The head of staff of Vladimir Putin’s presidential election campaign, Stanislav Govorukhin, gave an interview to the Izvestia daily, where he shared a few interesting details about Putin’s ongoing quest for the third presidency.
First, Govorukhin criticized President Dmitry Medvedev, the very man who nominated Putin for presidency, for not campaigning for the nominee. Govorukhin might have a point here, yet the significance of Medvedev staying on the sidelines isn’t exactly clear. On the one hand, Putin doesn’t really need Medvedev campaigning for him: his own ratings are higher than those of the lame-duck president. On the other hand, Medvedev’s absence on the campaign trail is fueling rumors of a growing split between members of the crumbling “tandem.” At the very least, it’s fair to say that by ignoring Putin’s campaign, Medvedev doesn’t improve his chances of becoming prime minister in the future Putin administration.
Second, Govorukhin agreed that by running his campaign on the platform of the All-Russia People’s Front, Putin deliberately distances himself from the United Russia party, whose chairman he officially is. This demoralizes the party’s functionaries, especially in the regions, and puts its leadership in a difficult position. Like ivy, United Russia is incapable of standing alone; it can only exist by creeping over the body of a “national leader.” The “edinorosses” still pretend that Putin’s swing with the Front is just a short-term opportunistic affair brought about by purely tactical considerations and that after winning the election, Putin will return to the party fold. If this doesn’t happen – because, for example, Putin has long-term plans for the Front or decides to become a “nonpartisan” president – United Russia is finished. It will collapse upon the first attempt to reform it.
Third, Govorukhin admitted that the election campaign staff he’s presiding over is no more than a front for the operation, whereas the real decision-making process is taking place in a shadow staff headed by the deputy chief of the presidential administration Vyacheslav Volodin. Given Russia’s political realities, there is no sense in discussing the legality of this arrangement. However, one would wonder how Medvedev can function as president when his administration is busy with running the election campaign of his own prime minister.
As every efficient Russian bureaucrat, Volodin is publicity shy and prefers leading “from behind.” A message that he reportedly sent to the regional governors included two orders: to make the March 4 elections as clean as possible and to ensure Putin’s victory in the first round of the vote. Cynics would argue that the two demands can’t possibly be met at the same time. Yet, the meaning of Volodin’s message is very clear to its shrewd recipients: on March 4, Putin must get over 50% of the vote without giving the opposition any tangible evidence of the election fraud.
And that’s where Russian polling agencies step in. One of them, VTSIOM, reported that the number of Russians willing to vote for Putin grew by a whopping 7% in the first two weeks of the year, reaching 52% on Jan. 14. Yet, VTSIOM’s general director, Valery Fedorov, urged supporters of the candidate not to become too complacent. Interestingly, Fedorov made this remark at a meeting sponsored by Putin’s All-Russia People’s Front, an awkward venue for a man whose agency’s polls will later be used as evidence of authenticity of the election results.
Two other major Russian polling agencies, FOM and Levada Center, gave slightly smaller figures for Putin’s ratings: 44% and 37%, respectively. However, given even lower numbers polled by Putin’s opponents, the data strongly suggest that Putin’s victory in the first round of the vote is all by assured.
Yet, the differences between the three forecasts seem to suggest that the Kremlin remains undecided on the precise number of the vote Putin should receive on March 4. Anything close to the 53% won by Putin in 2000 will be considered a serious blow to his reputation of a “national leader” and may force the conservative part of the elites question his ability to protect their privileged political and economic interests. On the other hand, any result approaching the 71% of the vote collected by Putin in 2004 will only energize the critics of the regime and may lead to the escalation of the street protests. It would seem that the final decision will be made toward the end of the month and this decision will take into account a number of factors, including the relative strength of pro- and anti-Putin demonstrations scheduled for the coming Saturday.
Once the “target” number of the “for Putin” vote is established, it will be promptly communicated to VTSIOM, FOM and Levada Center for the subsequent use in pre-election and exit polling.