[Picture credit: Wilson Center]
Fred Weir is a journalist writing for the Christian Science Monitor in Moscow. He is hardly a Russia-basher. In fact, he often presents nuanced perspectives in his article and explains Russia as it is, with its positives and negatives and without falling into cheap Russophobia as is common nowadays. He recently praised as positive the decision taken by Russian President Vladimir Putin to hire younger staff in order to provide fresh ideas and find new ways to push Russia forward. He also has spoken out against the current war-mongering on part of the US neo-con establishment.
However, recently Fred Weir reported that the Kremlin has chosen to close down an independent polling agency, the Levada Center. And why? Because it dared to provide accurate polls which indicate that in the upcoming 22 September 2016 elections the Communist Party is expected to make major gains (last I checked it lied at 20%) and United Russia, the president’s party, is expected to lose. This is the first time since the fall of the Soviet Union that the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF) is about to make such an impressive victory.
And it is not hard to imagine why.
President Putin has done an admirable job in placing Russia back on the world stage and in balancing the US. He decided not to abandon the people of Donbass and allow for their slaughter by the Ukrainian army forces, many of whom are neo-Nazis and overt followers of Stepan Bandera. In Syria, Putin had supported the government of Syria and the secular regime of President Assad against the onslaught of jihadist groups. Assad is far from perfect but the alternative is the end of a multicultural Syria, the takeover by ISIS and the slaughter of Christian and Alawi minorities.
But when it comes to the Russian people themselves, the Russian narod, the Kremlin has been adhering to neoliberalism and austerity. President Putin raised the retirement age for state officials. As one can imagine, the ones who suffered the most by the sanctions against the country were the peasants residing in the rural areas. They have seen their salaries decline substantially at a time when health and education costs are rising. What Russia would need, according to many experts, is massive investment in state projects and in pouring money into the economy. Instead, Russia adhered to strict inflationary targets as offered by Alexey Kudrin, the former finance minister and a friend of the Kremlin. This meant that the Russian state bank stored money while the economy continued to suffer. Furthermore, Kudrin said that Russia’s economy will continue to slide unless further privatizations, i.e. sell-out of the country’s assets to oligarchs, takes place. In other words, he joined the same ranks of speculators who are hoping Russia’s economy will decline. Needless to say, this assumption did not take into account the structural crisis of global capitalism and the fact that this would mean that the welfare of the public will decline even further as health and education would suffer (indeed, Russian Prime Minister Medvedev blamed Russian teachers for daring to strike, saying they should accept their low salaries). Kudrin’s attempt to sabotage Russia’s real economy did not prevent President Putin from offering him to design a new economic plan for the country. This would mean that in the coming years growing poverty will result.
President Putin had alternatives. Sergey Glazyev, a Kremlin economic adviser, provided a new economic policy for the country which would allow it to assume financial sovereignty and claim its independence from western finance in light of the high probability that tensions with the west will increase. Glazyev’s pleas were ignored.
Now the Russian Communist Party is likely to make big gains. This too should not come as a surprise, as the Russian public, by and large, is communal in its mindset. Nostalgia for the Soviet Union is widespread among many. The Communist Party is, unsurprisingly, highly popular among the youth. The party recently launched a campaign, seeking to present Communist leaders as cool and hype.
In fact, even Gorbachev, the architect of Russia’s perestroika and glasnost, – that resulted in the collapse of the Soviet Union- criticised the Kremlin for its failure to provide the people with basic needs and argued for social reform. He wrote:
We need now to realize that we are facing a wave of social problems that will determine Russia’s future, the situation in education, healthcare and other areas. If we cannot find solutions to these problems, Russia will not modernize. We need a different program from that advocated by Putin.
The Russian Communist Party also complained about the Kremlin’s recent undemocratic attempts. Emile Schepers, a leftist activist, wrote that the Kremlin has been “creating fake newspapers in the name of the CPRF.” He writes:
The Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF) has denounced what it sees as a dirty tricks campaign organized out of President Vladimir Putin’s governing United Russia party. This campaign, aimed at the coming National Duma (Parliament) elections on September 18, includes creating fake newspapers in the name of the CPRF, and the subsidizing of spoiler candidates and fake rival political parties. Electoral authorities have also severely cut back the number of poll watchers that will be permitted, and journalistic access. Nevertheless, the CPRF expressed confidence that it will triumph. It is running on a platform of re-nationalizing state enterprises and services that were privatized on the disappearance of the Soviet Union, increased responsiveness of the state to the people, and improvements in the lives of Russian workers by means of help for housing problems and increased funding for health care, education and cultural programs.
September 22 is likely to be a day of surprise in which the Communist Party will make impressive gainings in the elections. This is likely to be a major turning point in the years to come as Russia slowly goes back to its values as a socialist and traditional society (the Russian Orthodox Church has also spoken out against western financial capitalism, and the leader of the Communist Party Gennady Zyuganov, has been taking a positive view of religion, unlike other western atheist marxists).