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Putin Plays Role in Party Politics

JOHN YDSTIE, Host:

Masha Lipman is a political analyst at the Moscow Carnegie Center, and joins us from there. Welcome to the program.

MASHA LIPMAN: Thank you.

YDSTIE: Let's talk about the lengths that Putin and his government have gone to, to ensure this landslide victory. He's been arresting members of the opposition and hindering their campaigning, as I understand it.

LIPMAN: Yes, indeed, even the previous election in 2003 was assessed by the European monitors as free but not fair. The same is true today, but this trend that was true even about four years ago has strengthened a great deal. And in fact, I think the authorities, administrative authorities, law enforcement authorities, state-controlled media all have cut a lot of corners in ensuring a totally beneficial environment for the United Russia, the main pro-Kremlin force, and basically ignoring or quite often vilifying those forces, much weaker forces that may qualify as opposition in Russia.

YDSTIE: Have opposition parties been able to get their message out at all?

LIPMAN: But, in Russia, of course, the main outlet that has the capacity to influence the public opinion is national television networks. It is these networks that have an audience of about 100 percent of the Russian households. And those central television networks work in close cooperation with the Kremlin, so that their coverage would fit the designs of the Kremlin 100 percent.

YDSTIE: Now, President Putin's United Russia Party seems certain to have won without all of these tactics from the president. Why these drastic measures that make democracy look a bit coerced?

LIPMAN: Now two months ago, what technically remains a parliamentary election in Russia has been transformed into a vote of confidence to Putin. And when you're talking about a referendum, lukewarm support is not enough. Whereas in election, all that matters is whether you gain a majority, in a referendum, you want an emotional support which will then be somehow translated into a way for Putin to stay in charge even after he steps down as president in spring of the next year.

YDSTIE: Has President Putin given any indication who he'll appoint to succeed him as president when he steps down?

LIPMAN: Absolutely not. Putin said that he will interpret this vote for the United Russia as a moral right for himself to hold the government, the Cabinet and the legislative branch into account. But he didn't say in what capacity he would do this or who he would nominate or recommended for president for Russia.

YDSTIE: Masha Lipman is a political analyst at the Moscow Carnegie Center. She spoke with us from Moscow. Thank you very much.

LIPMAN: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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