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Putin’s hold on levers of power seen in rallies
Support likely strong enough to avoid runoff
“It’s not of vital importance for Putin to win in the first round, but he would certainly prefer this,” said Sergei Mikheyev of the Moscow-based Center for Political Assessment. “But the opposition will claim the polls have been falsified, whatever happens.”
“They have no other way forward,” he said. “They have been saying the people won’t vote for Putin, but it looks, in fact, as if they will.”
Mr. Putin said Wednesday that the opposition would resort to dirty tricks to tarnish the election results and that plans are under way to stuff ballot boxes and even order the “sacrificial murder” of a prominent figure to provoke more demonstrations.
“They will bump someone off and then blame the authorities for it. These sorts of people are ready to do anything - I am not exaggerating,” said the prime minister, a former KGB official.
Leaders of Russia’s diverse protest movement have pledged to take to the streets in the days after the vote, and police Wednesday prevented the distribution of tents to opposition supporters who plan to camp out in Moscow to protest Mr. Putin’s re-election.
“No one knows what is going to happen after the elections,” protest leader Yevgenia Chirikova said. “But a certain process is under way that is unstoppable.
Need for change
Mr. Putin’s expected return to the Kremlin could keep him in power until 2024 because the presidential term has been extended from four years to six.
However, analysts predict that rising dissatisfaction means Mr. Putin will face hard times in the near future, making a second term unlikely.
“He’s got a maximum of one term,” said Fraser Cameron, head of the Brussels-based EU-Russia think tank. “But much will depend on how the economy develops. If he gets continuing oil prices of above $120 [a barrel], he can hang on. But he’s got so many promises he can’t fulfill in terms of pensions, social spending and defense and so on.
“Probably by this summer there will be rising social discontent when people realize that these promises will not be fulfilled,” he said. “The genie is out of the bottle: He has already lost Moscow and St. Petersburg, and he’s fallen back on the heartland.”
Even among those who praise Mr. Putin’s achievements during his 12 years in power, there is an awareness that he must change to survive.
“Putin stabilized the country, and he gave the people back some dignity,” said Alexander Rahr, director of the Berlin-based Berthold Beitz Center for Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Central Asia. “But the Russian people have changed a lot since 2000, and he needs to change as well.”
Mr. Putin’s re-election is unlikely to change Russia’s foreign policies significantly, but relations with the West could deteriorate further. He also has rejected President Obama’s attempt to “reset” U.S.-Russian relations, analysts say.
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