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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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De-Dollarization Tops Agenda at Russia’s Eastern Economic Forum

The Eastern Economic Forum (EEF) was held in Vladivostok on Sept.11-13. Founded in 2015, the event has become a platform for planning and launching projects to strengthen business ties in the Asia-Pacific region.

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This year, the EEF brought together delegations from over 60 countries to discuss the topic “The Far East: Expanding the Range of Possibilities”. A total of 100 business events involving over 6,000 participants were held during the three days.

1,357 media personnel worked to cover the forum. Last year, the number of participants was 5,000 with 1,000 media persons involved in reporting and broadcasting. The EEF-18 gathered 340 foreign and 383 Russian CEOs. Nearly 80 start-ups from across South-East Asia joined the meeting.

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This year, a total of 175 agreements worth of 2.9 trillion rubles (some $4.3 billion) were signed. For comparison, the sum was 2.5 trillion rubles (roughly $3.7 billion) in 2017.

They included the development of the Baimsky ore deposits in Chukotka, the construction of a terminal for Novatek LNG at Bechevinskaya Bay in Kamchatka and the investment of Asian countries in Russia’s agricultural projects in the Far East.

Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), Mail.Ru Group, Megafon and Chinese Alibaba inked an agreement on establishing AliExpress trade joint venture. Rosneft and Chinese CNPC signed an oil exploration agreement.

The Chinese delegation was the largest (1,096 people), followed by the Japanese (570 members). The list of guests included the president of Mongolia and prime ministers of Japan and South Korea.

It was also the first time Chinese President Xi Jinping attended the event to meet his Russian counterpart. The issue of de-dollarization topped the agenda. Russia and China reaffirmed their interest in expanding the use of national currencies in bilateral deals.

During the forum, Kirill Dmitriev, the head of RDIF, said the fund intends to use only national currencies in its transactions with China starting from 2019. It will cooperate with the China Development Bank.

This “yuanification” is making visible progress with Shanghai crude futures increasing their share of oil markets up to 14 percent or even more. China has signed agreements with Canada and Qatar on national currencies exchange.

READ MORE: Eastern Economic Forum opens new chapter in US-Russia dialogue

De-dollarization is a trend that is picking up momentum across the world. A growing number of countries are interested in replacing the dollar. Russia is leading the race to protect itself from fluctuations, storms and US-waged trade wars and sanctions.

Moscow backs non-dollar trade with Ankara amid the ongoing lira crisis. Turkey is switching from the dollar to settlements in national currencies, including its trade with China and other countries. Ditching the US dollar is the issue topping the BRICS agenda. In April, Iran transferred all international payments to the euro.

The voices calling for de-dollarization are getting louder among America’s closest European allies. In August, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas called for the creation of a new payments system independent of the US.

According to him, Europe should not allow the United States to act “over our heads and at our expense.” The official wants to strengthen European autonomy by establishing independent payment channels, creating a European Monetary Fund and building up an independent SWIFT system.

Presenting his annual program, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker called on Sept. 12 for the European Union to promote the euro as a global currency to challenge the dollar.

According to him, “We must do more to allow our single currency to play its full role on the international scene.” Mr. Juncker believes “it is absurd that Europe pays for 80 percent of its energy import bill – worth 300 billion euros a year – in US dollars when only roughly 2 percent of our energy imports come from the United States.” He wants the raft of proposals made in his state of the union address to start being implemented before the European Parliament elections in May.

70% of all world trade transactions account for the dollar, while 20% are  settled in the euro, and the rest falls on the yuan and other Asian currencies. The dollar value is high to make the prices of consumer goods in the US artificially low. The demand for dollars allows refinancing the huge debt at low interest rates. The US policy of trade wars and sanctions has triggered the global process of de-dollarization.

Using punitive measures as a foreign policy tool is like shooting oneself in the foot. It prompts a backlash to undermine the dollar’s status as the world reserve currency – the basis of the US economic might. The aggressive policy undermines the US world standing to make it weaker, not stronger.

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Putin and Erdogan Plan Syria-Idlib DMZ

What the Putin-Erdogan DMZ decision means is that the 50,000 Turkish troops occupying Idlib will take control over that land, and have responsibility over the largest concentration of jihadists anywhere on the planet.

Eric Zuesse

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As I recommended in a post on September 10th, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan jointly announced on September 17th, “We’ve agreed to create a demilitarized zone between the government troops and militants before October 15. The zone will be 15-20km wide,” which compares to the Korean DMZ’s 4-km width. I had had in mind the Korean experience, but obviously Putin and Erdogan are much better-informed about the situation than I am, and they have chosen a DMZ that’s four to five times wider. In any case, the consequences of such a decision will be momentous, unless U.S. President Donald Trump is so determined for there to be World War III as to stop at nothing in order to force it to happen no matter what Russia does or doesn’t do.

What the Putin-Erdogan DMZ decision means is that the 50,000 Turkish troops who now are occupying Idlib province of Syria will take control over that land, and will thus have the responsibility over the largest concentration of jihadists anywhere on the planet: Idlib. It contains the surviving Syrian Al Qaeda and ISIS fighters, including all of the ones throughout Syria who surrendered to the Syrian Army rather than be shot dead on the spot by Government forces.

For its part, the U.S. Government, backed by its allies and supported in this by high officials of the United Nations, had repeatedly threatened that if there occurs any chemical-weapons attack, or even any claimed chemical-weapons attack, inside Idlib, the U.S. and its allies will instantaneously blame the Syrian Government and bomb Syria, and will shoot down the planes of Syria and of Russia that oppose this bombing-campaign to conquer or ‘liberate’ Syria from its Government. The U.S. has announced its determination to protect what one high U.S. official — who is endorsing what Trump is doing there — “the largest Al Qaeda safe haven since 9/11.” He admits it, but he wants to protect them from being bombed by Syria and by Russia.

During recent weeks, the U.S. military has increasingly said that even if the jihadists they’ve been assisting to assemble the materials for a chemical-weapons attack fail to carry it out or to stage one, any attempt by Syrian and Russian forces to destroy the jihadists (which the U.S. side calls ‘rebels’) in Idlib will be met with overwhelming U.S.-and-allied firepower. That would spark WW III, because whichever side — Russia or U.S. — loses in the Syrian battlefield will nuclear-blitz-attack the other side so as to have the lesser damage from the nuclear war and thus (in military terms) ‘win’ WW III, because the blitz-attack will destroy many of the opposite side’s retaliatory weapons. In a nuclear war, the first side to attack will have a considerable advantage — reducing the number of weapons the other side can launch.

If, on the other hand, the DMZ-plan works, then Turkey’s forces will be responsible for vetting any of Idlib’s residents who try to leave, in order to prohibit jihadists and their supporters from leaving. Once that task (filtering out the non-dangerous inhabitants and retaining in Idlib only the jihadists and their supporters) is done, the entire world might be consulted on whether to exterminate the remaining residents or to set them free to return to the countries from which they came or to other countries. Presumably, no country would want those ‘refugees’. That would answer the question.

America’s Arab allies, the oil monarchies such as the Sauds who own Saudi Arabia and the Thanis who own Qatar, and which have funded Al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood, would then be put on a spot, because if they say “Exterminate them!” then their clergy who have provided the moral imprimatur upon those families’ ownership of those nations, will either be in rebellion or else will themselves become overthrown either by their own followers or else by their monarch — overthrown from below or from above.

Alternatively, after Turkey’s forces in Idlib will have allowed release from Idlib of all who will be allowed out, Syria’s and Russia’s bombers will simply go in and slaughter the then-surrounded jihadists and take upon themselves the responsibility for that, regardless of what the leaders of the U.S. and its allied governments might say.

On the night of September 17th in Syria, there were missile-attacks “from the sea” against several Syrian cities; and those attacks could have come from either Israel’s or America’s ships, or from other U.S.-allied ships. Russian Television bannered, “Russian plane disappears from radars during Israeli attack on Syria’s Latakia – MoD” and reported:

A Russian military Il-20 aircraft with 14 service members on board went off the radars during an attack by four Israeli jets on Syria’s Latakia province, the Russian Defense Ministry said.
Air traffic controllers at the Khmeimim Air Base “lost contact” with the aircraft on Wednesday evening, during the attack of Israeli F-16 fighters on Latakia, said the MOD.Russian radars also registered the launch of missiles from a French frigate in the Mediterranean on the evening of September 17. …
The attack on Latakia came just hours after Russia and Turkey negotiated a partial demilitarization of the Idlib province

If the missiles were authorized by President Trump, then WW III has already begun in its pre-nuclear stage. However, if the attacks were launched by Israel’s Netanyahu, and/or by France’s Macron, without U.S. authorization, then the U.S. President might respond to them by siding against that aggressor(s) (and also against what he used to call “Radical Islamic Terrorists”), so as to prevent a nuclear war.

Late on September 17th, Al Masdar News bannered “NATO warships move towards Syrian coast” and reported “The NATO flotilla cruising off the Syrian coast reportedly consists of a Dutch frigate, the De Ruyter, a Canadian frigate, the Ville de Quebec, and a Greek cruiser, the Elli.” Al Qaeda and ISIS have influential protectors.

Ultimately, the decision will be U.S. President Trump’s as to whether he is willing to subject the planet to WW III and to its following nuclear winter and consequent die-off of agriculture and of everyone, in order to ‘win’ a nuclear war, such as America’s aristocracy has especially championed since the year 2006. The nuclear-victory concept is called “Nuclear Primacy” — the use of nuclear weapons so as to win a nuclear war against Russia, instead of to prevent a nuclear war. That concept’s predecessor, the “Mutually Assured Destruction” or “M.A.D.” meta-strategy, predominated even in the U.S. until 2006. Trump will have to decide whether the purpose of America’s nuclear-weapons stockpiles is to prevent WW III, or is to win WW III.

In Russia, the purpose has always been to have nuclear weapons in order to prevent WW III. But America’s President will be the person who will make the ultimate decision on this. And Idlib might be the spark. Netanyahu or Macron might be wanting to drag the U.S. into war even against Russia, but the final decision will be Trump’s.

The ultimate question is: How far will the U.S. go in order to continue the U.S. dollar as being the overwhelmingly dominant global currency?

—————

Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of  They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010, and of  CHRIST’S VENTRILOQUISTS: The Event that Created Christianity.

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Russian MoD: Il-20 downed by Syrian missile after attacking Israel’s F-16s used it as cover

Israeli pilots used the Russian plane as cover and set it up to be targeted by the Syrian air defense forces.

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Russia has stated that it “reserves right to response” after claiming that Israel’s actions led to downing of Il-20 by Syrian S-200 missiles.

The Russian military accused their Israeli counterparts for causing the downing of a Russian Il-20 plane by the Syrian air defense forces, which were responding to an Israeli air raid on Latakia.

Via RT


The Russian military say the Israeli raid on Syria triggered a chain of events, which led to the shooting down of a Russian Il-20 plane by a Syrian S-200 surface-to-air missile. Moscow reserves the right to respond accordingly.

On Monday evening four Israeli F-16 fighter jets attacked targets in Syria’s Latakia after approaching from the Mediterranean, a statement by the Russian defense ministry said on Tuesday. The Israeli warplanes came at a small altitude and “created a dangerous situation for other aircraft and vessels in the region”, it said.

The military said the French Navy’s frigate “Auvergne” as well as a Russian Il-20 plane were in the area of the Israeli operation.

“The Israeli pilots used the Russian plane as cover and set it up to be targeted by the Syrian air defense forces. As a consequence, the Il-20, which has radar cross-section much larger than the F-16, was shot down by an S-200 system missile,” the statement said.

The Russian ministry stressed that the Israelis must have known that the Russian plane was present in the area, which didn’t stop them from “the provocation”. Israel also failed to warn Russia about the planned operation in advance. The warning came a minute before the attack started, which “did not leave time to move the Russian plane to a safe area,” the statement said.

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