Political analysts and sociologist are certain that Putin will do it without a second round. He is expected to win the election in its first round with 63 to 66 percent of the vote, says Lev Gudkov who heads the independent Yuri Levada Centre. According to the Centre's forecasts, Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov should be the runner-up with 15 percent, liberal democrat Vladimir Zhirinovsky is expected to come in third with 8 percent, while billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov and ex-Federal Council chair Sergei Mironov should get 6 and 5 percent of the vote, respectively.
If Putin stays in Kremlin until 2024, he will be Russia's second longest-lasting leader in a century, surpassed only by the ruthless Joseph Stalin who ruled the USSR with his iron fist for 29 years.
Russians already refer to Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin as Leonid Ilyich Putin.
Even Leonid Ilyich Brezhnev steered the stagnant Soviet Union for only 18 years, until his death in 1982. Putin has been heading Russia since 31 December 1999, when Boris Yeltsin, then President of the Russian Federation, uttered his famous words: “I'm tired, I'm leaving.” So Putin, as two-time President and incumbent Prime Minister, has been running the country for 12 years. After the Sunday election, the extended 6-year presidential term comes into effect, making it probable that Putin's power – provided that he also wins the 2018 election – will have lasted for 24 years.
For this fact, Russians already refer to Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin as “Leonid Ilyich Putin.” Reference to the leader who stuck to power until his last breath might sound banal, but it is the most accurate definition of Russian politics. The only difference is that while Brezhnev was in the habit of decorating himself with state awards, Putin prefers media publicity to legions of honour.
Extended term in power is not the only link between Brezhnev and Putin. Putin, just like Brezhnev before him, aspires to be symbol of stability in his country. So far he has been successful: Russian economy is far more stable than in the EU, even though the Russian leader comes to be seen as a clown and object of increasing mockery. Just like Brezhnev in his own time.
Not only do people tell jokes about Putin, but oftentimes it is enough to follow his public behaviour. For example, when the Prime Minister “accidentally” discovered an ancient amphora under the sea. Or that other time, when he with President Dmitry Medvedev took a ride on a combine harvester. And who can count how many times Putin has posed for photographers in a tank or fighter cockpit?
Russians were delighted to see pictures of half-naked Putin fishing in Siberia, horse-riding, swimming and doing all other manly stuff.
Before Putin, Russia had not had a leader to whom “macho” style came so naturally, so many Russians were delighted to see pictures of half-naked Putin fishing in Siberia, horse-riding, swimming and doing all other manly stuff. But after that, according to analysts, he went way overboard. Now, the most widely-remembered Putin episode is his ride in a Formula-1 car. Photos with Putin “flying” in the yellow Renault (with an ad for the bankrupt Snoras bank on its side, by the way) spread worldwide. Later, one sports news site analyzed the pictures and additional materials and discovered it had been a show. In the beginning, Putin was sitting in Formula-3 race-car but later imperceptibly switched to Formula-2.
Internet is full of similar publicity failures of the Russian leader. “What does he take us for – complete idiots?” the on-line crowd hissed after yet another of Putin's stunts.
Putin's PR team have gone over the top so many times, that even this week's revelation of a conspiracy against the Prime Minister was taken, by many, as one more sham.
A star is born
However, the majority of Russian population still lives off-line. Therefore, Putin's popularity ratings have so far been exceptionally high.
Even though the election outcome is no secret to anyone even before it begins, there is one thing that should not be overlooked – opposition to Putin has never been so strong and wide-reaching. As a result, there has been certain nervousness about this year's presidential election. True, this time Putin refused to take part in the debate with his opponents who, allegedly, are not worth his time. But he has been exceptionally active in organizing public appearances, participating in support rallies and publishing commentaries on all issues of life in the press.
This time Putin refused to take part in the debate with his opponents who, allegedly, are not worth his time.
According to political analysts, Putin's greatest nuisance is the so-called unsystematic opposition. Especially Aleksei Navalny, a young lawyer whom his comrades already call the future president of Russia.
Navalny became famous when he started his feud against corruption. Russia's most popular blogger launched an on-line project called RosPil (abbreviation of “Russia” and “cut” – the word used referring to money theft and bribery). In the course of only several months, the project became so popular that the readers easily collected several million roubles and hired professional lawyers to look into some fraud cases.
According to Rospil.info website, complaints filed by the lawyers have saved more than 40 billion roubles of state budget money (over a billion euros). Navalny's team only investigated public procurements and tenders.
One of the more obvious fraud cases is the building of the East Siberia-Pacific pipeline. The pipeline started operation in late 2009. “It was a grandiose, even national, if you will, project, directly overseen by the President and Prime Minister Putin,” Navalny told the media after he had proven that many billion roubles had been stolen during the building. The pipeline's total cost reached over 15 billions US dollars. Around thirty percent of the money got stolen. Such was the conclusion reached by the Accounts Chamber of the Russian Federation. However, right after an audit was carried out, its results were classified. But Navalny got all the copies of official documents from his sources and when the scandal broke out in the public, no one from the authorities could deny the authenticity of the leaked documents.
Construction work was overseen by Semyon Vainshtok, president of Transneft company. “If you think that this gentleman is now in jail, you are very mistaken,” added Navalny.
Instead of punishment, Vainshtok received an award from Putin's own hands and a new assignment – he was put in charge of building Olympic facilities in Sochi.
Navalny is not the only one who makes links between Putin and corruption. So do other analysts, telling legends about his multi-billion wealth. Several weeks ago, the present writer was told by a resident of Sardinia that Putin and his businessmen had recently bought a luxurious villa on the Italian island. Allegedly, Russian leader loved spending time on the island with his friend, former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.
And this week, the New York Times published a story, claiming that Putin's wealth is being multiplied in off-shores of Panama, Lichtenstein, and the Virgin Islands, while huge sums of cash are stored in London and Zürich banks.
Putin's wealth is being multiplied in off-shores of Panama, Lichtenstein, and the Virgin Islands, while huge sums of cash are stored in London and Zürich banks.
The daily claims to have come into possession of unique documents and voice recordings, proving Putin's involvement in billion-dollar scams.
In business circles close to Putin, the Russian Prime Minister is often called Mikhail Ivanovich, after a swindler character in a popular Soviet comedy “Diamond Arm.” Last year, when a scandal erupted over construction of Putin's Black Sea palace – that allegedly cost billions of dollars and were to include a casino, a bell-tower, several pools, a summer amphitheater – businessman Sergei Kolesnikov told the paper about Putin's alias that he got from Russian tycoons.
According to Kolesnikov, another businessman Nicolai Shamalov told his partners in early 2001 that a colleague from “Ozero” co-op, President Vladimir Putin, offered them to meet “Sibneft” owner Roman Abramovich who was supposed to donate some money to purchase medical equipment; at Putin's suggestion, 35 percent of the amount would go to off-shore accounts. Did everyone present understand that this was a bribe offer, Kolesnikov was asked. Yes, he said.