Categories
Putin Russia's

Russia’s Putin appeals to patriotism as key vote reaches climax – BBC News

A girl skates her board past members of a local electoral commission wearing face masks

Image copyright
AFP

All week, millions of Russians have been voting to reform their constitution, many using polling stations set up on tree stumps, park benches and even car boots.

Giant prize draws have helped entice them to the ballot, with the chance of winning everything from shopping vouchers to a car or flat.

Opposition figures have dismissed the whole process as a farce, stretched over seven days with no proper monitoring or independent scrutiny.

But for the Kremlin the amendments are vital. The vote will clear the way for Vladimir Putin to stay in power up to 2036, if he chooses.

Putin’s vision of Russia

Not that the president mentioned that in his address to the nation ahead of the final day of voting.

“We are voting for the country we want to live in… and which we want to hand down to our children,” Mr Putin declared, standing beneath a giant, ghostly new statue of a Soviet soldier, to underline the “patriotic” theme that runs through this process.

Vladimir Putin

EPA

The sovereignty of Russia is supported by our feelings of genuine patriotism… as well as respect for our history, culture, language and traditions

The biggest overhaul of the constitution since 1993, this vote is partly about setting down Vladimir Putin’s vision of Russia: spelling out the values and priorities he has established during two decades in the Kremlin.

“Putin can’t just say to himself, ‘I need to do everything possible to stay in power!’,” argues Tatiana Stanovaya, the head of R.Politik, a political think-tank.

Image caption

“We’re choosing the future today,” reads this notice in a block of flats, with the word Yes above it

“People try to hide the low things they’re doing within something more grandiose and positive. So he says instead, ‘I want to create a great Russia, and stay in power too’.”

What are Russians voting on?

The new constitution includes articles promoting a patriotic education, reiterating the ban on same-sex marriage and adding explicit mention of God – all in line with the increasing cultural conservatism of Vladimir Putin’s rule.

Image caption

Wednesday is the final day for Russians to vote on the constitutional reforms

Those “ideological” articles, alongside “social” ones like minimum wage guarantees, are the changes actively discussed on state TV and by celebrity endorsers.

By contrast, the amendments allowing Vladimir Putin to restart the clock on his presidency when his current term ends in 2024 – and so run twice more for president – are barely mentioned.

They were left off the initial information on the vote altogether.

Russia’s new constitution

The amendments cover dozens of existing articles, and add several new ones. They fall broadly into three categories and many enshrine things in the constitution that are already federal law:

  • 1: Conservative ideology

Banning any action aimed at the “expropriation” of Russian territory, or calls for that.

Protecting the “historical truth” of the Great Patriotic War (1941-1945) and banning any “belittling” of the feats of those who fought.

Protection of the institution of marriage as the union of a man and a woman.

Senior officials barred from holding foreign passports, residency or overseas bank accounts.

Refers to Russians’ faith in God, as handed down by their ancestors.

  • 2: Social/Welfare

Pensions to be index-linked.

Minimum wage no less than subsistence minimum income.

Forming a “responsible attitude” to animals.

Image caption

You can already buy the new constitution in bookshops even before the vote is over

  • 3: Institutions

State Council to set “direction of domestic and foreign policy and socio-economic priorities”.

A person can only hold the presidency for two terms (replacing “two consecutive terms”).

In the case of a person already holding the presidency, previous terms will not count – the so-called “zeroing” of Vladimir Putin’s terms so far.

Yes or No

Voters can only select one of two boxes: accepting or rejecting all of the amendments.

Image caption

This sign reading “vote FOR your future” went up in Moscow flats

Lobbying for either option is officially banned, but fliers posted to Moscow apartment blocks all called on people to vote “for” the amendments, rather than “on” them.

A much smaller counter-campaign has plastered stickers with Mr Putin’s face around town urging Muscovites to say “No”.

Will the pandemic affect the vote?

A short drive from the capital, on the outskirts of Podolsk, voters were invited to a tent in a car park to make their choice.

Election officials in face visors, masks and white suits were a reminder that this nationwide vote was being held in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

Image copyright
AFP

Postponed from April, the Kremlin was keen to reschedule as soon as possible.

A poll by the independent Levada Centre in early May reported a slide in Mr Putin’s approval rating to 59% – his lowest ever. The continuing Covid-19 crisis is unlikely to improve things.

So officials have done their utmost to get people out to vote.

An election official in Omsk, Siberia, made national headlines when she won an apartment in the lucky draw. Her protest that she was “just another voter” met with a deeply sceptical response.

There were no prizes in Podolsk, but plenty of enthusiastic pensioners.

“All the amendments suit me!” Galina said, dropping her voting slip into a transparent plastic briefcase decorated with a double-headed eagle.

“The index-linking of pensions, the right to study and work and housing,” she listed as her favourites, although the latter few are not explicitly covered by this reform.

“I like the idea that marriage should only be between a man and a woman,” said Elena, selecting her top amendment.

In her thirties, she also had no problem with Vladimir Putin staying on as president. “He suits us for now,” she said.

Is there much opposition?

In the town centre, beneath a tower block decorated with Russian flags, some younger voters were scornful of the vote.

“What’s the point? Putin will stay forever in any case,” one girl flung over her shoulder.

Maxim said he and “lots of friends” had voted against.

“We’ve had one president for 20 years, and Putin could do another 16 years? I think our country needs something new,” he said.

Image caption

This anti-Putin sticker on a road sign reads “Tell him NO”

Russia’s most prominent opposition figure, Alexei Navalny, has published a stream of posts on social media mocking the makeshift nature of the vote and highlighting irregularities.

They include pressure on some to vote and other people discovering their ballot had already been cast for them.

Influential blogger Yury Dud described the vote as “shameful”, in an Instagram post liked by more than a million people. He quoted Vladimir Putin himself in 2008 insisting that it was “absolutely unacceptable” to remain in office for life.

But the blogger hadn’t decided whether to boycott or tick the “No” box.

Media playback is unsupported on your device

Media captionCelebrating Russia’s victory during World War Two has become an important part of the Russian national idea

In fact, this vote is not required by law: the reforms to the constitution were approved by Russia’s parliament back in March.

But the Kremlin is said to want a high turnout and 70% support at this ballot, as a popular mandate to point to in future.

One exit poll already published – something that’s banned at a normal election – suggests it’s well on target.

In any case, the new constitution has already been printed and is on sale in bookshops.

Read More

Categories
Coronavirus Russia's

Russia’s coronavirus cases just passed 500,000 — but it’s easing lockdown fast – CNBC

Disinfection officials provide hygiene during the annual Red Square Book Fair held in Russian capital Moscow.

Anadolu Agency

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Russia surpassed 500,000 on Thursday, and the rate of new daily cases remains high, but restrictions are being lifted quickly ahead of key political events.

Experts say Russia is keen to lift unpopular lockdown measures ahead of two important political milestones which were rescheduled because of the coronavirus pandemic: Moscow’s Victory Day Parade — Russia’s annual show of military hardware — and a historic referendum on constitutional changes that would allow President Vladimir Putin to run for further terms in office.

The Kremlin has insisted that the coronavirus crisis is under control and restrictions can be safely lifted. 

Russia’s Covid-19 case tally hit 502,436 Thursday after a further 8,779 cases were reported. The country’s coronavirus crisis center said a further 174 people had died in the past 24 hours, bringing the total number of deaths to 6,532. The number of new cases had risen from 8,404 reported the previous day, but the daily death toll was lower than Wednesday’s 216 fatalities.

Russia has the third-highest number of coronavirus cases in the world, after the U.S. (with over 1.9 million cases) and Brazil (with more than 739,000 cases), according to Johns Hopkins University data. Russia’s low death toll has raised eyebrows with experts suggesting the true death toll could be much higher.

The grim milestone of 500,000 cases and high number of daily cases (albeit declining slowly) comes amid a relatively swift lifting of coronavirus restrictions that were imposed in late March. Russia allowed manufacturing and construction industries to reopen in mid-May, followed by more non-essential retailers reopening on June 1, ranging from hairdressers to pet stores. 

Moscow, where the majority of cases and deaths have been recorded, started lifting lockdown measures in early June. It  then announced Tuesday that it would abruptly lift remaining restrictions, including those around self-isolation, digital travel passes and a system of scheduled walks that allowed citizens to leave their homes at certain times and in certain areas.

The measures had been very unpopular with some Muscovites comparing the rules to George Orwell’s “1984” and the Gulag labor camps during the Soviet era, according to the Moscow Times.

A worker in gloves wears a face protective shield over a medical mask at the Starlett beauty salon. Starting from 9 June, Moscow’s beauty and hair salons, which were closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, reopen.

Valery Sharifulin

Why are measures being lifted so quickly?

Analysts think the lifting of restrictions is coming deliberately early ahead of the June 24 Victory Day Parade in Moscow, an event that fosters national pride and seen as a key show of strength for President Vladimir Putin.

They also think that restrictions are being lifted ahead of Russia’s referendum on constitutional amendments on July 1. Among the changes being voted on is the amendments that would allow Putin to run for further terms in office beyond his current tenure that ends in 2024.

Daragh McDowell, head of Europe and principal Russia analyst at Verisk Maplecroft, told CNBC Wednesday that “the Victory Day parade is a major symbol of legitimacy for the Kremlin and it was only reluctantly rescheduled. Pushing the parade back further from 24 June is not an option.”

In addition, Putin is looking ahead to the referendum on July 1 and lifting measures early could secure the public’s approval in the vote at a time when his own approval ratings have fallen amid the crisis.

“Putin is aware that the more the perception takes hold that the government has mismanaged the pandemic, and the more his own approval ratings decline, the more difficult it will be to secure a ‘clean’ victory in the vote without having to resort to outright manipulation,” McDowell added.

S-400 Triumf surface-to-air missile launchers are seen during the Victory Day military parade in Moscow, Russia on May 09, 2018.

Anadolu Agency | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

However, McDowell noted that the biggest factor behind lifting restrictions may simply be lack of capacity to sustain a lockdown, with evident failures around measures designed to limit the spread of the virus.

“The tracing app released by Moscow city authorities (“Social Monitoring”) has had major issues and has issued repeated fines to compliant users. Reliable data on voluntary compliance with other lockdown measures, including social distancing and mask wearing, is patchy but reportedly quite poor,” he said.

“In short, it appears the Kremlin can neither implement an effective lockdown by either persuasion or coercion. Continuing to try enforcing one would undermine not only make the government appear incompetent, it would undermine the Kremlin’s image of unassailable power, which can be fatal for authoritarian states.”

Moscow defends itself

While forthcoming political events are likely to be at the forefront of the Kremlin’s mind as restrictions are lifted, it can be said that Russia, along with its European neighbors, is just eager to return to some kind of economic and social normality.

Andrius Tursa, central and eastern Europe advisor at Teneo Intelligence, told CNBC Wednesday that, among other things, the lifting of restrictions reflected “mounting economic pressures,” and was also just a response to an improving epidemiological situation in the city, in line with many other countries.

“Although this raises the risk of renewed disease outbreak in the capital, Russia is no different from many other countries which have started lifting restrictions without seeing a significant drop in new infections,” he said. 

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a Victory Day military parade marking the 74th anniversary of the end of World War II.

Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesman, told CNBC Tuesday that the coronavirus dynamics in the country were “quite positive” and that the lifting of restrictions was appropriate.

“We stable on the plateau and gradually of infections is decreasing day by day, although quite slowly,” he said, adding that there was no longer the danger that Russia’s healthcare system could be overwhelmed.

“Now we can be sure that we have a significant number of beds, a significant number of ventilators, and all the needed protective materials, so we’re ready for any developments in terms of the pandemic,” Pescov said.

“The only thing we know is that now the situation is better and that gives us an opportunity to reopen Moscow and some other cities in Russia. Every regional government is taking its personal decisions, its their prerogative to take these decisions to reopen or to keep some sectors closed. But the general tendency (trend) is positive.” 

Read More

Categories
Russia's Trudeau

Trudeau: Russia’s return to the G-7 not acceptable – POLITICO

Asked about Trump’s proposal, the Canadian prime minister told reporters Monday that Russia should not be welcomed back. The U.K. also said Monday that it would veto any such plan.

“Its continued disrespect and flaunting of international rules and norms is why it remains outside of the G-7 and it will continue to remain out,” said Trudeau, who later added in French: “It will not be acceptable to accept it within the G-7.”

Trudeau has urged Putin, Russia’s president, in the past to play a more positive role in the world.

Trump was set to host the summit of advanced economies later this month in the U.S., but due to the Covid-19 pandemic, he’s postponed the meeting until September. His announcement came after German Chancellor Angela Merkel declined his invitation to attend a June G-7 summit in Washington because of the pandemic.

Trudeau also took a question Monday on whether he would attend the G-7 summit if Putin were on the guest list. He didn’t directly answer the query, instead stressing that many discussions were still to be had on the details and timing of the U.S. meeting. The U.K.’s position does not rule out Putin being invited as a guest.

“The G-20 is a forum in which we regularly have exchanges across various countries that we don’t necessarily have great relations with,” Trudeau said.

“But the G-7 has always been a place for frank conversations among allies and friends who share much and that’s certainly what I’m hoping to continue to see.”

Trump made a splash ahead of the 2018 G-7 summit, hosted in Canada by Trudeau, when he called for Russia’s reinstatement into the group.

Decisions on membership must be backed unanimously by the G-7 members.

Read More