes, so they kept pushing through these electronic ballot boxes one ballot after another, time and again. And that was already on air. Then people got it and they connected that to the internet. So the whole country enjoyed the show, watched them just pushing in ballots in piles. And then they ran out of ballots. And then some other guy came and brought in more ballots to get into the ballot box [incompr.]
And, of course, the numbers of irregularities in the electoral process, these numbers are quite astonishing, even compared to the previous elections, even compared to what happened in December.
But I think the main problem is not there. The main problem is that electoral rules are completely unfair and undemocratic, because it’s the government itself, the administration itself, which selects who is going to run, who are going to be the opponents of Putin. So in that sense it’s a kind of joke, these elections. If you have anyone who is not part of the ruling elite, not part of the system, he’s not going to be allowed to get any close to the ballot box or to the ballot stations.
JAY: And the point here is that it’s hard to register parties, and there’s all kinds of technicalities that can be used to prevent candidates from getting on the ballot.
KAGARLITSKY: Well, first of all, registering a new party in Russia is impossible. Since they’ve got a new law on registering parties, not a single party managed to be registered. And the law is created in such a way that is simply not possible to register anybody. But at the same time, the government or the Ministry of Justice is allowed to deregister any party almost at any moment with lots and lots of pretexts, some of which are just very funny. So in that sense all the existing parties, they are totally under control.
JAY: Now, is there any doubt in your mind that Putin probably did pass the 50 percent barrier?
KAGARLITSKY: No, he didn’t. I am sure he didn’t. That’s very clear. I think the real score was, well, basically the same as the official score of United Russia in December, which was also highly inflated. So I think the real score of Putin was much higher than the real score of United Russia, which is above the official score of United Russia. So I think he was at the level of maybe 49 percent, maybe 50 percent, even, but not anything close to 60 as they announced. And the level of fraud was quite appalling.
JAY: So that if there had not been fraud, then there likely might have been a need for a runoff election.
KAGARLITSKY: Well, first of all, again, I am saying the important thing is that their opponents were fake. In that sense it makes no difference whether he gets 51 percent, for example, or 52 percent, or even 48. He has fake opponents, which are not going to fight for power, which are not going to take over from him, and which are not going to oppose him. And in that sense the whole electoral process is a joke.
So what will be the really important test tomorrow is whether [incompr.] in Moscow and St. Petersburg will actually have mass demonstrations and protests, or you will have these events all around the country in all major cities. Of course there will be demonstrations everywhere, but the question is how big they’re going to be. And my expectation is that they’re going to be pretty big this time, because when you’re looking at the news orâ€”not the official news, of course, but you are looking on the internet, on Facebook, and so on, so you get a lot and a lot of anger from the provincial cities. And sometimes there were already fights at the polling stations because [incompr.] has tried to push out the observers, which are officially registered observers. So they tried to kick them out of the polling stations. So they ended up in fights in some cases. And that gives you an idea what was happening.
JAY: Right. When you say "tomorrow", you meanâ€”we’re in different time zones and all the rest, but essentially we’re saying the issue is Monday and whether there’ll be big protests on Monday.
KAGARLITSKY: The issue’s Monday. The issue’s Monday. There is already a big mobilization called on Monday evening, and it’s called all over the country. And though there are leaderships in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and some others places which are officially leading these mobilizations, in reality I think it’s mostly spontaneous. I don’t think that people have a lot of trust when it comes to the opposition leaderships. But I think they are really angry, and they want to change things, and they want to change things now.
JAY: Now, I guess in one of your articles you wrote recently you gave Putin some credit for being able to establish this kind ofâ€”I don’t know if you used this word, but, I take it, veneer of democracy, because they’ve created something that looks like fair, modern institutions and elections here, certainly from the world looking from the outside, and if you’re watching RT that’s for sure. You’d think the process was pretty good. But the point you’re making here, I guessâ€”and this is what’s more substantiveâ€”is that there is no real opposition to the kind of neoliberal economics that Putin is presenting, electoral opposition.
KAGARLITSKY: Well, [the situation] is such that Putin’s regime is something like what is called polyarchy in political science, after Robert Dahl, which means that there is some level of democracy for the elites, but there is very little democracy for the rest of the population. And that’s a big irony, that some of the elites, which were a part of the game earlier, now are leading the protest. Why? It is because the economic crisis actually made an elite confrontation much more serious.
So Putin was always a master of compromise, the master of consensus-making. He managed to pull together all the major elites, all the major interest groups, and made them agree; and once agreed, then he was the person who was announcing the policy as his own policy. So he looks like being a very strong leader. At the same time, in practice he was no strong leader at all; he was a consensus or compromise maker.
And now the gap between different positions within the elite is becoming really dramatic. So some of the elites are rather siding with outsiders, with opposition against the system, at least the political system. But that means that they are going to change their approach to economic policy, though even in terms of economic policy there are very strong disagreements. For example, Russian business community is now badly split between those who back the decision to join the WTO and those who are strongly opposed to this decision. And for the first time in many years, we have certain factions of Russian business community openly criticizing neoliberal economic policy of WTO, which never happened. They were always critical, but they were kind of hiding their criticism and making that private. And now they’re speaking in public about the wrong policy of the open market and so on. So in that sense this split is becoming visible.
JAY: And why are certain sections of the business community opposed to WTO-type policies?
KAGARLITSKY: It’s very clear they are opposing the WTO because it means the death sentence for the remaining Russian industry, with the exception of the production of oil, gas, and raw materials. In that sense, every kind of manufacturing is going to die, and most of agriculture’s going to die, and basically Russian economy is going to die, because we are still a country which produces a lot of things and not just oil and gas, and oil and gas will not be enough to keep Russian population busy doing something.
JAY: Because WTO policy means openingâ€”fully opening the Russian market to foreign competition.
KAGARLITSKY: Actually, it means surrendering Russian market to the Chinese producers backed by Western companies.
JAY: And Putin is where on that issue?
KAGARLITSKY: That’s [incompr.] point, that Putin was changing side. He did change side quite a few times. And, you see, for a period of time, what they were doing, they were negotiating about Russia’s WTO entry but not making any decisions. So they were postponing the decision to enter. And finally, all of a sudden, in December, right after they announced Putin’s presidency or Putin’sâ€”okay, candidacy; let’s put it this wayâ€”they also made a very rapid decision to join the WTO. And, of course, you know that the great majority of the population is against it, a considerable part of business community is against it. I think there are a tremendous number of experts and industrial specialists who are opposed to that. And so they had no discussion, they had no debate; they just announced and said that that’s what’s going to happen. Now we still have six months to rectify the decision, and the battle is going to restart now because quite a few people in the business community are really interested in stopping it. And stopping Putin on the way to power, among other things, means that it also would lead to WTO entry being postponed or even stopped.
JAY: But why would Putin want to join WTO? And what business interests in Russia would want it?
KAGARLITSKY: No, no, I don’t think he wants anything. It just means that Putin reportedâ€”kind of reported the victory of another group, the one which backs neoliberal policies stronger and the one which is connected to the oil and gas companies who are exporting the raw materials to Western Europe and China. And these are the strongest business interests in Russia. And, well, okay, the government of Putin simply reflects their interests and reflects their will.
JAY: So this is a division to some extent between oil and gas sectors of Russian capital and domestic manufacturing and agriculture.
KAGARLITSKY: Exactly. But the tremendous majority of people are not in the oil and gas sector.
JAY: But that’s where the money is.
KAGARLITSKY: Andâ€”yes, and the big money is with these two sectors. So that’s why you again have this situation when having more democracy means that these big interests, these big corporations with big money, will suddenly become marginalized because they cannot mobilize more support for their cause.
JAY: So in terms of what do you expect now, if I understand it correctly, the presidential term is going to be six years. Is that correct, rather than previously it was four?
KAGARLITSKY: Well, they say it’s going to be six years. My question is whether it’s going to last for six months.
JAY: Really? Why?
KAGARLITSKY: Well, because tomorrow we’ll see thousands of people in the streets, and then we’ll see what will happen to the police and to the army. I don’t think they are going to be very happy with Putin staying for another six years.
JAY: This is certainly not the image we’re getting, again, watching RT. So Russiaâ€”.
KAGARLITSKY: Well, don’t watch it. My answer is simply don’t watch it.
JAY: So you think the country’s far, far more divided on all of these issues than we’re seeing.
KAGARLITSKY: I think it’s not so divided. I think it’s rather Putin has become increasingly isolated, because on the one hand he has [incompr.] the neoliberal groups, which want to push further in the same direction to the right. Then you have a strong opposition which wants to stop this neoliberal policy. And Putin is just kind of losing ground because he’s not capable of having any solid base of his own. He doesn’t have it.
JAY: And in terms of what might happen over the next six months, does there not need to be some emergence of some kind of political leadership that representsâ€”
JAY: â€”policies against this kind of neoliberalism? ‘Cause last time we talked, you were saying part of the problem is most of the leadership of these opposition protests now are either at other variations of neoliberals or ultranationalists.
KAGARLITSKY: Well, first of all, it’s not exactly so. There is also some kind of left present. Even if you take the so-called liberal opposition, there are certain sections which present themselves as the left. How serious they are and how honest they are, it’s a different question. But at least if you listen to them talk they will say a few things about the need to go beyond neoliberalism or taking social issues seriously and so on.
But in reality what’s going to happen is that society will be organizing itself from the bottom up. And the mobilizations themselves will create the new [incompr.] speaking philosophically, the new social situation with the new political formations as well. And I think these formations will be very different compared to what we used to have before. Even now, we already see that there is a very visible shift to the left on the ground in the streets with these mass mobilizations. And the emergence of big provincial movements is absolutely essential, because, of course, provincial cities are part of the left compared to Moscow. And that means that once we get more provincial protest and the stronger movements capable of influencing the agenda, that will end up in also some kind of shift to the left for the opposition movement in general.
JAY: Okay. Well, let’s talk again soon, and we’ll assess the reaction of the Russian people to these presidential elections. Thanks very much for joining us, Boris.
KAGARLITSKY: Thank you.
JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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