THE UPCOMING FEDERAL ELECTIONS AS REPORTED BY THE CENTRAL MEDIA
In one of his latest interviews to the newspaper Vedomosti Anatoly Sobchack agreed to comment upon the phenomenon which this newspaper called “the paradox of Putin” – the unexpected huge support of the acting president by the electorate. As it is known, Putin, Sobchack’s former student and, later, first deputy, has recently appointed him his proxy at the upcoming election. “This is not a paradox,” Sobchack said. “I would call it the phenomenon of Putin, when an obscure state official becomes political figure number one within a few months.” In Sobchack’s opinion, this testifies to the fact that “we do not know our own people, do not know their true expectations.” The matter is, as the former St. Petersburg mayor, one of first-wave romantic democrats, put it, “people are tired of disbelief… An urgent social need to believe in something, to trust somebody has arisen and Putin appeared at the right moment. I do not think there is any mystery in it.” At the same time, Sobchack did not deny that Putin may actually become “the Russian Napoleon”, since his objectives and tasks coincide with those of this historic figure: “Restoration of state power, restoration of the state apparatus destroyed by the revolution and by the latest events… Putin will have to restore the structure of state power, revive trust for state authorities and, first and foremost, will have to integrate security structures, the army, the police, justice, the prosecutor’s office in the system of the new democratic state… Putin’s task is to make them a natural part of the new democratic Russia.” The subject of people’s expectations which came true with the appearance of Putin (according to the law formulated by Pushkin – “The time has come, she fell in love”) is still being discussed by other central media. However, there are not many of those who believe in democratic aspirations of the acting president, as Sobchack does. Alexander Tsipko, a political observer of Literaturnaya Gazeta, is one of them. “Putin’s weak point,” Tsipko writes, “is not that he does not express his positive attitude towards democratic values, but, on the contrary, that he proclaims them absolute.” This trend, from the point of view of the political observer of LG, is proved, in particular, by the fact that the acting president links the current “problematic social and economic situation in the country” only to the “Soviet heritage.” At the same time, liberals themselves – for instance, many members of Gaidar’s team – have come to the conclusion that “both shock therapy and total privatization according to Chubais were mistakes and market reforms could be implemented less painfully for the population.” This makes Tsipko remark: “I have an impression that he has not overcome the romantic liberalism of the early 90s yet.”
The weekly Kommersant-vlast assesses Putin’s views and intentions differently. In its opinion, the acting president’s strong point is “not strategy, but tactics.” As a “good pragmatic tactician”, he does not pay much attention either to strategy, or to ideology. However, Putin has already formulated his main principle: “the policy must be moderately liberal.” Besides, he instructed the Strategic Development Center headed by Herman Gref to create a complex long-term program “which must include everything – from the national idea to an answer to the question of what should be done with the national economy.” However, as Kommersant-vlast reports, the SDC, from the point of view of Alexander Voloshin, head of the Presidential Administration, “has been producing overly liberal ideas so far”. On the other hand, the weekly continues, Gref’s center is not the only source of program documents for Putin. There are also “traditionally independent and socially active” security services. For example, not long ago the Economic Counterintelligence Department of the Federal Security Service has publicized its own analysis of the situation and strategic projects. “The conclusion is simple,” Kommersant-vlast writes, “the state must regain control over economy.” According to the information of the weekly, Putin supports Voloshin’s opinion in regards to the harm of “excessive liberalism”. This means that regardless of what exactly Gref’s center will produce, Putin will begin by strengthening the state. The main, and yet unanswered, question is whether he will be able to stop when it is necessary. The reaction of political opponents of the former “Family” to such articles is of great interest.
Commenting upon the information about the alleged agreement between Putin and Voloshin, and the acting president’s intention to take the projects of special services into consideration, Yevgenia Albats writes in Novaya Gazeta: “The Kremlin political strategists, experts in manipulating public opinion, seem to be trying to drive Putin into a corner by making him come into conflict with the intellectual part of society.” The purpose of this, in the opinion of the journalist, is to make the new Kremlin master face facts: “We told you, Mr. Putin, that for those intelligentsia and liberals you are nothing more than a KGB-officer, they will be in opposition to you no matter what you do or say, which is why, dear Mr. Putin, you can count only on us – your loyal and unscrupulous political strategists.” In Albats’ opinion, this position is explained by the usual disinclination of the Kremlin manipulators to search for new appointments, as is the tradition when a new boss appears. Therefore, the main goal of the president’s circle today is to “prove that it is indispensable” by usual means. “We need a party of power? No problem, we will create it within three months. The parliament must be turned into an institution fully dependent on the Kremlin – OK, we’ll do that.” At the same time, from Albats’ point of view, the game started by Putin’s closest circle is rather dubious and dangerous for him personally, first and foremost: “The political technique of making fools of the electorate was successfully applied at the parliamentary election in regards to the faceless and programless Unity movement. It may fail at the presidential election.”
Moskovsky Komsomolets, when describing the acting president’s visit to Irkutsk where he attended a meeting of the Siberian Agreement association, finds methods of campaigning worked out by the “famous Kremlin political strategists” for Putin “helpless and uninspired”. One of the most disgraceful events, in the opinion of MK, was Putin’s meeting with the Siberian intelligentsia where he, obviously feeling the necessity to show himself to advantage and meet the “moral requirements of his interlocutors” stated that “sex, violence, and terrorism must be prohibited”. MK added acidly: “Later Putin’s assistants explained journalists that if sex is not connected with violence and terrorism, it may be allowed.” The aim of such show events, the newspaper continues, remains obscure: “Even inside the Kremlin a suspicion arose that some people responsible for the election want there to be a second round of voting.” On the other hand, MK remarks, it is possible that Putin’s team is sure of his victory: “It’s natural that it is not easy to make oneself apply much effort in such conditions. And the inability to invent anything more original than “a meeting with intelligentsia and a visit to an exhibition of children’s pictures” is proclaimed a new election strategy. All in all, winners are not judged.”
Vremya MN also describes all stages of Putin’s sojourn in Irkutsk highly ironically, but it ascribes all lapses of this visit not to unskilled image-makers and organizers, but to the specific electorate. “The country has got used to Yeltsin,” the newspaper writes. “Everybody knows that the leader must be guarded against all contacts with reality – because, first, he may say something inappropriate on the spur of the moment, and, second, he may become upset.” Moreover, people are convinced: “Whatever the tsar says, it must not be taken seriously – he is the tsar, after all. On the other hand, we can coax anything out of him, if we wait for the right moment.” Putin, as Vremya MN states, is a different person: ” He is entirely competent, he shows no exhaustion, but an astonishing liveliness in communication. He is good at speaking to children… He can give a definitive answer to a well-posed question and, what is worse, is prone to answer seriously and say the truth. His jokes are far from silly. In general, he demonstrates no signs of royalty behavior.” However, the newspaper remarks, it is possible that Putin “will soon become lazy and perverse to the necessary extent. The situation and the electorate are suitable.”
It is of interest that Nezavisimaya Gazeta pins the blame for all PR lapses of Putin’s voyage to Irkutsk on the acting president himself. In the opinion of the newspaper, after being officially registered as a presidential candidate, Putin has set about destroying the reputation of a “mystery man” or a “tabula rasa” by proclaiming his priorities and pointing out the principal directions of his activity when speaking to people. It is quite another matter, the newspaper writes, that these priorities directly depend on the expectations of the audience: “At a meeting with the students of Irkutsk State University Putin spoke about the absolute superiority of scientific research and education, in a conversation with the governors he developed theories about the necessity of uniting representatives of all branches of state power, and during a meeting with scientists Putin stated that there is nothing more important than ecological issues.” Besides, Nezavisimaya Gazeta continues, it is also characteristic of the current “Kremlin manner of communication” (it is the title of the article) that “any personal judgement by the acting president is being immediately supplemented by a counterbalance also expressed by him personally. As a result, everyone turns out to be right: those who are indignant at the “mystery man” in the Kremlin and those who are convinced of Putin’s absolute openness.”
This peculiarity of the acting president – everyone sees him as the embodiment of the traits he considers necessary for the head of state – was many times pointed out by analysts of various views. It became the subject of the scandalous TV-program “Puppets” (Kukly) which caused a well-known retort by the professors of the Law Faculty of St. Petersburg University who decided to defend their former student. Expert magazine devoted a special article to a detailed linguistic analysis of the acting president’s speeches. The conclusions are curious: from the point of view of the magazine, “Putin’s manner of speech corresponds to the patterns of a political talk-show.” The authors of the article pointed out the excellent work of speech-writers who try to “synchronize the prime minister’s figures of speech with the tastes and expectations of the general public.” His notorious comment about “pissing on terrorists in the john” was referred to as an example. Expert considers these words to be inconsistent with Putin’s usual rhetoric, and supposes that they were “foisted” upon him, because he is noted for “a thorough, even sometimes puritanical, avoidance of “inappropriate” expressions, typical for a Soviet intellectual of the first generation.” In the end, summing up its “observations of communicative tactics of the acting president”, Expert points out its main characteristics. On the one hand, it is “the purpose to create a wide range of social support with the use of nostalgic reminiscences and easily recognized images of the past (pre-Revolutionary and, first and foremost, Soviet)”. On the other hand, it is “declaring ideological values which may make the liberal-market system look more human”. At the same time, it is a “consistent preparation of public opinion for tough decisions which may be dictated by economic or political expedience.” Expert defines the tactics of Putin’s image- makers as “creating a heroic myth” with all the necessary traits: “large historic scale of the personage, his deep knowledge of people’s life, serving his Fatherland as the main goal, fulfilling his professional duty on the verge of constant risk.” Passing from an analysis of the manner of communication to the content of Putin’s speeches, Expert makes a conclusion of no less interest. In particular, it points out that Putin is sparing in assessments. To be more exact, the whole range of qualitative adjectives used by him can be reduced to two categories: “bravery (power) and decency (honesty)”. This, on the one hand, “proves the absence of overtones, nuances, with the purpose of distinctness in people’s perception.” On the other hand, analyzing the use of such qualitative adjectives and their combining with other words, the magazine suggests a hypothesis that “Vladimir Putin is inclined to create a system of personal unions based on friendly relations.” An example is the well-known “landing of St. Petersburg officials in the central power structures.”
Another resolute attempt to express his own truth about Putin as a “mystery man” and a “tabula rasa” was undertaken by Vitaly Tretyakov, Editor-In-Chief of Nezavisimaya Gazeta: “If what Putin says and does is not enough for anyone, I can explain what this Putin is and what he will do after March 26 to the most slowwitted.” The answer to the first question is as follows: “Putin supports a strong state, a Great Power. Everything else in him, including the knowledge of German, skiing in the mountains, going to church, his daughters who play the violin, is secondary.” The editor-in-chief of NG has an answer to the second question, as well: “He will do anything he considers useful to strengthen Russia as a state and a nation. That is all. His activity will be subjected to this principal purpose.” From Tretyakov’s point of view, these main points are enough for everybody to “consciously decide whether to vote for him or not.”
Vek weekly remarks that all speculations about Putin’s mystery and his unpredictability in case of victory in the elections are inspired by the political elite and media. This “putinophobia”, as the weekly calls it, can be easily explained: they are merely afraid of Putin. “The elite which is used to a certain standard of living and the style of leadership introduced by Yeltsin is worried about its prospects under the new leadership.” These prospects can be quite uninspiring, especially in the light of the acting president’s recent words about the necessity of the “dictatorship of the law”. That is why there is a strong wish to “use the script of the elections of 1996 – when in exchange for support for Yeltsin, influential figures demanded a certain “favorable” regime from the state.” Still, this requires the very possibility of bargaining: the second round of voting is extremely necessary, since it will make it clear for the main candidate that the election is not uncontested as everybody tends to think. “Ratings are created and destroyed, information wars are launched and stopped – we have already seen all of this.” In such a situation, Vek writes, Putin has two ways out: either he comes to terms with the elite which is still doubting (Vek even refers to a historical analogy: in the 18th century Empress Anna Ioannovna ascended the throne having previously secured the support of the elite, but later, being convinced of the stability of her standing, broke the agreement) or “publicly dissociates himself from the elite and seeks support directly among the electorate with the use of all populist trump cards. This was the way of Boris Yeltsin in the late 1980s.” However, both ways are equally risky. “This means that a third way must be sought somewhere between the other two.” Vek does not try to suggest such a way. The article is called “Vladimir Vladimirovich and Anna Ioannovna”.
The newspaper Izvestia holds that the principal question for Putin’s campaign staff is whether he will manage to become president in the first round of voting, and what may hamper this. If Putin does not win over 50% of the vote, this will mean that he “cannot do anything he likes, regardless of other political leaders, since he does not enjoy the support of the majority of Russians.” As Izvestia remarks, “Today Putin needs not the Kremlin alone, but political trump cards in order to suppress the will of his opponents.” What can spoil the party is either a mass stay- away of the voters from the election or a mass vote against all candidates, or high results of the rivals. As for a mass stay-away, it will hardly take place – from 65% (according to the National Center for Study of Public Opinion) to 85% (Public Opinion Foundation) of the electorate are going to vote. Pollsters also emphasize that as the election draws near, the “political concern” of the citizens increases. It is not so hard for the Kremlin to fight those “who will prompt the people to vote against all candidates” either: in the opinion of Izvestia, it is enough to “filter the information spread by the most popular media.” As for the results of the rest of the presidential race participants, the newspaper holds that the only danger is presented by the right, since Zyuganov’s electorate is known for its stability. At the same time, Grigory Yavlinsky, for instance, has good prospects of a rating growth: “The maximum this politician can reach is about 10% and his public doubts concerning Putin’s activity may also bear fruit,” mainly at the expense of those who are ready to vote both for the Communists and against the “party of power”.
The weekly Argumenti i Fakti presented its own theory concerning future developments. In its opinion, if there is a need for a second round of voting, where, judging by the current ratings, Putin and Zyuganov will meet, a victory for the CPRF leader should by no means be ruled out. The results of the election, as it often happens, will depend on the voters who have not defined their priorities yet and will have to choose between the “nearly social-democrat Zyuganov whom they have known for over a decade, and the “dark horse” Putin”. In such a situation, as AiF supposes, “the fears of common people are sure to rise from sub-consciousness: actually, we have to choose between the CPSU and the KGB.” It must also be taken into consideration that the Communists have become “former” long ago: “they wear crosses and speak in favor of private property and civil liberties.” As for KGB officers, they can never become “former”. Thus, it is probable that a common person will choose the lesser evil: “a summons to a party committee meeting is not as frightening as night arrests.”
The newspaper Vedomosti is, however, sure that such extremes will be avoided, all the more so since “an alternative with Zyuganov’s face is rather bad.” However, on the other hand, “uncontested election is even worse.” There is a way out: as Vedomosti writes, the CPRF has an “ideologically close enemy” in the face of the National Patriotic Union which unites supporters of Alexei Podberezkin, Stanislav Govorukhin and Ella Pamphilova. Vedomosti refers to the words of “high-ranking officials of the Kremlin administration” who are sure that “Zyuganov’s Communist Party as the left-wing opposition has exhausted its potential.” Its place can be taken by the more loyal left. Gleb Pavlovsky, a Kremlin analyst, has already stated in regards to the new left-wing opposition that Putin will observe the process of its creation with interest: “This suits his course for a new political configuration. This does not threaten him as a presidential candidate, but, in case of his victory, structures the political background.” The CPRF does not take the new left seriously. “These people are ridiculous,” said Alexander Kravets, the main Communist ideologist. “They are backed by the Kremlin. They will direct their criticism against Zyuganov. All this coincides with the Kremlin policy – to maximally weaken and split our electorate.” However, from the point of view of Vedomosti, the Kremlin has its sights set on the more distant future: “Zyuganov’s place must be taken by the “new left” who will be loyal to the state power.” The time remaining before the election is sufficient for new election plots to appear.
Moskovsky Komsomolets which publishes “The Rumors Rating” on Mondays, has reported that the General Prosecutor’s Office is preparing a new attack on Boris Berezovsky, an eternal political manipulator. The matter allegedly concerns abolishing parliamentary immunity and “the farsighted BAB has already left the country” for this reason. On the other hand, the newspaper Segodnya was one of the first to write that the fight between the groups of Berezovsky-Abramovich and Chubais-Deripaska has become more acute. Berezovsky and Abramovich are getting the upper hand, in spite of Chubais’ public support for Putin. The newspaper Kommersant-daily has cited the words of the head of Russian Joint Energy Systems: “He is the best candidate for the post of head of state today. I, as a citizen, will support him.” Argumenti i Fakti has mentioned that “at Potanin’s birthday party Berezovsky called on oligarchs to fight against Putin”, remarking at the same time that this looks like a rumor inspired by the Kremlin political strategists with the purpose of restoring Putin’s image as “Yeltsin’s successor” and a “friend of the Family”.