Is Putin's Russia misunderstood?
Putin received roughly 77 percent of the vote in Sunday's presidential elections: his strongest performance so far and an absolute majority of the votes. Taken together the candidates of the patriotic-nationalist camp attained roughly 95 percent, with just 5 percent going to the liberals. But those who are surprised by the results don't understand a thing about Russia, commentators explain.
The West made the president this strong
Margarita Simonyan, editor-in-chief of the Kremlin's foreign broadcaster Russia Today, writes on RIA Novosti that the election outcome is also a result of the West's arrogance:
“We no longer want to live like you do. We wanted to for 50 years, secretly and publicly. But we don't any more. We no longer respect you. ... That's why [the liberals] only won five percent of the vote. You're the ones to blame for that: Western politicians and analysts, journalists and spies. Our nation can forgive much, but we can't forgive arrogance. ... No sooner did you declare Putin your enemy than we gathered around him. He used to be just our president, and therefore replaceable. Now he's our leader. ... It is you who pitched patriotism against liberalism - even though these two concepts should not be mutually exclusive.”
Russia is different
You can't measure events in Russia by Western standards, Russia expert Hélène Carrère d'Encausse stresses in Le Figaro:
“When we speak of democracy we do it from a French perspective based on a century and a half of experience with democracy. ... It wasn't until 1991 that democracy was introduced in Russia! 25 years is not long compared with a thousand-year history! ... Consequently the focus of the debate shifts to the functioning of the institutions and the leaders' concept of democracy. The situation in Russia is very particular: its huge surface area (17 million square kilometres) means that leaders' top priority is to impose their rule over the totality of this space, and over a multi-ethnic population that is difficult to bring together into one entity.”
Putin's mutations part of his authoritarianism
Another problem with Putin is also that he's so difficult to pin down, journalist Costi Rogozeanu writes on blog portal Voxpublica:
“There was the Putin who wanted to pull Russia out of its horrendous transitional period and the Putin who changed the 'deal' with the terrible Russian oligarchy. There was Putin and Chechnya, Putin and Beslan, the Putin of the extreme luxury consumerism of the 2000s, Putin and Ukraine, etcetera. ... His transformations are part and parcel of his authoritarianism. Putin is - alongside other political players from the US through to Israel - a proponent of the notorious 'ultraconservative resurrection', which is a blend of almighty father-figure and hysterical capitalism, and which oppresses progressive citizens. ... Putin is less the reason than a consequence of the fact that European and American politics have slipped into an extreme form of conservatism.”
Putin won, yes, but voters didn't really have an alternative, economics professor Konstantin Sonin stresses on Vedomosti:
“All those who are against corruption, aggressive foreign policy, unlimited military and security spending, protectionism and isolationism, and archaic governance had no one to give their vote to. Those candidates who could have represented a real alternative were not allowed to run. And as far as election observers [those of the opposition and the NGOs] go: the way the election was organised would have made their participation pointless even if they had been formally admitted. There was no election.”
The problem with Russian "unity"
Despite his victory in the election Putin shouldn't feel too secure, Die Presse warns:
“Russian society is divided. It is split into those sections of the population who participate in public life and those who have withdrawn from political life and for whom the elections have lost all credibility. There is no more communication with the latter; at best they are ignored. Now one could say: well, that's just fine for the authorities, it makes governing the country even easier. And in the short term no doubt that's true. But in the long term the Kremlin risks alienating the well educated, urban, mobile section of society. The social unity and consensus Putin postulates are just empty words; dangerous words.”
The West doesn't understand stability
Western criticism of the Russian election result is out of place, Standart writes:
“The West takes a jaundiced view of everything that happens in Russian politics. That's because the Western democracies are subject to highly dynamic institutional and political processes that continually call into question the centuries-old foundations of the state. So whereas in the West decline and uncertainty are on the increase, Russia is a model of stability. ... The Russians support Putin because he has turned Russia into a world power that must be feared and respected once more. And no one can take that away from him.”
Lenin, Stalin and Putin as czars
People in Moscow are happy with the developments there, communications expert Janek Mäggi writes in Eesti Päevaleht conveying his impression of the mood in the Russian capital on election weekend:
“It was clear that even those who aren't interested or involved in politics are satisfied with their lives in the big city. Cloakroom attendants, ticket clippers, waiters and waitresses, cashiers - they live in Europe's biggest city, at the heart of the empire. ... Aside from the czars and czarinas, I have discovered in Moscow that Lenin, Stalin and Putin are all seen as respected leaders today. They are the greatest czars of the past century. Brezhnev and Gorbachev, by contrast, have disappeared from history.”