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Vladimir Putin re-elected Russia’s President in landslide win

Putin leads with over 76% of the vote; Communist Party candidate comes distant second

Alexander Mercouris

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This article first appeared on RussiaFeed

With over 80% of the votes counted incumbent Russian President Vladimir Putin is steamrolling towards an even bigger landslide win than predicted in the Russian Presidential election in which he is seeking re-election.

Russia’s Central Election Commission puts Putin’s share of the vote at over 76% – even more than had been predicted – with Pavel Grudinin, the Communist Party’s candidate, a very distant second at 12%.

The exact size of the turnout is not yet clear, but it appears to be 67%, roughly in line with the 65% turnout in the previous Presidential election of 2012, suggesting that very few Russian voters in the end heeded the call of the liberal ‘non-system’ opposition leader Alexey Navalny for a boycott.

Here are a few preliminary thoughts about this election:

(1) Vladimir Putin commands overwhelming public support in Russia.

This is a reality that many in the West deny.  However in what was an election with very few reported violations administered by a Central Election Commission headed by the prominent and well respected ‘system’ liberal Ella Pamfilova Putin has won by an overwhelming landslide.

Suffice to say that even if every Russian eligible to vote in the election who didn’t vote had done so, bringing turnout up to an impossible 100%, and even if every one of those Russians had voted for someone else than Putin, which is also impossible, he would still have won around 50% of the vote, making it a certainty that he would be re-elected President of Russia, though perhaps in a run-off.

In reality many and probably most Russians who did not vote in the election would have voted for Putin if they had voted, increasing the number of Russians who would have voted for him even more.

The simple fact should be faced: at this particular point in their history Vladimir Putin is the political leader the Russian people overwhelmingly support.  Even Ksenia Sobchak – the liberal ‘non-system’ candidate who stood against him in the election – admits it.  So should the West.

(2) The Communist Party is Russia’s main opposition party

If Vladimir Putin won an overwhelming victory over all other candidates Pavel Grudinin – the Communist Party’s candidate – still contrived to win twice as many votes (12% of the vote) as his nearest rival Vladimir Zhirinovsky (6% of the vote), and almost as many votes as all the other opposition candidates put together.

He also scored significantly better than the 7% share of the vote most opinion polls had predicted for him.

This is despite the fact that Grudinin was a very unconvincing candidate.  Not only is he not a member of the Communist Party, but he is actually a former member of Vladimir Putin’s United Russia Party.

Moreover he is multi-millionaire businessman who was found during the election to have squirrelled away large sums of money in foreign bank accounts, a fact which he sought to conceal.

All of these factors must have weighed against Grudinin with Communist voters, and the fact that he was also the target of a vigorous campaign on state television probably didn’t help him either.

Grudinin also showed himself wholly lacking in ideas about foreign policy, which at a time of heightened international tension can’t have impressed voters.

Grudinin’s share of the vote (12%) is significantly less than Gennady Zyuganov, the Communist Party’s veteran leader, achieved in the previous election in 2012 (17%).

However given the tidal wave of support for Putin and his own inadequacies as a candidate I am frankly surprised that Grudinin did as well as he did.

The fact that the Communist Party consistently comes second in national elections in Russia, even with a candidate as unconvincing as Grudinin, shows that it continues to have a significant core of support in Russia.

Constant predictions that its elderly electorate is dying out never quite seem to come true.  Perhaps, in a phenomenon not unknown in other countries, Russian voters tend to turn to the Communists as they grow older.

Vladimir Putin’s overwhelming popularity – especially amongst working class Russians who might otherwise be expected to be attracted to the Communist Party and its programme – makes it difficult to gauge the level of potential support for the Communist Party in Russia.

However the outcome of this election does make me wonder whether when Putin is finally gone a more dynamically led Communist Party with a younger and more convincing leadership might once again become a serious political force in Russia.

I would add that in contrast to Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s LDPR (see below) the Communist Party does seem to have potential leaders in waiting who might one day come forward to lead the party, and my impression from a trip I took to Perm in 2015 is that the Communist Party or at least the ideas that are associated with it may have a greater appeal amongst young Russians than is generally realised.

My trip to Perm however also showed me what an incoherent and disorganised force the Communist Party presently is at grassroots level, a fact which its decision to pick Grudinin as its candidate also shows.

If the Communist Party ever seriously aims to win the full level of its potential support in an election then it must undertake a radical overhaul not just of its leadership but also of its organisation.  That may be more than it is capable of.

(3) Vladimir Zhirinovsky and the LDPR are (probably) on the way out

The relatively strong showing of Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s LDPR in the 2016 Russian parliamentary elections led many to expect that Zhirinovsky might come second in this election ahead of Grudinin.

That did not happen, and as Zhirinovsky has himself admitted the 6% of the share of the vote he won is a setback for him, even if it is the same share of the vote as the one he scored in the Presidential election of 2012.

It is in fact difficult to imagine a post 2000 Presidential election in Russia that played better to Zhirinovsky’s presumed strengths than the one which has just happened.

At a time of heightened international tension Zhirinovsky was the only opposition candidate with an interest in foreign policy to challenge Putin from an anti-Western patriotic position which might be expected to be popular with patriotically minded Russian voters, who form a very substantial portion of Russia’s electorate.

In the event Zhirinovsky failed to capitalise on this in a Presidential election which looked to offer him not only his best chance to make an impact but also probably his last chance.

Zhirinovsky is now 72.  It is difficult to believe that he can still be a credible candidate in Russia’s next Presidential election in 2024, when he will be 78.

By contrast the support Grudinin received shows that there is a portion of Russia’s electorate which is willing to support whatever candidate the Communist Party proposes, even when that candidate is someone as unconvincing as Grudinin, and that the Communist Party is not therefore just stuck with one candidate.

Zhirinovsky’s Party, the LDPR, is by contrast so much his personal vehicle that it is difficult to imagine who can replace him.

The probability must therefore be that by 2024 both Zhirinovsky and his LDPR will be in eclipse, with the only issue being which other party or candidate picks up his votes.

(3) The liberal candidates did dismally (again)

In the Russian parliamentary elections of 2016 the aggregate share of the vote of all of Russia’s various liberal and quasi liberal parties was 4.1%.

The aggregate share of the vote in this election of all of Russia’s various liberal and quasi liberal candidates was 4.09%.  The liberal candidate who did best was Ksenia Sobchak – once spoken of as Russia’s equivalent of Paris Hilton – who did run an unusually slick campaign but who in the event only won 1.66% of the vote.

That suggests that Russia’s liberal voting electorate is stable at around 4% of Russia’s voting electorate, at least in any election in which Vladimir Putin either directly or through his party United Russia is a candidate.

The fact that the share of the vote won by liberal candidates in this election is roughly the same as the share of the vote won by liberal parties in Russia’s 2016 parliamentary elections incidentally confirms that Navalny’s call for a boycott of the election was a flop.  If any voters might have been expected to heed this call, it was Russia’s liberal voters.  In the event, in what must be considered a major blow for Navalny, they refused to heed it.

This provides more reason to doubt that Navalny is anywhere close to being the political force in Russia that the Western media likes to say he is.

Needless to say that does not prevent the BBC in this report about the election from referring to Navalny as Russia’s “main opposition leader” who was supposedly “barred from the race”.

Note how this BBC report passes over Grudinin and the Communist Party: the party which really is Russia’s main opposition party, and whose candidate has just won three times more votes than all the liberal candidates put together.

Possibly when Vladimir Putin finally leaves the scene more liberal minded voters will come forward and the share of the vote won by liberal candidates and liberal parties in Russia’s elections will increase.

However until that day comes liberals are a fringe and do not deserve the disproportionate amount of attention Western governments and the Western media continuously give them.

(4) The Skripal case

Putin’s bigger than expected victory will inevitably trigger speculation about what effect if any the Skripal case has had on this election.

My opinion is that it has had none.

Most Russian voters must have long since realised that relations between Russia and the West have become extremely bad.  I doubt that the furore around the Skripal case will have made them think about that any differently or will have effected the way they voted at all.

Nor do I think it will have made Russian voters more inclined to vote for Putin than they were already, and I certainly don’t think that Skripal was attacked in order to increase the number of votes which went to Putin in the election or to ‘energise’ a supposedly dull election.  Frankly those claims are not only entirely speculative; they are also farfetched.

(5) The effect of the sanctions

Lastly, I would make the obvious point that if the purpose of the West’s sanctions was to undermine the Russian people’s support for Vladimir Putin then they have obviously and spectacularly failed.  Support for him appears to be as strong as ever.

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Photos of swastika on Ukrainian mall stairway creates a stir [Video]

Ukrainian nationalist press in damage-control mode to explain away the Nazi sign, but they forgot the name of the street the mall is on.

Seraphim Hanisch

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One of the aspects of news about Ukraine that does not make it past the gatekeepers of the American and Western news media is how a significant contingent of Ukrainian nationalists have espoused a sense of reverence for Nazis. The idea that this could even happen anywhere in the world in an open manner makes the claim seem too absurd to be taken seriously. Gone are the days when the Nazi swastika adorned streets and buildings in Europe. Right?

Well, maybe, wrong.

This was seen in Kyiv’s Gorodok (or Horodok, if you insist) Gallery, a shopping center in that city, located on Bandera Avenue.

The pro-nationalist news service UNIAN wasted no time going to press with their explanation of this incident, which admittedly may be accurate:

Children and teenagers who participated in the All-Ukrainian break dance festival held in the Kyiv-based Gorodok Gallery shopping mall were shocked to see a swastika image projected onto an LED staircase.

The mall administration apologized to visitors, explaining saying that their computer system had apparently been hacked.

“The administration and staff have no relation to whatever was projected onto the LED-staircase, and in no way does it support such [an] act. Now we are actively searching for those involved in the attack,” it said in a statement.

According to Gorodok Gallery’s administrative office, it was not the first time a cyber breach took place.

As reported earlier, Ukraine is believed to be a testing ground for cyberattacks, many of which are launched from Russia. Hackers have earlier targeted critical energy infrastructure, state institutions, banks, and large businesses.

This time, it appears, hackers aimed to feed the Kremlin’s narrative of “Nazis in power in Ukraine” and create a relevant hype-driving viral story for Russian media to spread it worldwide.

The Gorodok Gallery also apologized on its Facebook page and said that this was a result of hacking.

But what about the street that the mall is on? From the self-same Facebook page, this is what we see:


To translate, for those who do not read Ukrainian or Russian, the address says the following:

23 Steven Bandera Prospekt, Kyiv, Ukraine 04073

This street was formerly called “Moscow Avenue.” Big change, as we shall see.

Steven Bandera got his birthday designated as a national holiday in Ukraine last December. He is known in Ukraine’s history for one thing. According to the Jerusalem Post:

The street where the shopping mall is located is named for Stepan Bandera, a Ukrainian nationalist who briefly collaborated with Nazi Germany in its fight against Russia.

His troops are believed to have killed thousands of Jews.

Several Israeli papers picked this bit of news up, and of course, the reasons are understandable. However, for the West, it appears possible that this news event will largely go unnoticed, even by that great nation that is often called “Israel’s proxy”, the United States.

This is probably because for certain people in the US, there is a sense of desperation to mask the nature of events that are happening in Ukraine.

The usual fare of mainstream news for the West probably consists of things like “Putin’s military seizes innocent Ukrainian sailors in Kerch incident” or, “Ukraine’s Orthodox Church declared fully independent by Patriarch of Constantinople” (not that too many Americans know what a Constantinople even is, anyway), but the overriding narrative for the American people about this country is “Ukraine are the good guys, and Russia are the bad guys,” and this will not be pushed aside, even to accommodate the logical grievance of Israel to this incident.

If this article gets to Western papers at all, it will be the UNIAN line they adhere to, that evil pro-Russia hackers caused this stairway to have a swastika to provoke the idea that Ukraine somehow supports Naziism.

But UNIAN neglected to mention that the street name was recently changed to Stephan Bandera (in 2016), and no one appears to have hacked this. Nor does UNIAN talk about the Azov fighters that openly espoused much of the Nazi ideology. For nationalist Ukrainians, this is all for the greater good of getting rid of all things Russia.

A further sad fact about this is the near impossibility of getting assuredly honest and neutral information about this and other similar happenings. Both Ukrainian nationalists and Russian media agencies have dogs in the race, so to speak. They are both personally connected to these events. However, the Russian media cannot be discounted here, because they do offer a witness and perspective, probably the closest to any objective look at what is going on in Ukraine. We include a video of a “torchlight march” that took place in 2017 that featured such hypernationalist activity, which is not reported in the West.

More such reports are available, but this one seemed the best one to summarize the character of what is going on in the country.

While we do not know the motive and identities of whoever programmed the swastika, it cannot really be stated that this was just a random publicity stunt in a country that has no relationship with Nazi veneration.

The street the mall is on bears witness to that.

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It’s Back to the Iran-Contra Days Under Trump

Abrams and his cronies will not stop with Venezuela.

Strategic Culture Foundation

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Authored by Wayne Madsen, via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


Showing that he is adopting the neoconservative playbook every day he remains in office, Donald Trump handed the neocons a major win when he appointed Iran-contra scandal felon Elliott Abrams as his special envoy on Venezuela. Abrams pleaded guilty in 1991 to two counts of withholding information on the secret sale of US weapons for cash to help illegally supply weapons to the Nicaraguan right-wing contras, who were battling against the government of President Daniel Ortega. Abrams would have headed to a federal prison, but President George H. W. Bush, an unindicted co-conspirator in the scandal, issued pardons to Abrams and his five fellow conspirators – former Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, former National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane, and former Central Intelligence Agency officials Alan Fiers, Duane “Dewey” Clarridge, and Clair George – on Christmas Eve 1991, during the final weeks of Bush’s lame duck administration.

Abrams escaped being charged with more serious crimes by Independent Counsel Lawrence Walsh because he cut a last-minute deal with federal prosecutors. Trump, who has made no secret of his disdain for cooperating federal witnesses, would have normally called Abrams a “rat,” a gangster term meaning informant. The man who helped engineer the pardons for Abrams and his five convicted friends was none other than Bush’s Attorney General, William Barr, who has just been sworn in as Trump’s Attorney General. Trump, who is always decrying the presence of the “deep state” that thwarts his very move, has become the chief guardian of that entity.

During a recent hearing of the US House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, newly-minted congresswoman Ilhan Omar, Democrat of Minnesota, reminded her colleagues and the world about the sordid background of Abrams.

Omar zeroed in on Abrams’s criminal history:

“Mr. Abrams, in 1991 you pleaded guilty to two counts of withholding information from Congress regarding the Iran-Contra affair, for which you were later pardoned by President George H.W. Bush. I fail to understand why members of this committee or the American people should find any testimony you give today to be truthful.”

Abrams, as is the nature of neocons, refused to respond to Omar and cited her comments as “personal attacks.”

Abrams’s and his fellow criminals’ use of mercenaries and “death squads” to conduct secret wars in Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala during the Ronald Reagan administration in the 1980s has made a re-entrance under Trump. Abrams was brought on board by neocons like National Security Adviser John Bolton, Vice President Mike Pence, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to oversee a US military build-up in Colombia, said to be 5000 US troops, to support Venezuelan paramilitary and military efforts to topple President Nicolas Maduro. Abrams and Bolton are also believed to have retained the services of another unindicted conspirator in the Iran-contra affair, Michael Ledeen, a colleague of the disgraced and convicted former Trump National Security Adviser, retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn. Ledeen and Flynn co-authored a book titled, “The Field of Fight: How We Can Win the Global War Against Radical Islam and its Allies.” The book contains nothing more than the standard neocon tripe one might expect from the likes of Ledeen.

An official investigation of the Iran-contra scandal by the late Republican Senator John Tower of Texas concluded that Abrams’s and Ledeen’s friend, Iranian-Jewish middleman Manucher Ghorbanifar, a long-time Mossad asset and well-known prevaricator, was extremely instrumental in establishing the back-channel arms deals with Iran. Ghorbanifar has long been on the CIA “burn list” as an untrustworthy charlatan, along with others in the Middle East of similar sketchy credentials, including the Iraq’s Ahmad Chalabi, Syria’s Farid “Frank” Ghadry, and Lebanon’s Samir “Sami” Geagea. These individuals, however, were warmly embraced by neocons like Abrams and his associates.

Abrams, whose links with Israeli intelligence has always been a point of consternation with US counter-intelligence officials, is part of an old cabal of right-wing anti-Soviet Democrats who coalesced around Senator Henry Jackson in the 1970s. Along with Abrams, this group of war hawks included Richard Perle, Frank Gaffney, William Kristol, Douglas Feith, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Abram Shulsky, and Paul Wolfowitz. Later, this group would have its fingerprints on major US foreign policy debacles, ranging from Nicaragua and Grenada to Lebanon, Iraq, and Libya. Later, in December 2000, these neocons managed to convince president-elect George W. Bush of the need to “democratize” the Middle East. That policy would later bring not democracy but disaster to the Arab Middle East and North Africa.

Abrams and his cronies will not stop with Venezuela. They have old scores to settle with Nicaraguan President Ortega. The initiation of “regime change” operations in Nicaragua, supported by the CIA and the US Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) in Miami, have been ongoing for more than a year.

The Trump administration has already achieved a regime change victory of sorts in El Salvador. Nayib Bukele, the former mayor of San Salvador, who was expelled from the formerly-ruling left-wing Farabundo Marti National Liberation (FMLN) party and joined the right-wing GANA party, was recently elected president of El Salvador. Bukele has quickly re-aligned his country’s policies with those of the Trump administration. Bukele has referred to President Maduro of Venezuela as a “dictator.” He has also criticized the former FMLN government’s recognition of China and severance of diplomatic ties with Taiwan. It will be interesting to see how a sycophant like Bukele will politically survive as Trump continues to call hapless asylum-seeking migrants from his country, who seek residency in the United States, “rapists, gang monsters, murderers, and drug smugglers.”

Another country heading for a US-installed “banana republic” dictator is Haiti. President Jovenal Moise has seen rioting in the streets of Port-au-Prince as the US State Department removed all “non-essential” personnel from the country. Moise, whose country has received $2 billion in oil relief from Venezuela, to help offset rising fuel prices, has continued to support the Maduro government. However, at the US-run and neo-colonial artifice, the Organization of American States (OAS), Moise’s envoys have been under tremendous pressure to cut ties with Venezuela and recognize the US puppet Juan Guaido as Venezuelan president. Moise’s refusal to do so resulted in armed gangs hitting the streets of Port-au-Prince demanding Moise’s resignation. It is the same neocon “regime change” playbook being used in Venezuela and Nicaragua.

There will be similar attempts to replace pro-Maduro governments in his remaining allies in the region. These include Suriname, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.

Abrams was also brought in as an adviser on Middle East policy in the George W. Bush administration. The carnage of Iraq is a stark testament to his record. In 2005, it was reported that two key Bush White House officials – Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove and Deputy National Security Adviser Elliot Abrams – gave a “wink and a nod” for the assassinations by Israeli-paid operatives of three key Lebanese political figures seeking a rapprochement with Syria and Lebanese Hezbollah – Member of Parliament Elie Hobeika, former Lebanese Communist Party chief George Hawi, and former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

In 2008, a United Nations panel headed by former Canadian prosecutor Daniel Bellemare later concluded Hariri was assassinated by a “criminal network” and not by either Syrian and Lebanese intelligence or Lebanese Hezbollah as proffered by Abrams and his friends in Washington.

Representative Omar was spot on in questioning why Abrams, whose name is as disgraced as his two fellow conspirators – Oliver North and John Poindexter – whose criminal convictions were overturned on appeal, is working for the Trump administration on Venezuela. The answer is that the neocons, who can sense, like raptors, Trump’s political weakness, have filled the vacuum left by top-level vacancies in the administration.

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Putin: If mid-range missiles deployed in Europe, Russia will station arms to strike decision centers

Putin: If US deploys mid-range missiles in Europe, Russia will be forced to respond.

RT

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Via RT…


If the US deploys intermediate-range missiles in Europe, Moscow will respond by stationing weapons aimed not only against missiles themselves, but also at command and control centers, from which a launch order would come.

The warning came from President Vladimir Putin, who announced Russia’s planned actions after the US withdraws from the INF Treaty – a Cold War-era agreement between Washington and Moscow which banned both sides form having ground-based cruise and ballistic missiles and developing relevant technology.

The US is set to unilaterally withdraw from the treaty in six months, which opens the possibility of once again deploying these missiles in Europe. Russia would see that as a major threat and respond with its own deployments, Putin said.

Intermediate-range missiles were banned and removed from Europe because they would leave a very short window of opportunity for the other side to decide whether to fire in retaliation after detecting a launch – mere minutes. This poses the threat of an accidental nuclear exchange triggered by a false launch warning, with the officer in charge having no time to double check.

“Russia will be forced to create and deploy weapon systems, which can be used not only against the territories from which this direct threat would be projected, but also against those territories where decision centers are located, from which an order to use those weapons against us may come.” The Russian president, who was delivering a keynote address to the Russian parliament on Wednesday, did not elaborate on whether any counter-deployment would only target US command-and-control sites in Europe or would also include targets on American soil.

He did say the Russian weapon system in terms of flight times and other specifications would “correspond” to those targeting Russia.

“We know how to do it and we will implement those plans without a delay once the relevant threats against us materialize,”he said.

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