Sunday, December 02, 2007

Russian Elections--Inside Story

Just completed an appearance for Al-Jazeera's Inside Story on the Russian elections. A good discussion and several points of contention that are sure to be debated in the following days and weeks:

--How popular is President Putin? 70 percent and higher, or is the figure lower, in the mid-40s?
--How well has the Russian economy been doing? Still largely driven by oil and gas exports or is it diversifying? Is prosperity really trickling down or not--and is there a real emerging middle class?
--Does the West have any real leverage on Russia's domestic affairs?

How these questions are answered in turn determines one's recommendations.

I tend to think Putin's popularity is genuine, even if a bit overblown, and that most Russians do give him the credit for the changes that have taken place. I think that the economy has shown clear signs of improvement and that this is more than just oil and gas--although Russia remains overly dependent on these revenues at present. I think that the West has increasingly limited leverage not only because of my answers to questions 1 and 2 but also because the West itself has needs--for energy, for Russia's cooperation in a variety of areas, etc. that limits the extent to which we can exercise pressure on Moscow because we don't like its domestic policies. So we are going to have to learn to live with these results.

a question i saw in the economist, and pretty poorly answered there, regarding putin's popularity:

if he's so popular, why are the elections so sketchy? (my words).

i don't know if public apathy is an excuse. but as long as there are no legitimate figures, there doesn't seem much the us can (realistically) do.

I'm still interested in the question you left unanswered: Is prosperity really trickling down or not--and is there a real emerging middle class?
Kommersant had an interesting piece on the elections, which relates to Putin's popularity. The gist of the article is that Putin was really unhappy with the results. Despite winning an amazingly large majority (by Western standards) of the votes, Putin still won only 64.1% as opposed to the 71.3% that he got in the 2004 presidential election. He may still have a lot of popularity in the country, but it may also be dropping significantly and his personal power may be on the decline. Whether or not he can actually continue to orchestrate things after March seems to be coming more and more into question (especially with Sechin starting to take more of an active public role- as in the exodus of Rosneft VPs and the Storchak affair). If the economy starts to decline (or if oil prices decrease significantly), there may be some very interesting developments in Putin's popularity trends.
(Kommersant article:
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