For this month's Readers' Review: "Drown" -- the debut collection of short stories by Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Junot Diaz. Twenty years ago, Diaz published ten heart-breaking tales about a fragmented family from the Dominican Republic finding their way in 1980s America.
Protesters have gathered in Moscow today following Vladimir Putin’s win in the Russian presidential election. Several opposition candidates have denounced the results and labelled the election a farce. There have also been widespread allegations of fraud and vote rigging. This protest and the ones following december’s desputed parliamentary elections have been the largest in Russia since the end of the Soviet Union. Despite the outcry over the results, yesterday’s win by Vladimir Putin was never really in doubt. The real question is how much the continuing unrest diminishes his status and threatens to his ability to hold onto power.
- Andrew Weiss director, Center for Russia and Eurasia at RAND Corporation and served on the National Security Council staff as a Russian expert under President Clinton
- Lilia Shevtsova Kremlinology expert and a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Moscow
- Svetlana Babaeva senior analyst, U-S Bureau, Russian News Agency (RIA Novosti)
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Here to analyze the results of the Russian presidential election and Vladimir Putin's troubled return: Andrew Weiss of the RAND Corporation, Svetlana Babaeva of RIA Novosti, and, by phone from Moscow, Lilia Shevtsova of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. I hope you'll join us, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Join us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Good morning to all of you.
MR. ANDREW WEISSGood morning.
MS. SVETLANA BABAEVAGood morning.
REHMGood to have you here. Svetlana, what do we know about results so far?
BABAEVAWe know that the election has completed in one round, as it was actually expected, and it became clear already, unfortunately, in January. And we have more than 63 percent of support for Mr. Putin, so we have a new old president for six years. And I would say that this figure -- I mean, the vote as a result is important. That's true that it gives high legitimacy to the new old government. At the same time, to my mind, it's a kind of psychological figure, so 60 percent is a pretty high result. And it's -- I think it's a real result so...
REHMDo we know yet how he did in big cities like Moscow, St. Petersburg?
BABAEVAOf course, the results in big cities are lower. And, for example, the results for one single liberal candidate, Mr. Prokhorov, is much high in big cities. But that does not necessarily mean that big cities didn't vote for Putin at all, so we have the real victory of Putin as, actually, it was expected. So -- and there were very a lot of reasons. And we can discuss that, why people -- did vote for him and what we could expect in the nearest term.
REHMAndrew Weiss, what is your view of the election itself and the results?
WEISSI think everyone is, as Svetlana was saying, is not surprised today to see this large victory by Vladimir Putin. Where the international observers come out is that there wasn't really any question of the outcome, and that's not the way elections are supposed to be. They're supposed to be unpredictable until the voters go out and vote. In this case, you have what the OSCE monitors -- the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe -- saying was a skewed playing field from the beginning.
WEISSAnd so, basically, they screened out candidates who might have posed a challenge to Putin, and they're sort of -- the way Russians talk about them is they're called sparring partners. It's the boxing analogy. It's not someone who's going to hit you really hard. It's somebody who you kind of know is tame and is part of the system. And that's -- these are people who have run for president time and time again.
REHMBut, in addition to a kind of boxing match, a sparring situation, weren't there reports of plots against both Putin and opposition figures?
WEISSThere's a lot of questions about those reports. They were -- both those reports came out in the final days of the election. There was this report of an assassination attempt on Putin. You never know with these things. I mean, I tend to take things...
REHMHow did you read it?
WEISSAt this point, I'd say it looks a little curious, but, again...
WEISSWhat do you mean?
WEISSWell, it -- you know, there are these guys -- they're found prepping for an attack. It doesn't necessarily -- you know, again, I take the terrorist threats in Russia very seriously. I think there are very serious terrorist threats against Mr. Putin, and we shouldn't be dismissive with that. But at the same time, everything but the kitchen sink has been thrown out there by the Russian establishment to try to guarantee the outcome that we saw yesterday.
REHMYou actually saw two suspects detained in Odessa, I mean, and an explosion in January in which, apparently, another suspect died.
WEISSWell, I think what you see is there is a very serious terrorist threat across Russia. And a lot of that is going to continue and potentially intensify in the months ahead. Basically, parts of the North Caucasus' region of Russia are in open revolt. And that problem is not going to go away.
BABAEVAYeah, I would like to add just that we live constantly with a sense of this threat. And Andrew was completely right, saying that the terrorist threat generally in Russia is really high. But, regardless of all certain frauds we have definitely, regardless of all some strange results and certain particular southern republics, which gave Putin more than 90 percent of votes, I would say that there are three clear reasons for Putin's victory.
BABAEVAFirst, he performed a very aggressive campaign, and, regardless of all that so-called administrative approaches, that was really campaign. The second reason is that those -- his rivals, whose names were permitted on the ballot, were not so attractive for a large number of voters. And the third reason, which is very important, that the fact is, just because of many people are not happy and satisfied with Putin anymore, that does not automatically mean that they're ready to vote for any other candidate. That's the point.
REHMAnd joining us now by phone from Moscow is Lilia Shevtsova. She is a Kremlinology expert, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace there in Moscow. Can you tell us, Lilia -- I know a rally is planned for Moscow this evening. What is the atmosphere like there now?
MS. LILIA SHEVTSOVAWell, thanks a lot, first of all, to have me on board, Diane. And, while it's really great fun, I'm not an expert in Kremlinology, I'm very much afraid. But let me give you the view of what's happening now. I'm standing at the Carnegie office on Tverskaya, and I'm looking down. I'm looking down on Pushkin Square. It's just, you know, below our Carnegie windows. So I see -- it seems to me, it's thousands -- well, five, six, maybe seven thousand of people at the rally because this is the rally for fair elections.
MS. LILIA SHEVTSOVAI can't imagine that I can see more people on Tverskaya Street, but the whole Tverskaya is crowded. Well, so people came. People are taking part in this rally. But if you're asking me about the moods of the people, I've met a friend of mine -- he is a musician -- today. And he said, you know, after this election, I have a feeling as if I am standing and I'm seeing the train just running straight at me.
MS. LILIA SHEVTSOVAAnd I cannot move, neither my legs or my feet, so I'm just standing and looking at this train. So this is the feeling that a lot of people who took to the streets in the recent months are feeling now. My feeling is, you know -- I would put it in a rather cold way. I feel that the seat of victory of the political leader, despite of the fact that a lot of people in the big cities and in Russia are fed up with him, but the victory of the leader is taking place at the moment when his era, when his epoch is over.
REHMAnd yet he, according to Svetlana, has received some 63 percent of the vote. Doesn't that indicate that more people than just those in Moscow, St. Petersburg, voted for him? Did they do so because of that old saying that the one they know is better than what they might get instead?
SHEVTSOVAFirst of all, we need to clarify the issue of the numbers. I will give you an example. The official estimates for the United Russia, the Kremlin party, in December election, was 49.3 percent -- 49.3 percent officially voted for United Russia, whereas, in reality, only 35 percent, according to the independent observers, voted for United Russia. And in Moscow, the Kremlin party didn't get more than 27, 29 percent.
SHEVTSOVAWith respect to Putin's number, 63.9, nearly 64, the independent analysts from a watchdog organization, GOLOS, for instance, today, they're saying that Putin didn't get more than 51 percent over all Russia. That means that he probably could have won in an honest way during the first round, or at least during the second round. The question is why he preferred the numbers but not legitimacy. This is a real interesting question.
SHEVTSOVABut I want to tell you that, in Moscow officially, he won 47 percent.
SHEVTSOVAAnd if we take into count that there was a really widespread, widespread irregularity and fraud -- and I've been observing it at numerous polling stations -- and the independent analysts are saying, like, for instance, Mr. Gudkov from Levada Center, a very respected polling center, he says that hardly Putin got more than 20 percent in Moscow. Then it is a disaster. And (unintelligible) the Kremlin people know it.
SHEVTSOVAAnd one argument in favor of the fact that apparently they know that they have much less support, the fact they got hysterical, that they got emotional, that they got so much effort at rigging the election, if they had been so sure that they will win, why should all this efforts to bring thousands of people on bus, on airplanes, on trains? So...
REHMAll right. Short break and we'll be right back.
REHMAnd we're talking, of course, in this hour about Russians going to the polls, concluding that, again, Vladimir Putin will be their leader. Andrew Weiss is here with me. He's with the RAND Corporation. Also, Svetlana Babaeva, she is senior analyst at the U.S. Bureau of the Russian News Agency. And, by phone from Moscow, Lilia Shevtsova, she is senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. She joins us from Moscow. Turning to you, Andrew Weiss, the question is: If all this was a foregone conclusion, why have an election at all?
WEISSThe topic of legitimacy is the big issue today as we go forward in Russia, and elections, for better or worse, have been a key mechanism in the absence of other basic democratic institutions in Russia to confer legitimacy. And so what is really paradoxical about the victory is your very split society, very split against highly urbanized, highly affluent people in places like Moscow who look at this kind of election with disdain and a lot of suspicion versus the other real -- the dirty secret here is two-thirds of the Russian electorate is not in those big cities. It's not on those affluent areas.
WEISSIt's in the provinces and cities where the population's under a million or in the countryside. And those people are the ones who turned out and elected Vladimir Putin.
REHMSvetlana, do people in Moscow and around the rest of the country continue to believe in the election process?
BABAEVAOf course, and I think the recent protests were the proof of that as people demanded fair and just elections. But, generally, of course, it was not about that. And why, I think, these protests we had recently were very important and remarkable because, probably for the first time in the country's history, we had protests not in the midst of, like, starving or after the war when people lost their dignities but in very probably stable economic conditions, and those who were on the streets were really wealthy and belonged to so-called creative classes.
BABAEVAWhat that means, that means that they cannot develop as persons, as professionals anymore with the structure of power built in Russia. That was a kind of first sign of general demand for dignity. That's why -- as Andrew said and you said, that's why I'm rather pessimistic on the nearest future just because -- and why the protest will not likely spill out onto an Arab Spring, at least, in the immediate future, because a very small number of Russian citizens, indeed, are aware of the concept of dignity, and they are in big cities.
BABAEVAThose, as Andrew said, who are in small cities, are quite happy just with salary if they can get it.
REHMLilia, that whole question of, did people really believe in this election or did they believe that it was going to be, and would be, Putin from the beginning and, therefore, tolerated whatever fraud outsiders might have seen?
SHEVTSOVAMay I give you several numbers?
SHEVTSOVAA week ago, 30 percent of the Russian respondents said that they believe the election will be rigged. The same number of people in December last year said that, apparently, future elections will be rigged. And this is different with the polls from 2007, 2008 because, in those times, up to 70 percent, 75 percent thought that everything will be just fine. Well, people have started to be pretty cynical and skeptical about the elections. But at the same time, they do believe, and I agree here with my colleagues in D.C., that elections could be the means to remind the authority about the issue of dignity and fairness.
SHEVTSOVABut now, we have another stage in the protest rally. While I'll be listening to you, I've been listening to the window, to the people yelling on the square. And now I see that the slogan is not only fair elections and for fair elections. The slogan is Putin get away, and we need political reform and constitutional reform. So we see that the civic protest is gradually evolving into the political protest.
REHMSo how effective do you believe that protest like that might be? Are you concerned about people getting hurt on the street? Lilia.
SHEVTSOVAI've lost the last sentence of your question, it seems to me, Diane.
REHMAre you concerned about people on the street getting hurt?
SHEVTSOVAOh, this is a -- you know, not this time. There is a paradoxical thing that, until now and maybe until May when Putin is legitimately endorsed as the new president of Russia, the authorities do not like to turn Russia into either Egypt or North Korea. God forbid. They need domestic, and they need international legitimacy. Strangely enough, this power understands the meaning of the word legitimacy, especially when they're looking abroad. But, at the same time, when one looks attentively at the Russian budget for 2012, 2014, then you'll see one thing, which is very apparent.
SHEVTSOVAOne-third of the Russian budget means expenditures for defense, for special services, for power structures, repressive mechanisms. That means that they now already prepare just to defend the authorities in the near future because the expenditures for roads, for national economy, for health education -- sorry, for education, for health care, they're dwindling.
REHMAndrew Weiss, what about the opposition? Were they so fragmented or so scarcely regarded that they could not come together as a true anti-Putin force?
WEISSThe opposition was not allowed to field a truly independent alternative candidate to Putin in this election. And as we talked a little bit earlier, it kind of didn't matter because two-thirds of the electorate, which is we've now seen in the outcome, were pretty much in Putin's camp, so he could've won a free and fair election potentially in the first round. What he is burdened by is a system which sort of turns on the machinery of keeping these elections predictable.
WEISSThat machinery means that it's not a level playing field. It means that they pre-screen the candidates in advance so that the candidates who run are sort of these tired folks who've repeatedly run. And they're sort of like the perennial candidates we had in this country who always show up every four years, and nobody votes for them so...
REHMDo you agree with that, Svetlana?
BABAEVAThe problem is that one of the key slogans of this company are -- of this campaign was, if we don't vote for Putin, who might be instead of him? And there were slogan that authorities also supported very enthusiastically. But, at the same time, we forget that the whole structure of Russian power, of the Russian society was built in recent years -- does not allow new faces and new figures to appear. And that's not argument. If there is no alternative, it's not just because Putin is so strong and so great, but just because the whole structure doesn't allow new leaders to race.
REHMLilia, what could have happened if Putin had not won the election?
SHEVTSOVAIf Putin decided to leave the political scene -- this is one option -- that would have been, apparently, the response to those who still believe that someone in the Kremlin is capable of liberalizing the scene from above. This could have been an option, at least theoretically. But if he lost the first round, he would go for the second round. And in the second round, Putin had all chances to win the elections in a normal, honest way because quite a few people, even from around the opposition, would have voted for him against Zyuganov.
SHEVTSOVAIt would have been the repetition of the model, Yeltsin against Zyuganov in 1996. But Putin strangely preferred numbers instead of getting legitimacy, and he was fighting not with a political clout with his opponents. But he was fighting and comparing himself with himself in year 2004. (unintelligible).
WEISSI think the most interesting outcome is it seems like Putin may have already lost Moscow and St. Petersburg. And if you look across the country, Moscow, I believe, is the only major part of the country where he got less than 50 percent, where he -- and, again, that's potentially with all sorts of shenanigans and games being played around the edges. So we've seen a change where, you know, the center of Russia, which has the most sophisticated, most internationally savvy group of people and most economically well-to-do group of people, they basically seem to be turning their backs on Vladimir Putin.
BABAEVAAnd I would add that, throughout the whole history, all key and important events started in big cities, either in Moscow or in St. Petersburg. So they are the key points of the Russian history.
REHMAs I understand it, when he came into political power in 2008, he could have changed the constitution to enable him to run for a third term. Why didn't he do that, Andrew Weiss?
WEISSIt comes back to this question of legitimacy, and you have these rules. And so, again, we had this bizarre situation four years ago where he had a two-term limit. So he was term-limited out, and he handed over the reins of the Kremlin to a hand-picked successor, Dmitry Medvedev. And Medvedev dutifully filled that role for four years. And then, out of the blue in September, Putin made an announcement at a big party congress. He said, you know, we actually figured this out a long time ago.
WEISSI'm going to come back. I want to be president again. And that was one of the key sparks in the protest movement, was people sensed that the wool had been pulled over their eyes and that this had all been a big show.
BABAEVAThat's true. The world accepts now that -- Andrew is absolutely correct. The world is such now that it accepts only democratic procedures and democratically-elected leaders, though these democratic procedures are artificial and formal. And that's why Putin -- as Andrew was absolutely right, he said Putin didn't want to be excluded from the Western club of leaders. And even the fact that just a few days before election he met with editor-in-chief -- editors-in-chief of the world newspapers proves that he still is very sensitive toward the public opinion of the world.
REHMSvetlana Babaeva, she is with the Russian News (sic) Agency. It's actually the Russian Information Agency. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." I wonder, Lilia, from your point of view, with this growing opposition that everyone has spoken of, will this prompt Putin to change his approach to allow for a greater liberalism, if you will?
SHEVTSOVANo, Diane. Just very blunt response: No. If he wanted to start liberalization or any kind of reform to make the power, Kremlin, and the society, Russia itself, more civilized, he could have started it with election. He could have guaranteed the election to be at least fair during the presidential contest. He never did it. Moreover, imagine he decides to do a reform. The only guarantee for the Russian reform is political and economic competition and rule of law, which means that he would have to -- to go after his own gang, after his own cabal.
SHEVTSOVAAnd he would have to ruin the tree or to ruin the -- the boat that he's driven at the moment. And he is not a kamikaze. What he did yesterday -- and this is, folks, very important. I saw him on the Manezh Square in Moscow and was pretty close to him. He again attacked -- being in euphoria of victory, he attacked the world. He attacked the protesters. He attacked the minority in Russia that was voted against him. He didn't suggest or offer him -- offer them peace.
SHEVTSOVAHe didn't play the role of the consolidated leader. He played the role of the leader who wants to survive by confrontation, and this was pretty clear.
REHMBut doesn't Russia have many economic problems that Putin is going to have to deal with? And how is he going to approach these problems, Andrew Weiss?
WEISSA lot of the problems are structural. You think about the Russian economy -- it has $550 billion of cash sitting in the bank. It's a very large safety cushion. They're the third largest hard currency reserves in the world after China, and, I believe, it's either Japan or Germany. So, again, Russia has this huge economic windfall from high energy prices. The problem is they've mortgaged a lot of their future at the high energy prices.
WEISSSo revenues from oil and gas make up half the federal budget. Eighty five percent of exports are in the raw material and primary commodity area. So, again, unless prices stay high -- to the extent prices stay high, they're fine. And they can...
REHMBut what about the people? What about the people in the rural areas? Are they comfortable? Do they have totally enough to eat? Do they have the ability to buy the gas to get where they need to go?
WEISSI think the average person feels they have had an incredible run over the past decade under Putin. They feel huge socioeconomic gains, and that's that vote for stability that we've talked about a couple times so far. At the same time, there are people who basically live in a pretty dismal part of the world. And it's cold, and there aren't a lot of economic opportunities. And there isn't a lot of mobility. So if you live in a great urbanized Western-style city like Moscow, your life is very different than a person who lives out in the Russian Far East.
REHMSo what happens to all those people who are way out there?
WEISSI think you see Russia in the force of a -- in the grip of a really severe demographic decline. You see a Russia which is becoming less competitive internationally because their currency is inflated and because their focus is on exporting raw material, stuff that comes out of the ground. It's not a place that's developing innovative products that the world needs. It's a place that ships barrels of oil and volumes of gas to the outside world.
REHMWhat do you see Putin doing about all this, Andrew?
WEISSI think the status quo, for the most part, has been pretty beneficial for Putin, and it basically becomes a key part of his, you know, plan for the third term.
REHMAndrew Weiss of the RAND Corporation. Short break. When we come back, we'll take your calls, comments, questions. Stay with us.
REHMAnd let's start with an email as we talk about Russia's elections. Vanessa in Ohio asks, "How does the United States government feel about Vladimir Putin winning the election?" Andrew Weiss.
WEISSI think we're in a period of hiatus in the U.S.-Russian relationship, and there's been a lot of concern, I know, about the kinds of anti-Western rhetoric and the kinds of attacks on the United States and the allegations that the U.S., somehow, has artificially been instigating protests against Putin. I think a lot of that is pure hokum, but -- and I also don't think, frankly, there's a lot of votes to be garnered in Russia with that kind of talk. It's not something that stirs up a lot of voters, especially compared to socioeconomic stuff.
WEISSBut what we are, I think, looking at is the Russians are in -- themselves, now, appear to have uncertainty about the result of our election. And so in that kind of period, this interregnum, they're not going to want to cut deals with Obama or move out smartly. The other issue that, I think, hampers us a great deal is there hasn't been much interaction with Putin and the Obama administration. For the past three years, Dmitry Medvedev has been, by -- for legal reasons and for other reasons in terms of Putin's temperament, the person that Americans talk to.
WEISSAnd it's been a -- Putin has basically been unavailable. He's had a couple of meetings, one with Hillary Clinton, one with Vice President Biden, but we haven't really gotten to engage him directly.
REHMHe certainly criticized Hillary Clinton. He's criticized the United States for somehow stoking anti-Putin sentiment.
WEISSI think a lot of that was derived -- was based on an idea that Putin, in early December, when these protests took off, was very worried about the protest getting momentum. And the easiest way to cut off at the knees the people leading the demonstrations was to portray them as toadies or agents of the United States. So it was a very effective tool to basically say, those people aren't real Russians. Those people are not like me. They're not looking out for real Russians.
REHMAll right. Let's open the phones. We'll go first to St. Louis, Mo. Good morning, Chuck. You're on the air.
REHMGood morning, sir.
CHUCKThank you. I wondered if the problems with Russian society is structural. Is it reasonable to conclude the Perestroika was not successful?
REHMI wonder how you feel about that, Lilia.
SHEVTSOVAYou mean about Perestroika? Well, I...
SHEVTSOVAWell, Perestroika had started the process of liberalization of this Soviet space, and I understand that it was, in effect, just the means for the Russian political elite to get rid of the Soviet Union in order to re-energize, revive and to rebuild the new personalized power in the format of Russia. And this is paradoxical, dramatic, and it's a kind of strange -- very strange experience in -- just to get rid of the empire in order to save Russia and in order to acquire control over property and in order to preserve the same old traditional Russian matrix.
SHEVTSOVASo, in fact, today, we are dealing in Russia with the fact that Perestroika was simply a hypocritical means of consolidating -- of the Russian elite consolidating in a new dimension.
BABAEVAI would say that comparing to what we had in the Soviet Union -- first of all, while sitting here in this studio and discussing all the issues -- and I'm a Russian citizen working for a Russian news agency -- could you imagine that happening in the Soviet times? That's the first result of Perestroika. Second, we're not members of the Communist Party or any other parties. Yes. We could talk about United Russia as a nomenclature party, but, at the same time, we're not members of it.
BABAEVAThat is the second result of Perestroika, so then that's not the Soviet Union when you either had to be a member of a communist party or to be excluded from the social establishment.
REHMSvetlana, you're writing for the Russian Information Agency. To what extent is there a free press in Russia?
BABAEVAI would remind you that that's the state-owned news agency. And I still can write, and I still can express my opinion. And I doubt if I could do this all during the Soviet times. And the third feature is that we can travel all over the world. The Soviet people didn't have this opportunity. And we can discuss what we are talking about right now with Lilia, standing in Pushkin Square in Moscow with me, with Andrew, and I think we can continue. We will continue these discussions, so that's the main -- probably one of the key differences.
BABAEVAYes, of course, we would love to have probably to become a kind of Switzerland or Finland or France in a few years after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Unfortunately, due to a bunch of reasons, Russia is not Switzerland or Finland. And even Eastern Europe countries had a lot of obstacles on the path toward typical democratic structures, not to mention Russia.
REHMLilia, how would you assess the freedom of press in Russia?
SHEVTSOVAWell, I would assess it as a consumer. I don't believe that there is a real freedom of media. And if media people have liberty to express themselves, this is apparently the matter of their own courage. But this is not a rule. This is just an exception. And we are very glad to have such an exception together at our show. But, generally speaking, you know, the Putin system under Putin's regime could have never survived with the real freedom of media, with the real freedom of parliamentary freedom and with the real freedom of court.
SHEVTSOVAAnd by the way, with respect to freedoms, you know, we have a lot of personal freedoms. For instance, we can travel. We can speak with you. Women can work and take part in the rallies downstairs. But, at the same time, personal freedom does not mean political freedom. And our personal freedom ends where political freedom and engagement in politics starts. I am, for instance, on the block list, on the stop list for all national TV channels. And I do consider that this is the limitation of my both political and personal freedom.
REHMWhat does that actually mean? Does that mean you cannot appear anywhere?
REHMDoes that mean you cannot appear on any television, you think...
SHEVTSOVAOn any television, starting with 2004. In 2004, the decision about the -- a creation of the stop list was taken by the Kremlin administration, and not only me, but a lot of other experts and politicians were blocked from any participation in the media, in the old national media and newspapers. And only two weeks ago, there was another decision when national TV channels started to invite five people from the oppositional camp to take part in the political program, but not live. And so they were being suddenly edited when they were already -- when the programs were on air.
REHMInteresting. Andrew Weiss.
WEISSI think Russia remains fundamentally a television-driven society, and so there's this outsized role of the two or three major national television networks. That's how more than 80 percent of Russians get their news, is what is beamed at them and what's curated from Moscow. But what's really remarkable is you see Russians moving away from some of those traditional media platforms, and Russians are among the world's highest users of social networks.
WEISSIf you follow the sort of debate on Twitter and Facebook or VKontakte, which is the Russian equivalent of Facebook, you see this very vibrant, very rich, very open political discourse that's going on. But for Joe Six Pack, they're watching the evening news. And it's that where you're not going to see Lilia.
REHMAll right. To Broken Arrow, Okla. Good morning, Andrew.
ANDREWHello. Thanks for having me.
ANDREWI -- you guys actually kind of already covered some of what I was curious about. And I was wondering what role did the freedom of information in Russia play in Putin's election and the legitimacy thereof.
REHMLilia, do you want to comment?
SHEVTSOVAJust a very brief comment. Seventy-five percent of the TV time devoted to all election campaign topic was covered by national leader Vladimir Putin. So it says a lot about, you know, using the national TV, which is the most powerful political instrument in Russia, while for the purpose of promoting only one candidate.
BABAEVAI would like just to add that -- what Andrew mentioned -- a few months ago, there was a survey according to which Russia occupies now the first or the second place among all European countries on the number of Internet users. So 30 percent of Russian -- certain population, or even more, are now able to use Internet. Of course, that does not necessarily means that all of them use political websites or whatever, but that does mean that...
BABAEVA...they need to watch the TV. That is the first. The second, if you watch the TV, regardless of what is broadcast, and then you open your door and see a completely different life, once you -- one day you discover...
SHEVTSOVAYeah. Yes, but there is one problem. There is one problem, provincial Russia, and this is more than 40 percent of the population. And the Soviet industrial Russia, they have no access, still no access to the Internet, with 20 percent of the Russian population living below poverty line. They don't have access, and these people are voting for their national leader.
BABAEVAThat's true. But not these people define the current and the future agenda of the society. And they never defined it, and they're never taking decisions for the whole society and for the whole part of the country.
REHMTo Takoma Park, Md. Good morning, Dasha.
DASHAYes, good morning. My question is -- well, I'm a Russian-American. And I went to vote at the Washington, D.C. embassy yesterday, and there was quite a line. I haven't seen a line like that since I've been living here and voting. Anyway, I'm wondering if we have any results on how the Russian diaspora, either in the U.S. or elsewhere, voted.
SHEVTSOVAAt least we have one example. London voted for Prokhorov. Prokhorov was number one in London. And Mr. Putin was number two. We still don't have a -- we don't have data from the U.S.
REHMNow, surely, that's not a surprise, Lilia.
SHEVTSOVAWell, it's not surprising because London, which amounts to nearly half a million of Russians officially, is a pretty -- you know, is a pretty -- I would say dynamic and pretty critical Russian diaspora. And they voted for Prokhorov, not because they like him or like his program but because he's a new face and because he's a symbol of opposition to Putin, which is wrong. But at least they perceived him in this capacity.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go to Rocco (sp?) in Edwardsville, Ill. Good morning. You're on the air.
ROCCOGood morning, Diane, to you and your panel. Thank you for your show always. Yeah, I had wanted to -- I'm in agreement that the hope in Russia, as it is in America, is in the people. I wondered if the panel could readdress -- I hope that I didn't miss -- a brief that you'd -- recently NPR had on an individual and (unintelligible) recall their names.
ROCCOBut she was an individual from Russia who pointed out that three major changes that Putin has made since he's been there have -- absolutely impossible that a fair election could be held much as there is a government official over the elected officials or governors over the regions and their decisions are -- have to go -- the government official and then to Putin, and that is likewise for the clearing of the candidates. So it's effectively a dictatorship. I mean, it's a pseudo-(word?).
WEISSI think that the way to think about this -- it's a system. And there is a guy at the top, and he has built a system with a series of mechanisms that allow him to guide the country. One of those challenges of the post-protest period is going to be, does that system have to change and does Putin have to engage in real give and take? They're talking about having direct elections again for governor.
WEISSThe minute that decision gets taken -- and they're in the process of developing the legislation behind it -- you'll see people who are looking to their voters to determine their priorities and their legitimacy. They won't be looking at Vladimir Putin, and that's a big change.
REHMLilia, let me ask you. We're almost out of time here. But, with the election out of the way, do you believe that the United States is likely to see a little more cooperation from Putin on Iran and Syria?
SHEVTSOVAWell, on Syria, definitely, I'm not sure. Of course, Russia will be trying to jump the last (unintelligible) they're not to be totally humiliated and dismissed as a result of its totally idiotic position on Syria. On Iran, I don't see any desire on the part of the Kremlin, firstly, to get involved into that. Secondly, they don't have any kind of impact on Tehran. But I do believe that, despite of the anti-Western, anti-American rhetoric, Putin will be ready for pragmatic notes, for passing agreements only under one condition, one very strong condition: Do not meddle in our domestic affairs.
SHEVTSOVAAnd he would love if the Americans would preserve the major premise of their (word?). That means (unintelligible) between domestic developments and foreign policy.
BABAEVAI would like to add that we should split and see what will happen regarding the foreign policy in reality -- I mean, regarding these -- the precise steps and split all that crowd cries and shouts during the electoral campaign, which is, as Andrew mentioned, one of the very effective tools to find an external enemy and not in the Russian usage from time to time.
REHMBut, Andrew, hasn't his foreign ministry said it will not protect Syria from military intervention?
WEISSThey're trying to have it both ways. I think Russia feels very isolated over its position where they cast double vetoes with the Chinese and the U.N. Security Council to protect Bashar al-Assad. I think they see what we all see, which is the Syrian war machine continuing to expose average people in Syria to tremendous harm and tremendous danger. And they're looking like his protectors, so they're very worried.
REHMAndrew Weiss of the RAND Corporation, Svetlana Babaeva of the Russian Information Agency and Lilia Shevtsova of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace -- she joined us from Moscow -- thank you all so much.
REHMAnd thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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