Putin’s popularity soars at home

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s popularity is on an upswing largely in part to concentration of media messaging in the past year. As of recent legislation it is now a crime to even post anti-government news on internet sites while Rain TV, Echo Radio, Novaya Gazetta and Lenta News are battling new restrictions and forced staff changes.

There will most certainly be an uptick in approval ratings given the annexation of Crimea but only time will tell how long that euphoria will last. It won’t be forever. It is exactly by reclaiming Soviet lands that give Russians this temporary emotional orgasm but to sustain the momentum he’d need to continue.

Mr. Putin’s United Russia party came close to having a runoff in 2010 even after massive voter fraud with ballot stuffing and “caravan” voting which frankly saved his bacon. In that election UR took 49.32% of the vote and that gave him 238 seats or 52.88% of the Duma. Compare that with 2007 when his party won 64.30% of the vote and took 70% of the Duma.

The 2012 presidential election, held really with nobody as formidable competition, was also fraudulent. To counter the protests in Moscow the UR party had to bus in paid protestors from distant cities because so few in the Moscow region wanted to bother with protesting for him. His total vote count was 63.64%, widely viewed even by those who voted for him as a questionable number, even after campaigning on a recent increase of pensions and military salaries.

The government promised transparency and installed video cameras at most polling stations with live streaming only to be embarrassed at the shenanigans revealed by the cameras including police arriving at polling stations and escorting election officials and monitors off the premises before votes were counted, the old trick of caravan voting, and clear images of individual voters stuffing handfuls of ballots into the boxes. More than one precinct showed entertainers being paraded in to sing and dance for election officials while voters took ballots and matters into their own hands. Some Russian election monitors were denied access to the polling stations and some had their apartment doors nailed shut from the outside so that they couldn’t go to the polls. Most of the videos posted on places like YouTube have since been disabled.

The 2012 election has forced Mr. Putin to move more to the right as the two parties who showed up with voters in significant numbers were the Liberal Democrats (nationalists) and the Communist party. His further moves away from the centre reflect the need to re-capture some of that support.

To the more immediate subject, Mr. Putin is afraid of a democratic revolution on his doorstep, or even closer. Were he really that popular there would be no need to shut down opposition media, muzzle opposition leaders, and pass laws to crush dissent. The opposite is true.

Argue all you wish about the legitimacy of an illegitimate referendum but no one is insane enough to say that Mr. Putin is ready to return the Kiril Islands, he isn’t going to invite back the residents of Kaliningrad who were forcibly expelled and give that land back, nor is he going to call up Helsinki and offer return Karelia.

If you want to know what Mr. Putin really thinks in terms of referendums and International law, poll the Chechens.

More media crackdowns

From the Moscow Times:

Fired editor Galina Timchenko. (foto: Lenta News)
Fired editor Galina Timchenko. (foto: Lenta News)

The longtime editor-in-chief of news agency Lenta.ru has been replaced by the former editor of a Kremlin-friendly online publication, prompting an uproar among many journalists who say the move is just the latest nail in the coffin of Russia’s independent media.

Alexander Mamut, head of the Russian Internet news service’s parent company Afish-Rambler-SUP, said Galina Timchenko had resigned from her post, but the Lenta.ru editoral staff released a statement saying she had been forced out.

She will be replaced by Alexei Goreslavsky, former head of the online publication Vzglyad.ru, and the official change is set to take place immediately. Goreslavsky has a reputation for being pro-Kremlin, and speculation erupted immediately after the announcement of Timchenko’s departure that this was orchestrated by the Kremlin as part of a wider media crackdown.

Lenta.ru was widely considered one of only a handful of independent Russian news outlets.

The reshuffling at Lenta.ru came immediately after the Federal Mass Media Inspection Service sent the news agency an official warning on Wednesday of possible “extremism” charges for publishing an interview with a member of a Ukrainian ultranationalist group. The media watchdog said the interview had violated “a range of Russian laws, including the law on information, the law on mass media and the law on countering extremism.”

The Lenta.ru editorial staff seemed to see the warning as a pretext to shut the agency down, however, saying in an open letter to readers that “we definitely always expected that they would come for us.”

The situation parallels that of another media outlet, Dozhd, which found itself in hot water after publishing a poll on the anniversary of the liberation of Leningrad from Nazis that many considered offensive. After being cut by all major cable providers, the channel lost the bulk of its finances and has said it will likely be forced to shut down in the near future.

Just like Dozhd staff, journalists at Lenta.ru said that the decision to replace the longstanding editor was made in order to put pressure on the independent news outlet and keep it under tighter control. The online statement, which was signed by the entire staff, declared the decision to be “a violation of the law on mass media, which talks about the inadmissibility of censorship.”

“Over the past couple of years, the space of free journalism in Russia has dramatically decreased. Some publications are directly controlled by the Kremlin, others through curators, and others by editors who fear losing their jobs. Some media outlets have been closed and others will be closed in the coming months. The problem is not that we have nowhere to run. The problem is that you have nothing more to read,” the statement said.

Read the full story at the Moscow Times.

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Pro-Russian forces move into mainland Ukraine

We are showing you the expanded series from VICE NEWS on the continuing occupation of Crimea and it is reported that now pro-Russian forces have moved from Crimea up into the mainland of Ukraine.

Simon Ostrovsky was detained by troops who have moved out of Crimea and into the Ukrainian mainland. He and two cameramen where roughed up and detained before being released.

RT reporter denounces Russian invasion of Crimea

Abby Martin is a feisty liberal progressive and often she and the Mendeleyev Journal are on very different sides of an issue. Abby is tough as nails and yet we believe she tries to be fair and one should respect that, even in disagreement. Her comments on the Russian invasion however have ruffled a lot of feathers in Russia.

Here is what she said to cause all the uproar:

After that you can expect the smear campaigns to begin cranking up very quickly to give the impression that she is a nutcase who shouldn’t be taken seriously. Par for the course.

The Kremlin was none to happy about her comments and that prompted RT management to quickly released a statement that they were sending her to Crimea so that she could get a better view of the story on the ground (re-education lives on).

But no, Abby isn’t going as she informed them just as promptly. Here is her response on-air:

Vladimir Putin cannot afford to fail

Against the backdrop of a successful Olympics, one bloated with corruption, Russian President Vladimir Putin is fighting for his existence. The protests in Kyiv were the spoiler and had that situation not spiraled out of control, Mr. Putin would be sitting back and enjoying the accolades of the world community. The vastly over-priced Olympics allowed him to further line the pockets of his most loyal oligarchs, a move to keep their loyalties firmly in place.

The pro-democracy events in Ukraine put a huge damper on an otherwise successful public event on the world stage. An article in Back Channels sums it up perfectly by saying, “The Bear regards the old system of buffers as its own…(and)… Ukraine is also a borderland naturally spanning a cultural divide between Europe and Eurasia, between the politics of the now open democracies and their common currency and shared values and a stalwart attempting to build some kind of new Slavic society out of the 19th Century manners of aristocracy….”

David Satter in the Daily Beast further explains that “Russia and Ukraine under Yanukovych shared a single form of government – rule by a criminal oligarchy. This is why the anti-criminal revolution that overthrew Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych is a precedent that is perfectly applicable to Putin’s Russia. It is also the reason why, from the Russian regime’s point of view, the Ukrainian revolution must be stopped at all costs.”

On Monday Mr. Putin arrived at the Kirillovsky Military Testing grounds in the Leningrad region, home to forces of the Western and Central Military districts where he watched military training maneuvers along with Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, Commander of the Western Military District Anatoly Sidorov and Head of General Staff Combat Training Directorate Ivan Buvaltsev.

Putin Leningrad Kirillovsky Military Test grounds
L-R: Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, President Putin, and Russia’s head of combat training Ivan Buvaltsev at Kirillovsky Military Test grounds.

Writing in the Guardian Masha Gessen asserts that, “It’s unlikely that what’s happening in Ukraine will foment a new protest movement in Russia: the ongoing crackdown on civil society makes the cost of protest too high. Still, the Crimean invasion is a landmark in Russian domestic politics.”

For Vladimir Putin the stakes are high, for if he fails in Ukraine he will eventually fail at home.

Putin to take Crimea and Eastern Ukraine?

Is US President Obama always sleeping? In a scenario right out of the Benghazi playbook, once again Mr. Obama’s security team has met in a crisis without him. The White House says that his schedule was clear but the only officials attending were Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper,  Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey, and CIA Director John Brennan.

Vice President Joe Biden eventually joined the meeting via video conference but Mr. Obama was AWOL. Mr. Biden has complained lately that the administration only gives him “shit jobs” and we’re sincerely hoping that he doesn’t classify this situation as one of those.

The US president eventually surfaced and was briefed by National Security Advisor Susan Rice prior to his telephone call to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Russian President Vladimir Putin on RT.
Russian President Vladimir Putin on RT.

During the conversation Mr. Putin told the American president that he considered the interim government in Kyiv to be provocative, criminal, and a danger to Russian citizens living in Ukraine.

Speaking in some of his strongest terms yet, Mr. Obama insisted that the Russian actions constitute a “clear violation of Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity, which is a breach of international law, including Russia’s obligations under the UN Charter, and of its 1997 military basing agreement with Ukraine, and which is inconsistent with the 1994 Budapest Memorandum and the Helsinki Final Act.

Mr. Putin argued that in case of any further spread of violence to Eastern Ukraine and Crimea, Russia retains the right to protect its interests and the Russian-speaking population of those areas. Mr. Obama informed Mr. Putin that the USA would immediately step out of the preparations phase for the upcoming G8 Summit in Sochi.

Later in the evening President Putin took calls from President of France Francois Hollande and then UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Mr. Putin told Secretary-General Ki-moon that any cases of violence against the Russian-speaking population of the eastern regions of Ukraine and Crimea would lead Russia to take whatever measures are necessary to protect Russian citizens.

One theme through the telephone calls was Mr. Putin’s repeated references to Crimea and Eastern Ukraine. As to whether that is a deliberate signal that he intends to eventually take full possession of those regions is unclear as of yet.