Putin is well past his use-by date,but is likely to return as president
Far away from the cities of Moscow and St Petersburg,Russia is a very different country. Still in the grip of winter,they pray for spring,but dont believe spring will come when Vladimir Putin is gone. Spring,for them,means being able to persist with the fear of the known than having to fear the unknown. They will vote for Putin,who is seeking a third term as president,after four years as prime minister,because,for them,an alternative could be far worse. If Putin sold resources to the oligarchs,the oligarchs would sell Russia in a Putin-less world. Therefore,this cynicism born of hopelessness is likely to ensure on Sunday that Putin returns as president of Russia,with at least the required 50 per cent vote to avert a run-off.
Russias cities are predicted to embarrass Putin. The historic protests that erupted after last Decembers controversial parliamentary polls wherein electoral fraud was alleged to have made a difference of as much as 15 per cent to the vote were not seen since the collapse of the Soviet Union. They were an urban middle-class explosion of anger at corruption. But that precisely was its weakness being urban and middle-class. They damaged Putin,but not his full electability. Their achievement,however,is the civil society groups and increased number of independent election monitors who will keep a close watch on the polling to the extent possible in a system with scant regard for freedom of speech.
Putin is unlikely to win the 71 per cent vote he did in 2004,but only two of the other four candidates communist Gennady Zyuganov and nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky might touch double digits. State-run TV channels backing Putin still propagate in most of Russia,even as it prepares to enter the WTO later this year. Anti-Putin voices dominate the web but like the few private TV stations,the internet is largely irrelevant beyond the big cities in the vastness of Russias winter desolation.