The Year 2007 Problem: United Russia’s plan has been changed

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The solution to the Year 2007 Problem – that is, the Duma election – is becoming quite clear six months before its culmination, according to Gazeta.ru correspondent Mikhail Fishman. The puppet confrontation between United Russia and Just Russia was initially ordered from above by Putin; but when it surprised its creator by escalating into a real battle of elites, a change of concept followed immediately – right at the start of the campaign season. Back in March and April, Russia had two Kremlin parties. Since late May, only one of them has really been functioning.

Fishman maintains that the concept of a simple Duma majority has been replaced by the idea of total mobilization for one party. The Kremlin’s previous plan for the post-election Duma looked like this: 45% of seats for United Russia, 20% for Just Russia, 10% for the Communist Party (CPRF), and 10% for the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR). Now the plan is different: 50% for United Russia, 15% for the CPRF, 10% for Just Russia, and 10% for the LDPR. This would enable United Russia to form a constitutional majority with any partner it chooses, giving it room for manuever. The combination of 50% plus 10% would make 317-318 seats. Meanwhile, the political resources of the other parties are drastically reduced: none of them would be able to dictate terms to the majority party – and United Russia wouldn’t be omnipotent without them either. This seems like an effective system of controlling the parliament.

Alexander Dugin, leader of the International Eurasian Movement, told the Gazeta newspaper that suspense in the Duma election will focus on exactly how much of the vote goes to United Russia. In Dugin’s view, United Russia will remain Vladimir Putin’s most important political instrument, and he will use it to “retain his political and administrative impact.”

Consequently, “the point of the election will not be competition between parties – it will be the idea that forces should consolidate around Putin, and United Russia is his instrument for achieving this.”

In the vanguard of support for President Putin is Nashi (Our Own), a Kremlin-created youth movement. An article in The New York Times (translated into Russian at Inopressa.ru) says that Nashi “has since its creation two years ago become a disciplined and lavishly funded instrument of Mr. Putin’s campaign for political control before parliamentary elections in December and a presidential election next March.”

Newsru.com notes that the formation of Nashi was first reported by the Kommersant newspaper in February 2005: that article related how Vladislav Surkov, deputy head of the Kremlin administration, met with a group of young people at an apartment in St. Petersburg. Putin’s political advisor promised to develop the movement into a new political force that might become the new Kremlin party by 2008.

Nashi’s funding sources are opaque, says The New York Times, but it is known to receive grants from the state and donations from corporations such as Gazprom and Norilsk Nickel. According to The New York Times, Nashi claims to have 10,000 active members and up to 200,000 participants in its events.

Organizers and critics alike say that Nashi and similar movements are an attempt to build a support base of loyal, patriotic young people and to defuse any potential youth protests that may arise during the operation aimed at ensuring victory for Putin’s successor in next year’s election.

Nashi’s policy platform is characterized by unwavering devotion to Putin and intense hostility toward his critics. The New York Times notes that “Putin’s Generation” is growing up with a diet of anti-European and anti-American sentiment that could deepen the social and political divides between Russia and the West for decades to come.

Nashi’s opponents deride it as a modern manifestation of the Komsomol (Communist Youth League). The colors and symbols are similar; members carry red books to record their participation in rallies and lectures. Moreover, just like Komsomol participation, membership in Nashi is viewed as a stepping stone to jobs in government and state corporations.

Opponents note that there is also a more ominous likeness: Nashi has conducted paramilitary training in preparation for challenging those who take to the streets to protest the Kremlin. Ilya Yashin, leader of the Yabloko party’s youth wing, told The New York Times that Nashi’s goal is “direct intimidation of opposition activists,” citing the example of an attack attributed to Nashi supporters against the headquarters of the banned National Bolshevik Party.

Yashin said that the Kremlin might “face serious problems, because all the young people whom they teach today, in whom they invest, whom they teach to organize mass actions, may find themselves in the real opposition when they see that their interests are violated.”

Yashin’s conclusion: “This may not be the young Red Guard’s Cultural Revolution, like in China, but something much more serious.”

Putin’s return to the idea of total control enables Gazeta.ru to draw the conclusion that his successor is supposed to be a weak president who won’t prevent Putin from running the country behind the scenes. This means that the Kremlin still doesn’t have a plan for solving the Year 2008 Problem: “There are some slogans about continuity and stability, and respect for Putin, but there’s no vision for the future.”

Alexander Rahr, director of Russia and CIS programs at the German Council on Foreign Relations, says in an article for Nezavisimaya Gazeta: “The interesting feature of Russia’s presidential race is that observers are more interested in what Putin will do after he steps down, rather than who will become Russia’s new president.”

According to Rahr, it’s worthwhile to take a look at Putin’s greatest brainchild, created by him during Russia’s modernization period. The one thing he has really managed to restore is the power of the Soviet Union’s energy sector: “Right before the eyes of the international community, a powerful gas cartel is being created – it will soon start to compete with the Arab cartel. In the new world order, where the energy resources factor will be decisive, the gas OPEC will facilitate Russia’s ongoing revival as a great power. The gas OPEC’s future boss will have a very powerful instrument in his hands: Gazprom.”

Getting back to the parliamentary election, we can note that United Russia’s popularity has been enhanced by the success of Sochi’s bid for the 2014 Winter Olympics. The pro-Putin party is sure to be in demand among voters, since most people believe that Sochi owes its success to Putin. This point was made at a recent round-table conference on the electoral preferences of Russian citizens in the lead-up to the Duma election.

The pollsters who gathered for the conference summed up conclusions from polls done by the All-Russian Public Opinion Research Center (VTsIOM), the Public Opinion Foundation (FOM), and Group 7/89, an association of regional polling agencies. As the Vremya Novostei newspaper reports, preliminary results indicate voter turnout will be somewhat lower this year than it was in 2003, but not drastically lower. Respondents are considerably more certain about how they will vote, in comparison to figures for 2003. According to analysts, this indicates that voter preferences have become a constant factor, not changing from year to year.

Four parties are believed to have a strong chance of making it into the Duma: United Russia, the CPRF, Just Russia, and the LDPR. Of these, the LDPR is in the weakest position – hovering on the 7% threshold. But the composition of the LDPR’s share of the vote could produce a surprise for those who trust opinion polls. According to Group 7/89, LDPR voters are mostly (70%) men, half of them aged under 35; and voter turnout in this group might be no higher than 50%.

Vremya Novostei reports that the LDPR has finally found some external confirmation for the “liberal” in its title: 22% of LDPR supporters favor a liberal definition of social justice. In the lead-up to the parliamentary election campaign, which is sure to be accompanied by masses of promises from all politicians, VTsIOM has attempted to determine which of the social slogans might be the most effective. The most liberal and least populist option got the highest score (19%): it defines social justice as equal rights for all, and everyone being equal before the law. The communist ideal of “everything shared equally” took second place, with 14%. And 13% of respondents chose something along the lines of Swedish-style moderate socialism (“prosperity for the people, decent wages and pensions for ordinary citizens, affordable housing”). State support for low-income groups scored 6%, and the Soviet slogan “from each according to his capabilities, to each according to his labor” scored only 3%.

A look at the correlation between these answers and voter preferences shows that it’s time for Just Russia to change the color of its flag: 21% of Just Russia supporters vote for social justice “like in a communist society.” Even the Communist Party’s score for that response is lower: 18%. Just Russia supporters are even more enthusiastic about “decent wages and pensions for ordinary citizens, affordable housing” (24%), but for some reason hardly any of them like the Soviet “benefits in proportion to labor” slogan.

United Russia’s figures are very similar to those of the LDPR (21% for “equal rights, everyone equal before the law, protecting civil rights”). In contrast to LDPR supporters, however, United Russia voters are also attracted by the communist ideals of social justice – 14% of them approve of this.

The opinions of CPRF supporters are divided almost equally across all definitions of social justice. CPRF voters are just as enthusiastic about social justice “like in a communist society” as they are about the more liberal definition, “social equality”: 18% and 17%. And yet the CPRF is the leading party for social pessimists: its supporters were more likely than any others to agree with the statement that “there is no social justice in Russia.”

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