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

Alexander Mercouris

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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%.

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 all of 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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US continues to try to corner Russia with silence on Nukes

Moscow continues to be patient in what appears to be an ever more lopsided, intentional stonewalling situation provoked by the Americans.

Seraphim Hanisch

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TASS reported on March 17th that despite Russian readiness to discuss the present problem of strategic weapons deployments and disarmament with its counterparts in the United States, the Americans have not offered Russia any proposals to conduct such talks.

The Kremlin has not yet received any particular proposals on the talks over issues of strategic stability and disarmament from Washington, Russian Presidential Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told TASS on Sunday when commenting on the statement made by US National Security Adviser John Bolton who did not rule out that such talks could be held with Russia and China.

“No intelligible proposals has been received [from the US] so far,” Peskov said.

Earlier Bolton said in an interview with radio host John Catsimatidis aired on Sunday that he considers it reasonable to include China in the negotiation on those issues with Russia as well.

“China is building up its nuclear capacity now. It’s one of the reasons why we’re looking at strengthening our national missile defense system here in the United States. And it’s one reason why, if we’re going to have another arms control negotiation, for example, with the Russians, it may make sense to include China in that discussion as well,” he said.

Mr. Bolton’s sense about this particular aspect of any arms discussions is correct, as China was not formerly a player in geopolitical affairs the way it is now. The now all-but-scrapped Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, or INF, was a treaty concluded by the US and the USSR leaders Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, back in 1987. However, for in succeeding decades, most notably since the fall of the Soviet Union, the US has been gradually building up weaponry in what appears to be an attempt to create a ring around the Russian Federation, a situation which is understandably increasingly untenable to the Russian government.

Both sides have accused one another of violating this treaty, and the mutual violations and recriminations on top of a host of other (largely fabricated) allegations against the Russian government’s activities led US President Donald Trump to announce his nation’s withdrawal from the treaty, formally suspending it on 1 February. Russian President Vladimir Putin followed suit by suspending it the very next day.

The INF eliminated all of both nations’ land based ballistic and cruise missiles that had a range between 500 and 1000 kilometers (310-620 miles) and also those that had ranges between 1000 and 5500 km (620-3420 miles) and their launchers.

This meant that basically all the missiles on both sides were withdrawn from Europe’s eastern regions – in fact, much, if not most, of Europe was missile-free as the result of this treaty. That is no longer the case today, and both nations’ accusations have provoked re-development of much more advanced systems than ever before, especially true considering the Russian progress into hypersonic and nuclear powered weapons that offer unlimited range.

This situation generates great concern in Europe, such that the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres called on both Moscow and Washington to salvage the INF and extend the Treaty on Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms, or the New START as it is known.

“I call on the parties to the INF Treaty to use the time remaining to engage in sincere dialogue on the various issues that have been raised. It is very important that this treaty is preserved,” Guterres said at a session of the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva on Monday.

He stressed that the demise of that accord would make the world more insecure and unstable, which “will be keenly felt in Europe.” “We simply cannot afford to return to the unrestrained nuclear competition of the darkest days of the Cold War,” he said.

Guterres also urged the US and Russia to extend the START Treaty, which expires in 2021, and explore the possibility of further reducing their nuclear arsenals. “I also call on the United States and the Russian Federation to extend the so-called New START Treaty before it expires in 2021,” he said.

The UN chief recalled that the treaty “is the only international legal instrument limiting the size of the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals” and that its inspection provisions “represent important confidence-building measures that benefit the entire world.”

Guterres recalled that the bilateral arms control process between Russia and the US “has been one of the hallmarks of international security for fifty years.”

“Thanks to their efforts, global stockpiles of nuclear weapons are now less than one-sixth of what they were in 1985,” the UN secretary-general pointed out.

The Treaty between the United States of America and the Russian Federation on Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (the New START Treaty) entered into force on February 5, 2011. The document stipulates that seven years after its entry into effect each party should have no more than a total of 700 deployed intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM), submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM) and strategic bombers, as well as no more than 1,550 warheads on deployed ICBMs, deployed SLBMs and strategic bombers, and a total of 800 deployed and non-deployed ICBM launchers, SLBM launchers and strategic bombers. The new START Treaty obliges the parties to exchange information on the number of warheads and carriers twice a year.

The new START Treaty will remain in force during 10 years until 2021, unless superseded by a subsequent agreement. It may be extended for a period of no more than five years (that is, until 2026) upon the parties’ mutual consent. Moscow has repeatedly called on Washington not to delay the issue of extending the Treaty.

 

 

 

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Ariel Cohen exposes Washington’s latest twist in anti-Russia strategy [Video]

Excellent interview Ariel Cohen and Vladimir Solovyov reveals the forces at work in and behind American foreign policy.

Seraphim Hanisch

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While the American people and press are pretty much complicit in reassuring the masses that America is the only “right” superpower on earth, and that Russia and China represent “enemy threats” for doing nothing more than existing and being successfully competitive in world markets, Russia Channel One got a stunner of a video interview with Ariel Cohen.

Who is Ariel Cohen? Wikipedia offers this information about him:

Ariel Cohen (born April 3, 1959 in Crimea in YaltaUSSR) is a political scientist focusing on political risk, international security and energy policy, and the rule of law.[1] Cohen currently serves as the Director of The Center for Energy, Natural Resources and Geopolitics (CENRG) at the Institute for Analysis of Global Security (IAGS). CENRG focuses on the nexus between energy, geopolitics and security, and natural resources and growth. He is also a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, within the Global Energy Center and the Dinu Patriciu Eurasia Center.[2] Until July 2014, Dr. Cohen was a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C. He specializes in Russia/Eurasia, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East.

Cohen has testified before committees of the U.S. Congress, including the Senate and House Foreign Relations Committees, the House Armed Services Committee, the House Judiciary Committee and the Helsinki Commission.[4] He also served as a Policy Adviser with the National Institute for Public Policy’s Center for Deterrence Analysis.[5] In addition, Cohen has consulted for USAID, the World Bank and the Pentagon.[6][7]

Cohen is a frequent writer and commentator in the American and international media. He has appeared on CNN, NBC, CBS, FOX, C-SPAN, BBC-TV and Al Jazeera English, as well as Russian and Ukrainian national TV networks. He was a commentator on a Voice of America weekly radio and TV show for eight years. Currently, he is a Contributing Editor to the National Interest and a blogger for Voice of America. He has written guest columns for the New York TimesInternational Herald TribuneChristian Science Monitor, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Times, EurasiaNet, Valdai Discussion Club,[8] and National Review Online. In Europe, Cohen’s analyses have appeared in Kommersant, Izvestiya, Hurriyet, the popular Russian website Ezhenedelny Zhurnal, and many others.[9][10]

Mr. Cohen came on Russian TV for a lengthy interview running about 17 minutes. This interview, shown in full below, is extremely instructive in illustrating the nature of the American foreign policy directives such as they are at this time.

We have seen evidence of this in recent statements by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo regarding Russia’s “invasion” of Ukraine, and an honestly unabashed bit of fear mongering about China’s company Huawei and its forthcoming 5G networks, which we will investigate in more detail in another piece. Both bits of rhetoric reflect a re-polished narrative that, paraphrased, says to the other world powers,

Either you do as we tell you, or you are our enemy. You are not even permitted to out-compete with us in business, let alone foreign relations. The world is ours and if you try to step out of place, you will be dealt with as an enemy power.

This is probably justified paranoia, because it is losing its place. Where the United Stated used to stand for opposition against tyranny in the world, it now acts as the tyrant, and even as a bully. Russia and China’s reaction might be seen as ignoring the bully and his bluster and just going about doing their own thing. It isn’t a fight, but it is treating the bully with contempt, as bullies indeed deserve.

Ariel Cohen rightly points out that there is a great deal of political inertia in the matter of allowing Russia and China to just do their own thing. The US appears to be acting paranoid about losing its place. His explanations appear very sound and very reasonable and factual. Far from some of the snark Vesti is often infamous for, this interview is so clear it is tragic that most Americans will never see it.

The tragedy for the US leadership that buys this strategy is that they appear to be blinded so much by their own passion that they cannot break free of it to save themselves.

This is not the first time that such events have happened to an empire. It happened in Rome; it happened for England; and it happened for the shorter-lived empires of Nazi Germany and ISIS. It happens every time that someone in power becomes afraid to lose it, and when the forces that propelled that rise to power no longer are present. The US is a superpower without a reason to be a superpower.

That can be very dangerous.

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Even a Vacuous Mueller Report Won’t End ‘Russiagate’

Too many reputations and other interests are vested in the legend for it to vanish from American politics anytime soon.

Stephen Cohen

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Authored by Stephen Cohen via The Nation:


Russiagate allegations that the Kremlin has a subversive hold over President Trump, and even put him in the White House, have poisoned American political life for almost three years. Among other afflictions, it has inspired an array of media malpractices, virtually criminalized anti–Cold War thinking about Russia, and distorted the priorities of the Democratic Party. And this leaves aside the woeful impact Russiagate has had in Moscow—on its policymakers’ perception of the US as a reliable partner on mutually vital strategic issues and on Russian democrats who once looked to the American political system as one to be emulated, a loss of “illusions” I previously reported.

Contrary to many expectations, even if the Mueller report, said to be impending, finds, as did a Senate committee recently, “no direct evidence of conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia,” Russiagate allegations are unlikely to dissipate in the near future and certainly not before the 2020 presidential election.

There are several reasons this is so, foremost among them the following:

  1. The story of a “Kremlin puppet” in the White House is so fabulous and unprecedented it is certain to become a tenacious political legend, as have others in American history despite the absence of any supporting evidence.
  2. The careers of many previously semi-obscure Democratic members of Congress have been greatly enhanced—if that is the right word—by their aggressive promotion of Russiagate. (Think, for example, of the ubiquitous media coverage and cable-television appearances awarded to Representatives Adam Schiff, Eric Swalwell, and Maxine Walters, and to Senators Mark Warner and Richard Blumenthal.) If Mueller fails to report “collusion” of real political substance, these and other Russiagate zealots, as well as their supporters in the media, will need to reinterpret run-of-the-mill (and bipartisan) financial corruption and mundane “contacts with Russia” as somehow treasonous. (The financial-corruption convictions of Paul Manafort, Mueller’s single “big win” to date, did not charge “collusion” and had to do mainly with Ukraine, not Russia.) Having done so already, there is every reason to think Democrats will politicize these charges again, if only for the sake of their own careers. Witness, for example, the scores of summonses promised by Jerrold Nadler, the new Democratic chair of the House Judiciary Committee.
  3. Still worse, the top Democratic congressional leadership evidently has concluded that promoting the new Cold War, of which Russiagate has become an integral part, is a winning issue in 2020. How else to explain Nancy Pelosi’s proposal—subsequently endorsed by the equally unstatesmanlike Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, and adopted—to invite the secretary general of NATO, a not-very-distinguished Norwegian politician named Jens Stoltenberg, to address a joint session of Congress? The honor was once bestowed on figures such as Winston Churchill and at the very least leaders of actual countries. Trump has reasonably questioned NATO’s mission and costs nearly 30 years after the Soviet Union disappeared, as did many Washington think tanks and pundits back in the 1990s. But for Pelosi and other Democratic leaders, there can be no such discussion, only valorization of NATO, even though the military alliance’s eastward expansion has brought the West to the brink of war with nuclear Russia. Anything Trump suggests must be opposed, regardless of the cost to US national security. Will the Democrats go to the country in 2020 as the party of investigations, subpoenas, Russophobia, and escalating cold war—and win?

Readers of my new book War With Russia?, which argues that there are no facts to support the foundational political allegations of Russiagate, may wonder how, then, Russiagate can continue to be such a major factor in our politics. As someone has recently pointed out, the Democrats and their media are now operating on the Liberty Valance principle: When the facts are murky or nonexistent, “print the legend.”

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