Archive for the 'Putin' Category


Putin on a show: finding value in March’s Russian election

Saturday, January 13th, 2018

The question is not whether Vlad will win but by how much

Vladimir Putin has now run Russia for longer than anyone since Stalin.* It’s all but certain that he will continue to do so after this March’s presidential election. Ladbrokes are offering odds of 1/50 that he wins a fourth full term, which are nonetheless value: probably the shortest-ever odds tipped as such on this site. Looked at another way, it might only be a 2% return in about two months but that’s a lot more than you’d get in a bank – though there is the capital risk that he might fall under a bus.

That possibility, of some external event intervening to physically prevent Putin from standing, is the most realistic scenario by which someone else wins – but even then, it’s a remote one: he’s not the kind of politician to spend half an hour presenting himself as a target, speaking on the stump. The chance of anyone beating him at the ballot box can be almost entirely discounted: no other party’s candidate has the organisation to challenge United Russia and if they did, the considerable structural advantages the incumbent possesses would be brought to bear.

However, 1/50 shots are hardly exciting. Of more interest is the associated market on Putin’s vote share. Such opinion polls as there’ve been give him gigantic leads. The raw figures routinely give him between 55-70 per cent, though once you exclude Don’t Knows and Won’t Votes, these can rise as high as 90%.

Despite Ladbrokes’ offer of 25/1 for him to win more than 90%, I’m not at all tempted. I don’t trust the polls, not least because I don’t trust the answers that people give in a society which has been long accustomed to surveillance and to the need to give the right answer to authority.

I also don’t think that Putin will want to win by the sort of margins that look like his was a rigged election. He is a realpolitik practitioner par exellence and will be well aware that his power comes not from the size of his majority but from his control of the government machine. All he needs from the people is for them to return him without establishing any credible alternative; beyond that, retaining a veneer of democracy serves a useful purpose both internationally and domestically – a purpose that would be undermined by numbers that weren’t credible.

Putin’s previous winning vote shares were 53.4 (2000), 71.9 (2004), and 63.6 (2012). In between, Medvedev won with 71.2% in 2008. These are probably a better guide. I’d discount the first result, which occurred when the Communist Party remained a genuine force and when the country was still suffering from the Wild East of the Yeltsin years – and before Putin had cracked down on civil freedoms.

On that basis, the 4/1 offered on a 70-80 per cent vote share looks to have most value to me. Russia’s success in Syria, the seizure of the Crimea and more stable domestic situation should produce some genuine popularity – and while that will be far from the determining factor in the election, it will matter in terms of where in the ‘acceptable range’ the result ends up. Having said that, cautious gamblers might want a punt on 60-70 at 5/4 as well, which taken together gives a very wide range at odds of about 4/7, if evenly balanced. Hopefully, that should leave the punter the winner. Either way, Putin will be.

David Herdson

* This is definitional. Putin is close to completing his third full term as president, from 2000-2008 and then again since 2012. He also served for three months before the 2000 election, after Yeltsin’s resignation: a total of almost exactly 14 years so far. However, it’s hard not to regard him as the dominant figure during the Medvedev presidency too, when Putin was Prime Minister; Medvedev having been a trusted lieutenant of Putin since the early 1990s, and who loyally stepped aside in 2012 to allow Putin to resume the senior office. If added in, that takes Putin’s service to a touch over 18 years. Against which, Leonid Brezhnev was without question the Soviet Union’s leader during the 1970s and through to his death in November 1982 but the start of his true leadership is harder to date. It could be argued to be October 1964, when Khrushchev was overthrown (on the same day as the UK general election, coincidentally), which would exceed Putin’s service whichever definition is chosen – though only by weeks if it’s the longer one. However, in reality, the post-Khrushchev regime was a collective and Brezhnev didn’t establish clear pre-eminence over the likes of Kosygin and Podgorny until the late 1960s. On that basis, Putin has already passed him on at least one, and perhaps both, measures of his own leadership.


What if Trump does prefer Putin over Juncker?

Saturday, November 19th, 2016


And where would that leave the Brexit process?

A weary-sounding Jean-Claude Juncker told students in his home state of Luxembourg last week that “we will need to teach the president-elect [i.e. Donald Trump] what Europe is and how it works”. In doing so, he erred badly, not for the first time. You can hear the derision dripping from the words, as, no doubt can the chief occupant of Trump Tower; not someone known for brushing off condescension. If Juncker is looking to build a relationship, it’s an odd way of going about it. Perhaps he’s miffed that Trump’s favourite European is the one who’s done more to break up the EU than anyone since Greece was let into the Euro.

But the belittling language is not the worst of it. Juncker has made at least two more serious errors of thought. Firstly, that Trump is interested in learning what ‘Europe’ is, and secondly, that he will like what he finds. The signs are that he’s not and he doesn’t, which should lead every European leader to ask searching questions of themselves and of their colleagues.

Trump was clear on the campaign trail about where he sees the main threat to the United States and the global order more generally, from radical Islam. He was also clear that as regards Syria, he was more interested in taking the fight to Daesh than in refereeing the war and awarding penalties against those acting badly.

On both counts, he has an ally in the Kremlin. Trump might well ask why the US is conducting sanctions against Russia over a secondary issue when the Eagle could be usefully working with the Bear on the primary one.

That ties into the question of the future of NATO. It was always designed as an anti-Soviet/Russian alliance and quite clearly still is. But is Russia still the geostrategic enemy for the US that it was in the Cold War? Leaving the short-term issue of Syria aside, isn’t the future challenge more likely to come from China – and isn’t that a potential threat to Russia too?

The question of contributions to NATO is an irritant but not a decisive determinant. It is the fortune of small states that their great power sponsors will back them almost irrespective of their own contributions because they’re needed as allies; it is their fate that their sponsors might turn their backs as their own interests change. Trump has clearly thought rather more coldly about America’s interests than any other president in decades and has determined, not unreasonably, that the world has changed since the 1940s. The likes of Juncker have yet to wake up to the fact that it is not business as normal.

Which has implications for the EU, where Brexit means that it’s also very much not life as normal. The eastern EU states and particularly the Baltic ones will feel vulnerable enough with the potential loss of US support and the prospect of US-Russian cooperation. The loss of one of the EU’s two big military powers combined with several years of internal wrangling are likely to heighten that sense of vulnerability further, in a way that proposals for a paper EU army won’t assuage (not that the UK’s forces are what they were).

But still, therein lies a new opportunity for the UK in the Brexit negotiations. Reaffirming a commitment to NATO and to continental security is not something that need come within the EU ambit at all. The two are, however, likely to go hand in hand: we are talking about almost exactly the same countries, after all. If the mood music can be kept peaceful, with those in the east in particular working to keep all sides talking, Britain ought to be able to get a decent deal. On the other hand, if the process stalls in acrimony and then falls off a cliff as the clock runs out, there’ll undoubtedly be questions about whether Britain shouldn’t follow the US out of any meaningful NATO commitment – and in such circumstances, rightly so.

David Herdson