What They Say After: The Post-Elections Polls

Citing evidence revolving around pre-elections opinion polls and exit polls, in my Al Jazeera article on the Russian Duma elections I made the argument that “the aggregate level of falsifications is probably at around five per cent, and almost certainly less than ten per cent” (with the caveat that it was far worse in several regions, including – and controversially to some commentators on this blog – Moscow). Since then, the main polling organizations have released a series of post-elections polls, and pre-elections polls that could not be legally published on the eve of the elections that appear to confirm my initial judgment*.

First up was VCIOM, a week ago. We remind that their exit poll predicted 48.5% for United Russia (final result: 49.3%), which is well within the margin of error. Their new polls seem to confirm this. In their Nov 26 poll and their Nov 30 poll, some 37% and 41% said they were going to vote for United Russia, respectively; after the elections, in Dec 10, this had dropped to 35%. However, one has to bear in mind that only 72%, 75%, and 76% respectively displayed a preference for any one party; the rest said they wouldn’t participate, hadn’t decided or couldn’t answer, or intended to spoil their ballots. Adjusting for these, of committed voters some 51% and 55% said they intended to vote for United Russia in the week before the elections on Dec 4 (average 53%, i.e. basically no change from Nov 20)*. The result from Dec 10 indicates a fall to 46% electoral support, but this is after several days of fraud allegations and very negative PR against United Russia and as such not too reliable. The post-elections slide in support for the party of power appears to have been a one-off; as of Dec 17, one percentage point more said they would vote for United Russia.

In Levada’s post-elections poll, some 48% said they voted for United Russia. This closely tallies with the real result of 49.3%, especially considering the 3.4% margin of error. Fewer said they supported the Communists, Fair Russia and Yabloko, 17%, 12%, and 2% respectively, than was the case in real life, at 19.2%, 13.2%, and 3.4% respectively! As with the VCIOM poll, this indicates (but nothing more than that) that the level of fraud may have even been less than the 5%-7% that constitutes my best guess.

But the same could not be said of their Moscow poll**. There, only 32% said they voted for United Russia with an error margin of 4.3% (as opposed to its real result of 46.6%). This supports an avalanche of evidence elsewhere (1, 2) indicating very serious fraud taking place in Moscow (FOM exit poll: 24%; ISI exit poll: 28%; Citizen Observer: 23%; voting machines: 30%). This lends support to my other thesis that one of the key reasons why protests have been especially severe in Moscow (and not in, say, St.-Petersburg, or Vladivostok, hardly bastions of United Russia support either) was because of its quite exceptional level of fraud.

They also asked some direct questions about electoral fraud throughout the country. 56% of Muscovites believe violations were either “minor” or “serious”; 15% believe there were “practically none”, while 14% think there the level of fraud was “absolutely huge” (so average: between “minor” and “serious”). Likewise, 14% believe United Russia shouldn’t have gotten even a third of the seats; 28% think United Russia wouldn’t have gotten a majority in the Duma; 23% think the results would have changed by only a couple or so percentage points; and 15% think they wouldn’t have changed at all (so average: basically 50/50 on whether or not United Russia could have retained its majority). This all tallies very well with my own best guess of 5-7% overall fraud. Asked to estimate the figure that United Russia really got in Moscow, and their averaged answers were: United Russia supporters: 45%; Fair Russia supporters: 34%; the Communists and LDPR supporters: both 30%; Yabloko supporters: 26%. The overall average was 35% for United Russia, which again tallies in with the general weight of evidence about fraud in Moscow. Crowd wisdom!

Contrary to pretty much everyone in the Western media, the impact of the fraud allegations on Putin’s popularity have turned out to be fairly minimal. According to FOM, trust in the Russian Premier went from 54.4% in Nov 27, to 52.8 in Dec 11 and 53.6 in Dec 18. Hardly the end of the world. According to Levada, Putin went from 67% approval (32% disapproval) in November to 64% approval (36% disapproval) as of Dec 16-20. Pretty low by Putin’s usual stratospheric standards, but still figures that most Western politicians would give their right arm for; nor are they all that unprecedented (Putin’s approval ratings, according to Levada, were in the mid-60%’s for most of 2005). According to VCIOM, Putin’s approval fell from 61% on Nov 30, to just 51% in Dec 10. I don’t know why the big (and consistent) discrepancy with the Levada results – VCIOM’s typically give Putin 5%-10% points lower than Levada – but I assume it may have something to do with the wording (Putin is mentioned by name in Levada’s polls, whereas VCIOM only refers to his official position).

Likewise, both pollsters indicate that Putin remains politically hegemonic in Russia. As of Dec 10, VCIOM says 42% of Russians would vote for Putin, compared to 11% for Zyuganov, 9% for Zhirinovsky, and 5% for Mironov (everyone else has inconsequential figures); accounting for the 27% of people who won’t participate, haven’t decided, or will spoil their ballots, this gives Putin a 57% victory in the first round. As for Dec 20, Levada says that 36% will vote for Putin, compared to 7% for Zhirinovsky, 6% for Zyuganov, and 2% each for Mironov and Prokhorov. Bizarrely, it includes Medvedev – who won’t participate – in the poll; let’s (conservatively) assume that two thirds of his 3% can be added to Putin’s to give him 38%. Accounting for the 42% of people who won’t participate or haven’t decided, this gives Putin a first round victory of 65%.

Despite everything that’s happened, I can only conclude that the polls – generally speaking, very reliable predictors of Russian elections – indicate that Putin is on course to win the 2012 Presidential elections in the first round. This will doubtless raise howls of protest from the liberals, the Western media, and various hypocrite do-gooders like Hillary Clinton decrying the fairness of the elections. That is why I think that Putin’s suggestions to install web cameras at each of Russia’s 95,000 polling stations – despite its vast expense, at half a billion dollars – is in fact a very good idea so as to forestall as much as possible the inevitable and incipient attempts to delegitimize his return to the Presidency.

Obviously, this isn’t my last word on the fraud, opinion polls, and what they all mean for political developments in Russia. I hope to have another article out in a few days, as well as a blog post summarizing the various statistical analyses of the scale of fraud in the elections (as I promised to in a comment to a post at Mark Chapman’s blog).

PS. This is kind of whimsical, but I would also point out that even the informal poll at this blog – with its Gaussian shape and peak at the 2-10% fraud option – also supports the 5% fraud thesis. 😉

* I remember Julia Ioffe tweeting something disparaging about “throwing around numbers like confetti” during Putin’s Q&A, as if that’s a Bad Thing and inappropriate in an argument. I beg to differ, and consider that numbers and statistics are far more important than the (inevitable pro-liberal) rhetoric that she seems to favor.

** These figures may be off by about 1% point because I could only find the VCIOM figures rounded up to the nearest whole digit. But this is irrelevant anyway because their margin of error is 3.4%.

*** I know that some of the commentators at my blog treat opinion pollsters, especially independent ones like Levada, with suspicion because of their foreign funding. Guys, be realistic. That might be true and the director of Levada is no fan of Putin, but on the other side of the aisle there are people arguing that Russian opinion pollsters are in fact stooges of the Kremlin because their results usually suggest that the results are, in fact, fair. Let’s have less conspiracy theories and more Occam’s Razor: that they are, in fact, honest, but neither are they absolutely impeccable due to their error margins and possible sampling mistakes.


  1. Chrisius Dossius Optimus Maximus says:

    I doubt Ioffe knows basic math, of course numbers confuse her. They’re all abstract and stuff.

    • Actually, Ioffe has a degree from a major American Ivy League university, although I cannot recall which one it is. So she is no dummy. If only she had used her brain for something positive, instead of cheerleader for destructive anarchists….

      • I get quite a few searches for “Julia Ioffe Princeton”. So I’m guessing Princeton, but it’s just a guess. And Anne Applebaum, as you’ll recall, has degrees practically falling out of her….purse, and is multilingual into the bargain, but she still offers irrational theories to explain world events that a couple of minutes of research show as wildly improbable. That’s because what could probably be a very impressive mind is blinded by ideology.

        • alexander mercouris says:

          By writing and saying what she does Julia Ioffe (and Anne Applebaum) guarantee themselves good careers and big salaries. Whatever else that is that is not stupid. By contrast writing soberly and objectively about Russia is not going to get you very far whether as a journalist or as an academic. In my opinion by far the best historian at the moment in the US in the field of Russian and Soviet studies is J. Arch Getty. How many people outside of a few specialists have heard of him or read his books?

          • Does Ioffe actually make a good salary? She is a freelance journalist, that is like being a starving artist, no?

        • Yes, she is Princeton.

  2. alexander mercouris says:

    Another excellent post Anatoly and just to say that I agree with your comments about both the exit poll and the opinion agencies (and I hope I have never given grounds for anyone to think otherwise).

  3. Proklatyi Moskali!

  4. alexander mercouris says:

    I am down with a heavy cold so I have time on my hand and can therefore once again enjoy the spectacle in Moscow though coverage so far has been much less in Britain than two weeks ago.

    The police are putting the total number of demostrators at 29,000. I had not appreciated until today that both at today’s demo and at the demo two weeks ago protesters have to walk through police metal detectors before they can join the demo. This means that the police have a very accurate head count. Since the police figure for the demo two weeks roughly corresponds with the estimates based on visual impressions there is no reason to think they lying and this means we can rely on their numbers. Claims by Navalny and Nemtsov (who along with Ksenia Sobchak was booed) that 150 – 200,000 have turned up are absurd.

    In other words today’s demo and last week’s are of roughly the same size with the slight increase this week explained by the greater time the organisers have had to prepare. The same people will be attending both.

    Elsewhere the number of people demonstrating in other towns seems to have fallen substantially from the already low numbers of 2 weeks ago. In other words the protest movement such as it is is becoming a purely Moscow affair.

    PS: I understand the Mayor’s Office has laid on tea and snacks.

  5. alexander mercouris says:

    The rally seems to be all but over with (according to the Daily Telegraph) no more than about 5,000 present I am not sure whether Gorbachev spoke or not. I presume he didn’t. Navalny and Kudrin both. Kudrin (like Nemtsov and Sobchak) was booed and apparently struggled to finish his speech. Prokhorov attended the rally but perhaps wisely did not speak.

    Again it is difficult to say from the distance of London and without access to domestic Russian TV broadcasts but I get the impression that there was rather more aggression towards some of the speakers from parts of the crowd at this demo than there was at the previous one. I have seen a report somewhere that some people even tried to storm the platform and that the organisers at one point even asked the police for help in controlling “the hotheaded young people”. This may have deterred some people like Gorbachev and Prokhorov from speaking.

    • I will have quite a few things to say on all this come morning. 😉

    • To increase the size of the crowd the organizers have to draw in more people. And there is the trade off. Not all of them are foaming at the mouth liberasts with western comprador agendas.

      This is not a good day for the wannabe foreign rulers of Russia.

      • alexander mercouris says:

        Dear Kirilll,

        I agree.

        Meanwhile we are back to the numbers game. The police claim that the rally at its peak brought together 29,000. They say that they can confirm this number by reference to the numbers who went through the metal detectors. They have also said in refutation of opposition claims that the space for the rally simply would not have contained the numbers that some of the organisers are claiming.

        To my mind this police must be treated as the most likely. As I said in my previous post the best independent estimates of the previous rally put the number at roughly the level the police said. This is a strong indication that the police are not lying. Moreover if people have to go through metal detectors the police are in a position to keep an accurate count.

        That has not of course prevented a whole range of other numbers from flying around. Vladimir Ryzhkov (according to the Daily Telegraph) claims 60,000. The KPRF says 70,000. RT whilst giving the police figure says that “independent observers” claim that 70,000 “passed through the metal detectors” and that “proof” of this can be produced on request (why on request?). The Guardian quoting unnamed “security sources” says 80,000. Nemtsov says 100,000 and Navalny says 200,000. All these figures look to me like they have simply been plucked out of the air.

        One point I would make, which is also made by Itar Tass, is that if the police figure is correct then the protest was not significantly larger (or even at all larger) than the one two weeks ago and was significantly smaller than the 50,000 for which permission was given.

        Lastly the British media have admitted that Kudrin, Nemtsov and Ksenia Sobchak were booed. The KPRF on its website adds Kasyanov to the list and gloatingly claims that it was because of the hostile reception he would have got that Gorbachev failed to turn up as he had promised. Possibly because he was also worried about his reception Prokhorov failed to speak.

        • alexander mercouris says:

          I notice that Novosti, which is the most pro liberal of the Russian news agencies, has quietly scaled down its estimate of the numbers. Earlier it was saying that its observers were calculating that the number was “several times greater” than the police estimate of 29,000. It now says its observers put the figure at 52,000, which is not “several times greater”.

          Kievite on Kremlin Stooge puts the number at 30,000 and cites an article in Russian (which of course I cannot read) that appears to calculate this number on the basis of calculations drawn from the venue. If this is correct then it confirms the police estimate.

          In one respect I suspect that Novosti may be right in that it says that the focus of today’s rally was less on the parliamentary elections than on the Presidential elections that are coming.

        • This is what a 100,000-strong protest looks like, so even at first glance Novaya Gazeta’s claim of 102,000 does not look realistic. So I consider the police estimate of 30,000 credible, plus perhaps another 10,000-20,000 to account for those who were kept back from passing through the metal detectors (this began about a third of the way through). This ties in with ievite’s link to the RIA infographic estimating 55,000.

        • Gorbachov stayed in London and faxed in his big speech.
          This is the equivalent of Hamlet e-mailing his soliloquy.

    • Gorbachev didn’t speak. He would almost certainly have gotten booed. Sobchak was whistled. Prokhorov was also there, but declined to speak, probably wisely. Kudrin was also booed, no matter that he straight out supported canceling the results of the elections. (Incidentally, he was also clearly worst speaker of the bunch; I guess he’s never done street theater before, being the technocrat type). I suspect his Kremlin career, at least with with Putin and Co., is now decidedly over.

      The reaction to Nemtsov was very bad, although his Big Points did get cheers. But at the end the crowd started chanting “Russia without Nemtsov.” This was a huge deterioration from his performance at Bolotnaya, which got a very positive reaction (where he made a joke about being on Hillary’s and Obama’s payroll and gave a figure of 13 million stolen votes). Is this the tapes scandal at work? Still, it was certainly better than the reaction to him in St.-Petersburg, where he was almost universally booed throughout; I suspect the reason that protest sentiment isn’t high in St.-Petersburg is that its elections, unlike Moscow’s, seem to have been honest by most indications.

      [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5TxDCRkq4wM?rel=0&w=640&h=360%5D

      Navalny was simply brilliant, no denying that. Brilliant rhetoric. He really knows how to work a crowd. More than ever I now realize that Navalny is far far more important than anyone else at holding the митинги together.

      He also clearly picked his words with care. I noted that he didn’t mention Putin once, but referred to the “two thieves in the Kremlin” (adding some homosexual connotations, which won’t play over badly with this “liberal” crowd – Alexeyev, Russia’s leading LGBT activist, has been banned from speaking at the meetings). Since Putin is still popular, even with some people in that crowd no doubt, leaving his name out and referring to him only indirectly was a deft rhetorical move.

      (I noted that he condemned Khodorkovsky’s prosecution, but that didn’t seem to bother anyone there.)

      [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jMisvNMH0ME?rel=0&w=480&h=360%5D

      Kasparov got a good reaction, and – one has to admit – he is a very effective public speaker. Not at Navalny’s level, but certainly comparable to the showman speakers. I was amused to see him adopt populist slogans (e.g. against privatizations) when in fact he is is extremely right-wing, at least when in the US. Hypocrite. But we already knew that.

      The incidence of white ribbons definitely appears to be spreading. If the Kremlin was clever, they’d stop with the condom jokes (which have backfired) and start pointing out its association with the auxiliary police under the Nazi occupation. Some of the speakers explicitly compared the Kremlin with fascists and Nazis, so that would not now be below the belt. I also noted that the Dozhd reporters wore white ribbons (violation of journalistic neutrality).

      The best reactions by far were to the leftist/lefty-liberal activists like Yashin and Udaltsov, and the writers and actors like Boris Akunin. The nationalist, Vladimir Tor, was roundly whistled, despite the eloquence of his words.

      In general, I agree with Mercouris at Mark Chapman’s blog that Medvedev seems to be panicking and his actions are becoming ever more knee-jerk and counter-productive.

      • alexander mercouris says:

        Dear Anatoly,

        I think it was more Mark Chapman than me that said that Medvedev’s reactions look panicky and knee jerk, though that is certainly my view as well.

      • In his speech Navalny kind of slipped Khodorkovsky in, in between a couple of other “political prisoners”. I had to listen to this segment a couple of times to see the brilliance of it: Around 3:45 in, Navalny starts to orchestrate the leitmotif of “All for one, one for all”, in that segment of his stump speech regarding freeing political prisoners. He rattles off a couple of names that I didn’t recognize, getting the crowd to back their liberation with the chant of “All for one, one for all”. Then Navalny kind of tucks in Khodorkovsky right after another name that I didn’t recognize, mumbling quickly about “unfairly prosecuted”, again getting the crowd to chant. A few seconds later he also throws in Magnitsky, “tortured in prison”, followed by crowd chant.
        By mentioning Khodorkovsky and Magnitsky, Navalny is probably jut fulfilling his contractual obligations to U.S. State Department. Many in crowd may have come genuinely just angry about the elections and not even been aware that they just chanted to free Khodokovsky, since Navalny kind of sneakily slipped him into the discourse. But now Fox News and CNN can report, in good faith, that the “Russian people” are demanding freedom for Khodorkovsky. It all really always comes back to Khodorkovsky, doesn’t it? He is truly the line in the sand for the Americans.

        • Condemning Russia’s leaders as “swindlers and thieves”, he listed victims of injustice including imprisoned former tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky and anti-corruption lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who died in custody.

          You are correct. 🙁

      • Quick note on “gay” angle: Chirikova, to her credit, had supported the idea of including Alexeev at the meeting and condemned the practice of excluding homosexuals. (She made this comment in passing during the joint Nemtsov/Chirikova Dozhd interview in which she publicly “forgave” Nemtsov.) But apparently, judging by your comment, Alexeev was still excluded nonetheless, so Chirikova’s plea for inclusivity was not heeded. Doesn’t surprise me, since Navalny is the main leader now, and his supporters include some fairly rough types, almost skinheads. In his “naughty” tapes Boris Nemtsov had also made some disparaging remarks about “piderasts”, but for him that is par for the course and probably just joking around. BTW, does anyone know if Chirikova spoke at the Sakharov Prospekt meeting? I haven’t seen anything about her…

      • Giuseppe Flavio says:

        There is a point in Navalny’s rethoric I find quite stupid and potentially self-damaging. The hollow threat to “storm the Kremlin”. He attempted (sort of) it on Dec. 5 and got arrested. On Dec. 24 he repeated his threat but said it was postponed “won’t yet”. If he continues to talk big and act little or nothing, “won’t yet” style, he’s going to find himself mocked into oblivion “Hey Alyosha, have you stormed the Kremlin today?”.

        • alexander mercouris says:

          Dear Giuseppe,

          Navalny was talking to a crowd and his speech was pitched for rhetorical effect and designed for the moment. If broken down it was a mass of contradictions. For example he insisted that the protesters were totally peaceful but combined this with threats to storm the Kremlin. However before a crowd those sort of contradictions pass unnoticed and do not detract from the effectiveness of the speech. It would be a very diifferent thing if Navalny were talking on radio or television. There not only would the contradictions and blind alleys become obvious but people would start to ask for some indication of what sort of programme Navalny has in mind. This is something he has consistently avoided spelling out.

          Examples of the difference between soap box oratory of the kind Navalny is good at and the more measured oratory needed for broadcast media are legion. A famous example is provided from Russia’s own history. Stalin could never compete with Trotsky on the soap box but contrary to myth in his prepared speeches and addresses on the radio he was a powerful orator.

          By the way I am sure Navalny himself knows the difference. If asked to speak on radio and television he would talk in a different way.

          • Giuseppe Flavio says:

            Dear Alexander,
            surely there is a difference between talking to a crowd and talking to a radio or TV host. But I think my point still stands, that making hollow threats is a road to ridicule. And it’s more dangerous in front of a crowd. A radio/TV host can’t seriously ask Navalny why he hasn’t yet stormed the Kremlin, while a crowd can take him for his words. What if Navalny repeats the threat in front of a crowd and hotheads (or provocateurs) start chanting “Yes, storm the Kremlin!”, what would he do then? Really try to storm the Kremlin with a few hundreds hotheads like he did on Dec. 5, or try to calm the crowd repeating the “won’t yet” line? In both cases he will be seen as a failure.

  6. Moscow Exile says:

    The Moscow Times and the Moscow News are pumping out the 100,000 plus figure, saying that their journalists on the spot include those protestors that were not allowed through the police cordon.

  7. alexander mercouris says:

    It is absolutely standard stuff for protesters to claim the presence of many more people than attended. The same happens everywhere and it would be amazing if this protest were an exception. It is no surprise that newspapers that tend to support the protesters should repeat their claims. Again this happens everywhere including in Britain.

    It has been much more difficult for me to get a handle of this protest than the one two weeks ago because for whatever reason the British media has given far less attention to it. My feeling is yet again that the bulk of the protesters were young people with a strong student core. Apparently some of the protesters even appeared under the banner of their universities and colleges, which will have the demonstration even more of the feel of a student protest.

    Again there was a very wide of range of opinions amongst the people attending, which was not however reflected in the list of speakers who seem to have been overwhelming liberals. I gather that Kasparov, Nemtsov, Kasyanov, Ryzhkov, Yavlinsky, Ponomariev and of course Kudrin all spoke. There were no Communist speakers this time. All of the political leaders I have mentioned got a hostile reception from at least part of the crowd except possibly for Yavlinsky. Artemy Troitsky and Ksenia Sobchak who are also apparently associated with the liberals got a rough ride. Prokhorov showed up but chickened out of saying anything. The Communists are claiming gloatingly on their website that Gorbachev chickened out of coming at all. Instead he said what he wanted to say on the Moscow Echo radio station. Navalny didn’t get a rough ride but at the moment his whole pitch is that he is not a politician at all but merely an apolitical anti corruption campaigner and blogger. This by the way to my mind explains why he calls on people to “vote for anyone other than United Russia/Putin”. This meaningless proposal enables Navalny to avoid appearing to take a stand. Sooner or later Navalny will however have to take a stand or people will begin to wonder what he is about.

    I gather that the protest ended much earlier than anticipated with the crowd suddenly melting away after only ten out of the 22 listed speakers had spoken. I wonder whether this was possibly because much of the crowd was put off by what they heard from the speakers? If so this might also explain why there are no plans for any follow up demonstrations and apparently no intentions to call for more demonstrations before February. Obviously writing from London all this can be no more than a guess. Anyway by February the question of the parliamentary elections will have receded with the focus being on the Presidential elections in March.

    Overall and contrary to some of the more hyperbolic commentary I do not think this demonstration has changed the political balance in the country in any significant way. The opposition is as far away as it ever was from uniting behind a single candidate to challenge Putin and given the differences within it it is most unlikely that it ever will. The very orderly and totally peaceful character of the protest means that any threat of revolution (colour or otherwise) is overblown.

    Lastly, may I suggest my own theory about the conduct of Prokhorov and Kudrin? This is that because of whatever happened last year behind the scenes in connection with the leadership of Right Cause the two have developed a strong rivalry towards each other so that the one cannot bear it when the other acts in a way that attracts attention. The result is that immediately after Kudrin announced his intention to form a new party Prokhorov declared himself a Presidential candidate whilst the moment Prokhorov said he was going to attend today’s rally Kudrin decided he had to attend as well. Obviously I have no evidence to support this theory but I would point out that though the two supposedly agree about most things they have made no attempt to make common cause with each other.

    • Moscow Exile says:

      As regards these figures of attendance that are being bandied about, I was up and around central Moscow most of yesterday, though I was not in the vicinity where the protest was held, buying last minute presents for today and next weekend. (Expensive time of year for me as it is also my eldest daughter’s birthday today). If I had not been aware that a protest was taking place, it would have been difficult to have surmised that that was the case.

      Western journalists never put the size of these Moscow protests in perspective, namely that the population of Moscow is…who knows? Officially it was 12 million at about the beginning of the last decade; I should think that 14 million would now be a conservative estimate. A Daily telegraph (London) “man on the spot” was sending “twitters”; one of the first of these reported that there were “cops on every metro train”. There was a police presence on the metro yesterday, though not at my local one,Taganskaya, which is pretty central. Very likely there were policemen at every city centre metro station situated within the Moscow circle line, but on every train? I hardly think so: there were none on the routes I took yesterday. However, there is usually a police presence on the metro whenever a large civil disturbance might be at hand, which in most instances means when there’s a local football Derby.

      As I have mentioned in an earlier posting, the middle-class Russians with whom I work at a major Russian oil firm and at a Western audit company, seem totally uninterested in the views of these protestors. I do know one Russian broker, however, who may have been there, judging by what he wistfully said to me in 2007. He then told me that he and his colleagues were part of “a lost generation”. (He was in his late twenties then). He explained that by this he meant that he and others of his generation had been born a little to late to enjoy the plunder years of the 90s to the full (he didn’t describe the 90s in that fashion, of course): he had beeen a schoolby and an undergraduate then. By the time he had graduated, the spoils had been divvied out, and he had to earn his crust honestly. I think that he and others like him may well have been at the two post-election protests held in Moscow of late. I should think that very many there would have been of the same mindset as he is, yearning for the “golden years” where they could have made their fortunes. Only in their dreams!

      I found it amusing that the “socialite” Ksenia Sobchak (Russia’s “Paris Hilton”) got heckled at the meeting. She protests about corruption in high places, yet has enjoyed to date a priviliged existence because of her connections; I see no evidence of any inborn talent that has contributed to her achieving celebrity status.

      • alexander mercouris says:

        Dear MoscowExile,

        An important and corrective comment. In any society that is not a dictatorship there is a small minority of people a disproportionate number of whom are young who are politically highly motivated and who from time to time hold rallies. That is natural and healthy and is not in itself a sign of revolution. Around them the normal life of a great city goes on.

    • Giuseppe Flavio says:

      I had read that the next demonstration should be held on February on Italian media, but I dismissed it because it looked strange, even more than the 2 weeks interval between the December demonstrations. Now I see that the next demonstration is really confirmed for February.
      As the saying goes, “strike the iron while it’s hot”, so why the organisers wait so much? Is there something I’m missing?

      • Moscow Exile says:

        There is a public holiday in February that follows the New Year revelries: February 23rd was formerly “Red Army Day”; now it is known as “Defenders of the Fatherland Day”. Because February 23rd falls on a Thursday next year, the day following will more than likely be given as a holiday, thereby ensuring a long weekend and combating the absenteeism that would result if Friday 24th of February were a working day. Saturday March 3rd will then be a working day in lieu of Friday, February 24th. This is normal practice in the Evil Empire. If “The Opposition” have decided to have another protest meeting in February, then I should think that the long weekend of 23rd- 26th of that month would be the time that they have in mind. Bear in mind, it can get extremely cold by then. Last year Moscow suffered its highest recorded snowfall during the last weekend in February, and the year before the daytime temperatures were about minus 20C. So I shouldn’t think that those protestors that cleared off after a couple of hours of enduring minus 4C on 24th December would be hanging around for so long in February temperatures that can be considerably lower. And I’m quite sure that the vast majority of the latest protest meeting had also attended the first one on Bolotnaya Square. For that reason, I think it rather curious that “The Opposition” has chosen a February day for their next meeting. Perhaps the time of the next meeting has been urged upon them by advisors who do not realize how uncomfortable it is to stand around for a couple of hours in temperatures lower than minus 10C.

        • alexander mercouris says:

          Dear MoscowExile and Giuseppe,

          There is in fact a rationale to holding the protest in February, which is that it comes closer to the Presidential election. The organisers of the protests surely understand that if they try to sustain the protests through January momentum by February may have started to ebb away.

          Incidentally, I would just make one observation about the cold. The demonstration that happened in January 1905 which culminated in Bloody Sunday also happened on a very cold day. The demonstrations that brought down the monarchy in February/March 1917 also took place on very cold winter days (the best account I know is in George Katkov: “Russia 1917”). On both occasions the crowds were very much bigger than the ones we have just seen though how large is impossible to say given the impossibility of keeping an accurate count. However both seem to have brought out the entire population of St. Petersburg’s factory districts. On both occasions there was a general strike and lock out affecting the whole city. At the time of the January 1905 demonstration St. Petersburg was without electricity or newspapers because of the general strike. On both occasions the protesters had to face the very real danger that they might be fired on by the army and police, which of course actually happened on both occasions. In other words these were real revolutionary situations, quite different from what happened on 10th and 24th December 2011 but they do show that the cold does not deter people who are motivated enough.

          • Moscow Exile says:

            In 1905 and 1917 the protestors were cold AND hungry. Russia was also losing wars in both of those years. As you said, Alexander, “real revolutionary situations”.

            • – Да, были люди в наше время,
              Не то, что нынешнее племя:
              Богатыри – не вы!

        • Giuseppe Flavio says:

          This is going to be called the weekend revolution! If possible a long weekend, thanks.
          It is possible, but in this way they’re implicitly giving up their claim about falsified elections.

          • alexander mercouris says:

            Dear Giuseppe,

            Absolutely! By February the elections will be ancient history.

            Actually there might be some sense in this. All the indications are that the sort of subjects that most worry voters in Russia are social services, housing, prices, education, healthcare and jobs. Harping on instead about the elections might lead many voters to wonder whether the opposition is interested in these issues, which are the issues that concern voters.

  8. I cannot agree with many of Mr Karlin’s conclusions. Say, the fraud in Moscow was not exceptional in comparison to most regions, it was average. It was exceptional in Mordovia, Chechnya, Tatarstan, Dagestan, Tuva et al. – a total of 15 electoral areas of 72 had a “turnout” of over 70% – with the psychedelic results of 100%, 82%, 92%, 91%, 90%, 81%, 82%, 92%, 82%, 73%, 92%, 69%, 75% and 86% for United Russia. Votes from such fraudulent areas account for 18% of UR’s total votes, but only 1.2% of Yabloko’s or 1.8% of Just Russia’s.

    As for Moscow, the fraud was as large in Kaluga, Kurgan, Saratov, Chuvashia, Omsk, Rostov, Tambov and many – a half – other areas. St. Petersburg or Vladivostok had an extraordinarily low level of fraud very uncharacteristic of Russia. Vladivostok had the 122nd lowest turnout (and hence fraud) of 133 electoral areas, St. Petersburg’s four electoral areas are 113th, 115th, 121th and 131st of 133. Here, for instance, are some data on electronic ballots for all Russian regions: http://podmoskovnik.livejournal.com/134962.html – the same areas show 36.57% with electronic ballots and 54.16% without them.

    Alexander Mercouris, in the Russian case I’d say the police numbers are far less trustworthy. The police were claiming this meeting by Nashi had 50 000: http://0.cdn.echo.msk.ru/att/element-766717-misc-1.jpg and this meeting had 30 000: http://varlamov.me/img/saharova24/00s.jpg

    While there were no Communists, there were socialists. For example, Ilya Ponomarev (Just Russia) or Sergey Udaltsov (Left Front). The liberal politicians only got a hostile reception by the scene because there was a large concentration of politically opposed forces there. That would be untrue for the centre of the crowd. Sobchak and Kudrin were booed at because they are associated with the regime.

    The crowd started moving away because it is hard to tolerate the cold for over a couple of hours. I came at 2:30 PM and was absolutely freezing by about 3:30 PM, even though I was appropriately dressed. I had to leave at 4:30 PM because I started feeling ill.

    • alexander mercouris says:

      Dear Andrei,

      I appreciate your point about the cold. As I said it is very difficult to get an accurate measure from London where I am writing of an event in Moscow especially as for some strange reason the British media has not covered this rally to anything like the extent that it covered the one two weeks ago. I hope I was careful to say that I was simply speculating about the reason why people may have left early.

      I am sure that the police exaggerate the size of Nashi rallies. It does not follow that they are being inaccurate in the numbers they have been giving for this rally or for the one two weeks ago. In the case of these rallies photographic evidence appears to corroborate what they say.

      I did not know about the presence of people like Udaltsov until mentioned by you and Anatoly for the simple reason that the British media upon which I largely rely prefers not to mention the presence of such people. As for the hostile reception some of the liberal speakers got you will see that in both of my two comments I was careful to qualify this by by such comments as that it came from “at least part of the crowd”. I did not say all of it though I do get the impression at least from such sections of the Russian press as I am able to read and from Anatoly’s post that liberal speakers did tend to get a rather rough ride.

    • I agree that there were a few other ethnic Russian oblasts with the same amount of fraud as Moscow, but at the larger scale, no Federal District (save the Caucasus) approaches its level.

      As we’ve gone through a few times already here (and I will soon have a separate post on it), lower turnout does not necessarily imply lower fraud. Higher levels of turnout together with higher levels of support for the more conservative parties is in fact observed in both UK and German elections.

      The evidence of very serious fraud (10%+) indicated by the KOIB discrepancy does seem to be a lot more serious, although as they did not cover the country uniformly strict conclusions cannot be drawn.

  9. http://otherside.com.ua/news/detail.php?id=99452
    This guy counted 56 K, including all people outside the metal detectors. Many of the outsiders probably were just passerby or curious who didn’t want to cross the line )))

    • alexander mercouris says:

      Dear Andor,

      What is amusing about this particular geodesic engineer is that apparently he calculated the size of the demonstration two weeks ago at 60,000. This makes him the only person who claims that the demonstration two weeks ago was bigger than the one yesterday.

      As it happens I think his numbers are rather inflated (though not absurdly so) but that he is basically right that the two demonstrations were about the same size. As I have said on Mark Chapman’s blog though I am not an geodesic engineer I do have some experience of this sort of thing. Not only were the two demonstrations roughly the same size (with yesterday’s bigger than the previous one but not by much) but many of the same people will have turned up to both.

    • Thanks for that link.

      Between the Moscow police and the Internet hamsters, I’d trust the geodesicists. 😉 About 60,000 at both events then.

  10. alexander mercouris says:

    Dear Andrei,

    I have done a short google search on the subject of the police estimate of the Nashi rally because I gather that photos of it were being waved around at the demonstration yesterday in order to discredit the police estimates.

    There is nothing wrong with casting doubt on police estimates and it happens with demonstrations everywhere. As a student organiser I used to do this sort of thing myself. As I remember we always claimed to have brought out at least four times more people than the police said.

    However I am not sure that on this occasion the information is accurate. I presume that the Nashi rally in question was the ridiculous “anti corruption” jamboree organised apparently by Surkov in April. The point was that it involved a series of events over several days which supposedly 50,000 Nashi were bused in to attend. Sakharov avenue was apparently used as a venue for some of these events and was even closed to traffic for two days, which seems a shocking inconvenience to everyone else. The number 50,000 certainly originated with Nashi (or Surkov) before the event and not the police. If we are talking about several events happening over the course of several days which a total of 50,000 people are supposed to have attended then we are not comparing like with like. I stress this all comes from a quick google search. Anyone who wants to correct is welcome to do so.

  11. It’s funny how the underwhelming Moscow crowd is being used to “depose Putin” but massive demonstrations (200,000+) against the war in Iraq in London and elsewhere were supposed to be nothing special. They did not even entice a statement from the leaders in those countries and the media barely paid any attention to them. There was no drivel about the voice of the people being ignored.

    To me it is quite clear that the organizers of these protests bent over backward to get as large a crowd as possible. Where were the clashes with police? Why did Navalny not direct the crowd to march on the Kremlin? Or to block an intersection? All the booing for Nemtsov, etc. This is not the same bunch of troublemakers that the western media loves to report as being “quashed” by the Russian state.

    For these demonstrations to be a tool for regime change they are going to have to get much more militant and much larger. And this is not going to happen. As noted above the timing of these protests is sub-optimal as well. This is further confirmation that the organizers are having to please more groups with differing agendas to pull these “massive” protests. I see little evidence of grass roots discontent in Russia.

    • On the same note, how about the massive and violent demonstrations against austerity in Greece? Why is there no talk in the western media of removing the Greek “regime” do satisfy the “will of the people”? When is there going to be a general strike in Russia?

      Putin is going to win with 60% of the votes in the first round, in March. All these theatrics are not showing any signs of altering the mood of Russians. The west can go an believe its own propaganda. If it thinks it can isolate Russia and delegitimize its government with these demonstrations, then it is going to be sorely disappointed. I am pretty sure that the vast majority of the people on this planet do not care about some 5% electoral fraud in Russia. So I suspect that there are plans for some blood to be spilled in February. A few snipers or ground level shooters and the western media coverage will be all “FSB murdered democracy activists”. Putin will be brought up on war crimes charges. But I doubt that Putin and the Russian “regime” are not wise to such tricks. Metal detectors at demonstrations are an excellent start.

  12. Cool fight scene from yesterday’s rally, even involving a couple of Santa Clauses:

  13. Moscow Exile says:

    On the London Daily Telegraph “as it happens” feature about Saturday’s demonstration, one of the very first comments from a reader included a link (http://twitter.com/sarhannews) and the instruction:
    “Follow @sarhannews on twitter for more on attacks on protesters in Moscow – Russia”.

    I presume that many Telegraph readers were duly disappointed at the end of the day, for as far as I know, there were no reports of police violence undertaken against the protestors, which actions Harding of the Guardian always describes as “brutal” (in a “brutal state” of course) and which the Telegraph, when referrring to the actions of the British police, as “firm”.