As the majority of analysts and pollsters predicted, the presidential elections led to a victory for Vladimir Putin in the first round of voting. Detailed analysis of the elections is a matter for the future, but it is already clear that results of the voting brought lots of pleasant surprises for the “party of power.” For example, the paradox of the present elections is not only that the regions of the so-called “red belt” voted for Putin, and voter turnout reached 68.88%, but also that for the first time in post-Soviet history practically all military personnel voted for a candidate of the Kremlin.
This has never happened before. Since the breakup of the Soviet Union, the Armed Forces have traditionally been in opposition to the Kremlin. Before bombardment of the Russian White House and dispersing of the Supreme Soviet in October 1993, majority in the Armed Forces supported Alexander Rutskoy. According to Armiya magazine, almost 50% of questioned servicemen in 1992-93 expressed support for Rutskoy. The rating of Yeltsin was ten times lower. The situation was similar among military pensioners and skilled employees of the defense sector.
Servicemen and specialists of the defense sector had the reasons to dislike their Supreme Commander-in-Chief. They thought that their Motherland, the USSR, had been destroyed (at present, about a third of career military personnel in Russia come from other former Soviet republics). The defense sector of Russia was getting worse year by year. Withdrawal of troops to Russia looked more like deportation and flight. Social problems of the military electorate (lack of money, unemployment, low prestige, lack of housing and other benefits) conditioned an anti-President attitude among people with a military mentality. The unofficial results of servicemen polls during the coup of August 1991 show that, unlike civilians, the overwhelming majority of servicemen approved the actions of GKCHP (State Emergency Committee). The majority of servicemen had similar opposition sympathies during the mutiny of October 1993. The power hid that officers of the Defense Ministry on the side of rebels. Overall the Armed Forces command tried to remain neutral.
In 1991-96, the majority of the military electorate was composed of anti-Communists and anti-Yeltsinists. They were in the middle of the political spectrum with a national-patriotic slant. That is why when Rutskoy left the political stage in 1993 his place in the niche of electoral sympathies was taken by Zhirinovsky. To give him his due, at that time he was a leader who was outstanding for his non-standard thinking, aggressiveness, oppositional attitude, and so on. It is to him that the votes of the military and paramilitary electorate came when Rutskoy was imprisoned, and CPRF fell out of favor. It is known that in the Duma elections of December 1992 the LDPR scored about 23% of votes, and among servicemen 29% of people who take part in the elections voted for it.
However popularity of Zhirinovsky in the Armed Forces was not durable. Professional servicemen have never took him as their representative, and his high rating was primarily based on emotional enthusiasm of the conscripts in active service, students of military educational institutions, and partially young officers. Then the enthusiasm was replaced with disillusionment. However, “a sacred spot cannot remain vacant,” and Zhirinovsky was replaced with Lebed.
According to polls, in 1994, 40% of servicemen wanted to see him as Defense Minister. After resignation of Lebed and his move to big politics in late 1995, 20% to 30% of professional servicemen supported him.
According to competent sources in the Defense Ministry, during the presidential elections in 1996 Armed Forces voted in the following way: Zyuganov scored about 30%, Yeltsin 25%, Lebed 17%, Zhirinovsky 11%, and Yavlinsky 5%. Along with this experts noted a possibility of election results falsification in the Armed Forces in favor of acting President Yeltsin. In the second round of the presidential race of 1996 Yeltsin scored additional votes of the military electorate because he appointed Lebed as the Security Council Secretary. At any rate, he scored less than 50% of servicemen’s votes, because the electorate of Zhirinovsky and a part of the electorate of Lebed voted then against all.
Military sources note that this time no breaches of procedures of preparation for elections and voting were registered in the Armed Forces. At the presidential elections of 2000 officers and soldiers voted for Putin “with their hearts”, so to speak.
It is quite possible that it is they votes that secured the victory for the Acting President already in the first round. Why?
First, the information presented by the Defense Ministry shows that at the presidential elections of 2000, at least 80% of the military electorate voted for Putin. Gennady Zyuganov holds the second place with 7-8%, and Vladimir Zhirinovsky the third with 2-8%. We need to note that the Defense Ministry registered only results of the polling stations located in the territory of military bases. There were 160 such polling stations. According to the Central Election Commission, these polling stations were mainly organized at remote military bases, on ships and submarines, at border posts, in units deployed abroad, as well as in Chechnya (38 polling stations were organized there). Together with families and civilian personnel of the Armed Forces this totaled at least 400,000 people. Can we draw conclusions about the whole Armed Forces judging by this information?
We can answer this question affirmatively with some reservations. Sympathies of the military electorate which are reflected in the election results of the Defense Ministry do not differ very much in different territories. Four hundred thousand people are 0.55% of voters who participated in the elections, that is these results can be considered to be a very representative selection. According to the information presented by Major General Nikolai Burbyga, a representative of the Main Ideological Department, in Chechnya for Putin voted 83.1% of military voters, for Zyuganov voted 9%, for Zhirinovsky 1.8%, and for Yavlinsky 1.5%.
Servicemen of the Northern Fleet voted like follows: Putin 83.2%, Zyuganov 7%, Zhirinovsky 2%, Yavlinsky 1.2%; in the Pacific Fleet: Putin 80.2%, Zyuganov 11.3%, Zhirinovsky 2.9%, Yavlinsky 1.4%.
The smallest number of servicemen voted for Putin in the 201st mechanized infantry division deployed in Tajikistan (63%). However in the other foreign garrisons the percentage of servicemen who supported Putin was high. Thus 87.3% of Russian peacekeepers in Bosnia and Herzegovina voted for Putin, 7% for Zhirinovsky, and about 3% for Zyuganov. Black Sea Fleet servicemen who voted in Sevastopol voted for Putin (86%), Zyuganov (5.6%), Yavlinsky (0.8%), and Aman Tuleev (0.8%).
The Armed Forces recorded their highest voter turnout in post-Soviet history. The Defense Ministry reported that 97% of military personnel came and voted, that is together with civilian army staff this totaled at least 2 million people. However military sources report that high turnout was also recorded among members of servicemen’s families (almost 2 million people too), military pensioners (3 million), representatives of other security agencies (2.5 million), and the defense sector (4-6 million). Thus the so-called military electorate accounted for about 15 million of the people who attended the elections, that is, for almost 20%. To surmount the 50% barrier Putin needed at least 36 million votes. Among them the share of military electorate (if we presume that 80% of military electorate voted for Putin) reached at least 35%.
Was there falsification of election results? Most likely not. Opinion polls of numerous servicemen asking why they voted for Putin show that in the rating of Russian politicians and generals Acting President Putin has been number one over the last three months. How did Putin win the sympathies of servicemen?
About 70% of respondents say that they like Putin because he is resolute and plans to achieve the destruction of terrorists in Chechnya, 89% respect Putin because he takes care of servicemen not by words but by deeds. They note that wages are now paid to professional servicemen on time. On the eve of the elections Putin instructed the government to repay the debt for social benefits, including the debts for food rations, to servicemen. Sixty-seven percent of respondents are happy that Putin has boosted defense procurement by 50%, and say that the defense sector is “the driving force behind Russia’s development.”
Thus, the victory of Putin is a natural process. However we need to note that having become the President and Supreme Commander-in-Chief Putin is only approaching the solution of problems of internal and foreign policy, and defense recovery in Russia. We would like to hope that pragmatism and common sense will help Putin to make the correct decisions useful for the country, because after the election populist statements become less important, and a difficult period of reforms and transformations starts, including those in the military sphere.